Video games are a serious business for serious, grown-up people. That’s the message that rang out from this year’s E3 PlayStation press conference (opens in new tab) back in June. (Sorry, ‘Media Showcase’). The time of snuggling up in the easygoing embrace of happy-go-lucky fare like Uncharted, Ratchet & Clank, and LittleBigPlanet is over. We’re now entering the age of sombre PS4 sadness. Best keep the hankies on standby.
I’m jesting, of course... well, kind of. Sony’s LA presser was brimming to bursting point with spectacular upcoming titles, so this glumness filling the air has nothing to do with quality. Instead, it’s all about themes. The message Sony’s first-party titles seem to be sending out? “Let’s all feel a teensy bit depressed.” Sadness sells, right?
It’s all the Last Of Us’ fault. Oh sure, it may be one of the most acclaimed games of all time, but it had a lot to answer for at this year’s E3. I’m not talking about the fact The Last Of Us 2 (opens in new tab) no-showed either, though that was a bummer. No, I’m referring to Naughty Dog’s original awesome apocalypse, and the fact its influence seems to be permeating every triple-A first-party effort that’s coming to PS4 over the next 18 months.
Days Gone (opens in new tab) is the most obvious of its disciples. Man with beard as lead character? Check. Careful sneaking through rainy woods? Check. Murdering a load of zombies, then feeling kind of bad about it after the fact? You’d better believe that’s a check. In fairness, Studio Bend’s downbeat undead adventure will most likely distinguish itself from the TLOU with ferociously frenzied action sequences. (That’s what happens when you have 1,700 zoms on screen at any given time.) Yet there’s no denying the overall tone of Days Gone seems to be hugely indebted to Naughty Dog’s 2013 masterpiece.
Comparing two zombie games is like shooting fish in a barrel... and drunk fish at that. TLOU’s influence reaches farther than Days Gone, though. Just look at the new God Of War (opens in new tab). Father figure struggles to bond with child in an uneasy alliance set against a backdrop of gruesome violence. Remind you of Joel and Ellie’s cross-country jaunt at all? Even the decision to remake Shadow Of The Colossus on PS4 feels like it’s been born out of a post-TLOU landscape where glum, artful games are now totally Sony’s jam.
Then there’s Detroit: Become Human (opens in new tab). Obviously, this is very much David Cage’s oh-so-emotive baby. Regardless of what trends grip video games at large, Quantic Dream will continue to do its own thing: make slightly sexy, vaguely pretentious, ultimately interesting thrillers. Looking at Detroit, though, it seems less hopeful than Cage’s last title, Beyond: Two Souls. I worry it could be yet another PS4 exclusive that’s rocking up to Sony’s pity party with a bottle of scotch and some pissed-up poetry it just wrote on the back of a napkin.
The Last Of Us is an undisputed classic, one that should rightly inspire other studios’ work. The trouble is, if most of Sony’s big hitters try to channel its mournful vibe – even Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (opens in new tab) ended up less cheery than Nate’s breezy treasure-hunting quests – diminishing returns will soon kick in with so many ‘I'm sad too!’ titles. Thank the Stan Lee above, though, as Spider-Man (opens in new tab), at least, looks like a massive, happy hoot.
This article originally appeared in Official PlayStation Magazine. For more great PlayStation coverage, you can subscribe here (opens in new tab).