Heading into 2014, Naughty Dog is in a position that many game developers or studios would find either truly terrifying or incredibly liberating: they have to follow-up with one of the most acclaimed games of the last year, and find a way to surpass it.
The Last of Us took home a bevy of Game of the Year awards and topped many “Best Of” lists, and having the distinction of being one of the most revered titles across exclusives and multi-platform games: so, how exactly do you follow that up?
Naughty Dog is now in such a position of either finding a way to surpass what it was able to accomplish so well with The Last of Us, which many saw as a fitting “swan song” to the end of the console generation, and bring the acclaim and advancements their latest title gave and use that to their advantage in the beginning of the next generation. While Naughty Dog has really yet to falter across its numerous titles and franchises across different hardware generations, with Jak and Daxter, Uncharted, and The Last of Us coming to define Sony’s hardware in the last two generations, the question still stands: what’s next for Naughty Dog?
Looking back on Naughty Dog’s success with The Last of Us while pondering at what the studio has in store with Sony and the PS4, DualShockers is looking ahead to see where Naughty Dog has been in the last year, and where they might just be in the next one.
The Last of Us: Left Behind
It only makes sense that Naughty Dog would be following up The Last of Us with more of The Last of Us, as the studio is currently preparing its first single-player DLC, Left Behind. With The Last of Us: Left Behind set for release on PS3 on February 14th, marking a (potentially) bittersweet Valentine’s Day for PlayStation fans, the next Naughty Dog fix is not that far away, along with another (brief) glimpse back into the world of The Last of Us.
Given the detailed environments and story that The Last of Us carefully built through its post-apocalyptic world ravaged by the cordyceps fungal infection, the story of Naughty Dog’s title certainly leaves plenty of room for more narrative to be explored, both before and after the main game’s events. In the story of The Last of Us, we were given these brief glimpses into the outbreak of cordyceps, followed by a 20-year gap into which Joel’s journey with Ellie began, potentially giving The Last of Us: Left Behind the chance to fill in some of that time, and just a little bit more of the story that The Last of Us has to offer, particularly for Ellie to see where she was in the middle of all this.
While details of The Last of Us: Left Behind are still a little sparse before its release, the trailers and media released so far indicate a story that could potentially be very different from what we last saw with Joel and Ellie on the road, instead opting for something more personal and intimate. Ashley Johnson herself (voice actress for Ellie) described the experience of Left Behind as showing a slightly different take on the world of The Last of Us:
“It’s definitely different. It’s a little bit more “fun,” because you have two teenage girls going through a mall. It’s kind of like a post-pandemic version of two teenage girls hanging out. Definitely not a normal hangout! It’s very different — a little more playful.”
“There’s a bit of everything in there. You’re really getting a new sense of the environment. You’ll engage in combat that seems familiar from the original campaign, but there are some new touches and nuances, too.”
Based on the events of The Last of Us: American Dreams, a four-issue comic miniseries preceding the events of the original game, Left Behind will see players taking the role of Ellie alongside her friend, Riley, as they survive during the cordyceps infection and journey together toward safety. This (potentially) sets up many of the events leading into The Last of Us and gives even more of a perspective on what Ellie’s life was like during the apocalypse, an element that definitely seems most appealing. In particular, it gives us the chance to ask (and see): what was it like for a young girl like Ellie to grow up in a world like this? And given that Riley is not mentioned or seen in the original game, where will we see the paths of Ellie and Riley diverge? Most importantly, how?
Will the new DLC give us some insight into possible other characters, like the mysterious “Ish” from The Last of Us (who diligent players that read through the game’s notes and letters will know well), and how his story began/played out? Or, maybe Left Behind can explore some of the side characters that play an integral role in the original game (particularly those revolving around the Fireflies, such as Marlene), to see them in a different light than we may have last left off with them?
The Last of Us: Left Behind is just the sort of content needed at the right time – more of a title that gamers (and publications, journalists, and sites) couldn’t get enough of when it earned numerous GOTY awards and topped “Best Of” lists. It will most likely fill in some of the events that led to Ellie meeting up with Joel in The Last of Us, while also filling us in to find out more of Ellie’s back-story, given her existence has been completely defined by the post-cordyceps world, where Joel still had his lingering memories of the world before its apocalyptic turn. But, with the mixed reaction of the similarly-acclaimed BioShock Infinite and its own single-player focused DLC, Burial at Sea, could Left Behind suffer at giving us potentially too much of a good thing?
It will only be a matter of weeks until we find out, but for now, it’s safe to say that The Last of Us: Left Behind, with its focus on Ellie’s life prior to the original game, and having the distinction as the first (and last) single-player DLC for The Last of Us, presents a unique opportunity for Naughty Dog to tell a story with emotional heft and impact in a shorter, more focused experience. While there is still the opportunity for Left Behind to suffer from the draw of being “too much of a good thing,” it seems safe that the new story and content of Left Behind will do anything but leave behind fans of Naughty Dog’s love letter to the last-gen.
The Last of Us: Left Behind has been purposefully vague in what players can expect from the next chapter in the story of The Last of Us, but even vaguer has been what to expect from the next chapter in Nathan Drake’s story.
