The Last of Us’ confirmed reappearance as a tooled up, extra-pretty, 1080p PS4 game is undoubtedly a good thing. Yes, we already find ourselves awash with a mighty maelstrom of moans; a blithering howl of “Boo! Rehash!” from that sector of the internet that inexplicably equates blind cynicism with the expression of intelligence. But realistically there’s nothing bad about this situation. In fact with a little forethought, it becomes clear that The Last of Us’ next-gen appearance is a probable harbinger of very good things for the future.
The whinging isn’t only silly, it’s completely misplaced. While, yes, I can understand general knee-jerks to the ongoing next-gen re-releases of recent games--given how thick and fast such things have been announced over the last few months--The Last of Us is a game with a very particular set of circumstances. It’s a barnstormingly good, genuinely powerful--important, even--work, which arrived just as its host hardware was on the way out. And it’s a platform exclusive. As such, arriving on only one format in the run-up to a generational hand-over, a whole bunch of players will have missed out on it.
Let’s face it, no-one buys a second current-gen machine for one game when the next set of upgrades is just around the corner. Single-format console gamers though, are likely to switch allegiances during a generational transition. It just makes sense for The Last of Us to get a PS4 do-over. People should play it, and now more people can.
But the real point, the exciting one, is what this re-release really means for the future. You see I suspected that a PS4 version of TLoU was on the cards a few months ago. Moreover, I saw it as part of a more interesting bigger picture. I see no reason to swing away from that hypothesis now.
My thinking is this: The Last of Us 2 is coming to the PS4. Probably always has been. You see the structure and pacing of the series’ releases makes me feel that’s been the plan for a long time. The first game’s launch window was an odd one, to say the least.
Genuinely new games usually come with new consoles, not outgoing ones, and having been a one-franchise studio for decades, Naughty Dog’s development of TLoU, alongside Uncharted 3, makes things even more unusual. Then consider the seven month wait for the Left Behind add-on. Slightly odd in this age of day-one DLC, and rapid-fire expansions made ready to capitalise on big hits fast. Doubly so when you consider that this wait took us right through to the PS4’s launch window.
What if, rather than simply making up a rather bizarre, anti-intuitive release schedule, the above was actually a considered 'big-picture' strategy? I suspect it was. TLoU’s late launch put it on as many PS3s as possible, during a period when relatively few new games were fighting for attention. The opposite would have been the case during the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One. Plus, TLoU’s critical plaudits have given Sony great momentum rolling into next-gen. The DLC? Part story-expansion, part brand-awareness flare gun, sending up a carefully-timed shot to ensure that The Last of Us isn’t forgotten during the PS4’s launch frenzy and the world’s giddy clammering for (the announced) Uncharted 4. The Last of Us’ re-release on the PS4, complete with all of the game’s extra content, can only be an extension of that.
Naughty Dog hasn’t talked openly about a sequel to TLoU, saying that the green-lighting of any such project would come down to the question of “Can we tell people a story that’s really worth telling, and that’s not repeating itself?” With its distinctly different approach to the original game’s material, focusing on exploration, evasion, and hitherto unexplored elements of survivor politics during Ellie’s pre-Joel days, it rather strikes me that the long-tail development of the Left Behind DLC was Naughty Dog’s exploration of that question. And that the answer is a resounding “Yes”.
Uncharted 4 will be at E3 2014. Of that we can be almost sure. But do not be at all surprised if that’s not the only big Naughty Dog game we get word of over the next 12 months. After all, now that ND is capable of making two blockbusters at at time, all those people not working on Nathan Drake’s shiny new next-gen face have got to be doing something…