This morning (October 30), Sony made a number of announcements and showed several trailers at Paris Games Week. One trailer shown was a gruesome, five-minute trailer for the upcoming The Last of Us Part II, the sequel to 2013’s critically acclaimed The Last of Us. This trailer was followed up by a short interview with the game’s writer and director, Neil Druckmann, who also wrote and co-directed the original The Last of Us. In the interview, Druckmann gives some more context to the cryptic teaser, but there are still a slew of unanswered questions. So I’ve decided to analyze the trailer from the standpoint of Naughty Dog as a business, Naughty Dog as a creative agency, the video game industry, the fan perspective, etc. in an attempt to find out what the point of this new trailer is, considering how little information about the game it actually gives.
The Last of Us Part II PGW Trailer
To build hype
Probably the most obvious reason a company, particularly a AAA company, releases new trailers and teasers for a game is to build hype amongst the fanbase and the gaming community at large. It’s been almost a year since the last official announcement about The Last of Us Part II, so it could just be that the point of this new trailer is to keep fans interested and excited. There are a couple of reasons why this seems like an odd reason to release this particular trailer, however. For one thing, if the purpose was to get fans of the series excited, it seems weird to release a trailer that gives very little new information, keeps everything vague and only features characters that weren’t in the first game. This leads into my next reason for why this is an odd trailer to build hype, which is that the first trailer for the game seemed to be much more effective at building hype. So why not build on the first trailer? Since the first trailer did such a successful job, why even need a second trailer? The hype is already there. If the second trailer is just meant to raise the hype even more, it went about it in an interesting way.
The Last of Us Part II Reveal Trailer
Here, let me clarify myself. The first trailer built hype as much as you could probably want. Firstly, and probably most importantly, it confirmed that there will be a second The Last of Us, which was something that no one knew for certain before the trailer, so that confirmation on its own was enough to build tremendous amounts of hype. Additionally, however, the trailer confirmed that Joel and Ellie will be returning, despite previous claims by Druckmann that their story ended with the first game. So we get some familiar faces. And they’re angry. Well, at least Ellie is. She clearly has some kind of dark motive to justify the events in the new game. We don’t know what that motive is, but now we know that there’s a reason for a second game to exist other than just the fact that the first game was monetarily successful. Put all this together, and fans of the first game are up to their eyebrows in hype. It’s not like the game needed any more hype.
Enter the PGW trailer. It’s weird. We don’t know any of the characters in it. It’s brutally violent to the point where it’s hard to watch. And we don’t know what the hell is going on. We aren’t given any context to the events that occur in the trailer. We weren’t given much context in the first trailer either, but at least we felt we were in good hands by the mere presence of the protagonists from the first game. But this new trailer… If it wasn’t labelled as a trailer for The Last of Us Part II, I don’t think anyone would have known what they were watching. Well, at least until the Clickers show up at the very end. If building hype is what they’re going for in this new trailer, they’re going about it in a very unusual way. Maybe it’s just meant to remind fans that a sequel is in fact coming, in case they forgot in the ten months since the last trailer, but maybe building hype isn’t the main reason behind the trailer.
To show off new capabilities
Another potential reason to release this particular trailer could be to show off Naughty Dog’s new graphical capabilities. The first The Last of Us pushed the PlayStation 3’s limits right to the edge of what they were capable of, resulting in probably the best-looking PS3 game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, the company’s two entries on the PS4 so far, both looked amazing, and this new trailer appears to push the boundaries even more. Druckmann explains in his interview that the team at Naughty Dog has taken everything they’ve learned from all previous games and is applying them to this new game. Given the fact that rain, darkness and fire, all of which are present in this trailer, complicate the visual aspect of video games, particularly when it comes to lighting, this trailer could simply be a way of showing off how far Naughty Dog’s graphical capabilities have come since the first The Last of Us. That being said, if that’s all they were going for, they probably could have accomplished the same thing in a shorter trailer that perhaps featured Joel and Ellie again. Clearly, there must be a reason for why Naughty Dog chose the scene that they did for the trailer other than just to show off the graphics.
Neil Druckmann Interview
To remind players what’s at stake
The world of The Last of Us goes beyond just being dark. It’s horrifically realistic and realistically horrific. In the first game, Druckmann and co-director Bruce Straley, who recently left Naughty Dog, attempted to create a world that would accurately portray the state of humanity and civilization should a seemingly unstoppable, zombie-like epidemic actually take place. In a world like this, there are no protagonists or main characters. There are no heroes or villains. There are just people trying to survive. Joel and Ellie are two such people. They happen to partake in a particularly interesting story, one that could have potentially had global repercussions, which is why their story is the one we follow in the game. But in the world of The Last of Us, we could just as easily have followed the story of one or two of the other millions (or thousands?) of survivors. We could have followed the story of Henry and Sam; how they met up with their group, how they came to the conclusion that joining the Fireflies would be their goal, and ultimately ending with Sam’s infection and Henry’s suicide. We could have followed the story of Bill and his partner, or Marlene and how she ended up as the leader of a rogue regime. Just like in life, everyone has an interesting story across their life. Joel and Ellie aren’t the only ones. They’re just the ones we happen to follow in the first game. In a way, by providing a trailer that only features new characters, we’re reminded of all this. Joel and Ellie aren’t important. Well, not any more important than any other survivors. They’re just the characters we happen to already know. The story of these new characters could be just as important or interesting, as far as we know.
(Okay, arguably, Ellie is important because she’s immune and a vaccine maybe could have been made out of her brain, but, first of all, her immunity was really just a MacGuffin (inciting incident or object in a story) for the real story of Joel and Ellie’s relationship, and second of all, after she ends up not saving the world (regardless of the fact that it was Joel’s choice), she is reduced to being just as important or unimportant as any other survivor.)
Additionally, we’re reminded of the real stakes in this world. In this trailer, we see images of brutal murder and torture. Though disturbing, we can’t ignore the fact that should a civilization-ending pandemic like this occur, people would certainly resort to such measures. Just look through human history. Medieval torture methods and devices. The Holocaust. Terrorist regimes and authoritarian dictators brutally murder and torture people, sometimes even their own people, to this day. We live in a cruel, dark, disturbing world. The Last of Us has never shied away from this and this new trailer may serve to inform fans that the sequel won’t either. Remember, in the first game we saw the game’s protagonist torture people for information and then kill them once they gave him what he wanted. If we’re going to jump back into this world, we better be prepared for it.
There are a number of purposes this new trailer could potentially serve, including several that I’m sure I didn’t think to mention here. So what was the reason for releasing this particular trailer? It could be one of the reasons I outlined above, it could be something I’m not thinking of, or it could be a mix reasons, both mentioned and/or not mentioned in this article. I’m sure many people will have mixed feelings about this trailer and some may outright love or hate it, but one thing is for sure: The Last of Us Part II is on the forefront of everyone’s minds and I, for one, can’t wait for it.