Revealed during the pre-launch events and excitement of the PS4, the next entry of the Uncharted series was announced following months of speculation that the series would be heading to Sony’s new console in the future; an announcement surprising few, but exciting many. Although more of a teaser of a teaser than any sort of solid confirmation of what we can expect from the next title in the series, the fact still remains: Uncharted is heading to the PS4.
So, what exactly can we expect? It’s hard to say: an animated scrolling map with an intimidating voiceover doesn’t exactly give much to chew on for where exactly Nathan Drake and Co. will be heading in Uncharted 4 – only the vague hints of Drake fighting an old adversary, with the map leading to the coasts of Africa, give any sort of indicator as to where we might expect Drake to head next. With Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception tying things up well for Drake, Elena, and Sully on the PS3 back in 2011, the speculation still stands on where in the narrative we can expect to see Naughty Dog take a turn with Uncharted 4, and unfortunately only time will tell.
In particular though, one piece of evidence uncovered in the breakdown of the teaser done by our own Thomas Luke (Staff Writer) illustrates that the map features one piece of text with a big indication of what the next installment of the series might be focusing on: “Hodie mecvm eris in paradiso” – translated to English, “This day, you shall be with me in Paradise.” With the biblical and religious imagery and symbols, it can be assumed that the plot may involve some sort of exploration or uncovering of the truth behind various religious icons or symbols, such as the Garden of Eden or the Fountain of Youth.
Or, in a more menacing light, the trailer’s mention of being “buried alive” also could point to the motivations of the game’s (presumed) villain himself – someone that has been “buried alive” in a figurative/metaphorical (or perhaps, even literal) sense, who has returned and seeks revenge on his enemy, be it Drake or someone else entirely. While it’s still purely speculation, Uncharted is entirely based around the uncovering of clues and the meaning behind their riddles, and as such, the teaser for the next installment of the series is just one more puzzle to solve before its (inevitable) release.
Like The Last of Us gave us one of the best experiences to end our current-gen experience before the next began, how can Uncharted 4 push PS4 consoles? Will it astound with its sure-to-be-amazing graphical prowess? Or, most importantly, how can Uncharted 4 pull at our heart-strings, especially following how successfully The Last of Us was able to do?
While Uncharted is certainly more light-hearted and boisterous compared to the stoic seriousness of The Last of Us, plenty of moments in the previous Uncharted titles (particularly in Drake’s Deception) gave many unexpected emotional touches among all the dashing adventure and set pieces. Where Among Thieves gave Drake some romantic conflict between Chloe and Elena and Drake’s Deception gave a poignant take on the father/son relationship of Drake and Sully, could Uncharted 4 touch on Drake’s past even more? With the whisperings of this enemy from the past and some rumored touches on the explorations of Drake’s ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, it seems like the demons of Drake’s past could easily be a topic of interest in Uncharted 4, or at least in a future installment down the line.
However, technically it can hoped for that Uncharted 4 will follow in the footsteps of the previous Uncharted games as being nothing short of staggering – having Naughty Dog on new tech will surely be something to look forward to. Following the high pedigrees of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception is no easy feat, but with the success of The Last of Us, the impending release of Left Behind, and plenty of lead time into development on Sony’s latest tech with the PS4, it’s still an incredibly exciting prospect. Uncharted 4 may be years away at this point, but it’s something still worth looking forward to, both as gamers and as Naughty Dog aficionados.
Naughty Dog in 2014 and Beyond
The Last of Us: Left Behind presents the lone single release for Naughty Dog this year, as the prospects of seeing Uncharted 4 this year are as unlikely as seeing a happy ending for Ellie and Riley in Left Behind. But, with a follow-up to The Last of Us awaiting release and the prospects of Uncharted 4 on the horizon in the future, where might that leave room for some surprises?
With swirling rumors of whether we can hope to see the revivals of the long-dormant Jak & Daxter, or even the triumphant return of Crash Bandicoot on the next-gen hardware, might there be the possibility of a left-field surprise from Naughty Dog this year, or in the years to come? It’s tough to say: the promises of Jak 4 have been more wishful thinking on the behalf of fans than anything resembling confirmation (or realistic), but it certainly couldn’t be outside the realm of possibility to see a return for the beloved platforming pair from the PS2-era.
While Naughty Dog says otherwise in regard to any other projects aside from The Last of Us: Left Behind and Uncharted 4, it’s not outside the realm of possibility to secretly think (or hope) that Naughty Dog may have some other projects on the side in mind. History for the company proves this: The Last of Us itself began as such a project during the development of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, with the studio splitting for the first time into two development teams to work on both projects, and keeping The Last of Us a secret development after completing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
But seeing Jak 4 (or Crash Bandicoot, as much as the idea is truly exciting) next-gen anytime soon are as unlikely as hoping to see Uncharted 4 by the year’s end – unfortunately, it’s likely to be quite a while before we get our next Naughty Dog fix after The Last of Us: Left Behind this February. Naughty Dog nevertheless has plenty on its plate with The Last of Us: Left Behind and Uncharted 4 in the pipeline, and even more to look forward to in the (hopefully) near future of 2014 and beyond.