The lights are on
I beat The Last of Us a couple weeks ago, but that adventure is still ringing through my head like a brass bell. The game easily sits on my list of the five greatest games from this generation, and yet, I don't think I want to see a sequel.
This opinion originally published on July 15, 2013.
(The following is spoiler free. But if you want The Last of Us spoiled for you, go here.)
The Last of Us tells a grim story about a world 20 years after a terrible plague ravages the world's population, turning many into zombie-like monsters. Born among the ashes of civilization is Ellie, a young woman who might hold the key to curing this terrible disease. Her journey across the country alongside her new found guardian, Joel, is a riveting, white-knuckle rush. The game's action was so well balanced that I constantly felt like it was tethering between feeling capable and getting lost in the chaos. I loved every minute of it, and I didn't want that journey to end. Even so, now that I've finished the game, I don't think I want Naughty Dog to revisit the world with a sequel. The reason is simple: the story is too good.
I'm not averse to sequels. I walk away from plenty of experiences eager for more. I dreamt about The Avengers sequel for months following last year's summer blockbuster. I can't wait for EA's recently announced Mirror's Edge continuation, and I'm looking forward to new entries in series like Tomb Raider, XCOM, and Telltale's The Walking Dead. Don't get me wrong, I'm not really into what I like to call the Tony Hawking of games; I'm tired of seeing a new Call of Duty and Assassin's Creed game every year. However, I think some games are built to become series, while others make a better standalone experience. The Last of Us is the latter.
I know that Naughty Dog is thinking about potential sequels. Honestly, I won't mind if it tried to make a spiritual sequel to the game – take the scavenging mechanics and the intense action from The Last of Us and wrap them around another story set in a completely different world. However, I think Naughty Dog would be doing The Last of Us a disservice if it turned its newest property into a franchise, because The Last of Us told such a powerful and complete story that adding anything more to it would dilute the original.
I want to respect those who haven't played the game yet, and I want them to be able to play through the game and enjoy it for all it's worth, so I won't include any spoilers here, but I will say that The Last of Us' tale left such an impact on me that I'm sure I'll still be thinking about it years from now. The biggest reason the game's story hit me so hard is because Naughty Dog crafted some amazingly interesting characters.
I think it's kind of funny that Irrational Games spent so much time talking about the effort it put into crafting Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite, while Naughty Dog's characters are easily the most believable in video games. Don't get me wrong, I thought Irrational did a great job with Elizabeth. She was cute, funny, and a joy to be around. However, if I had a crush on Elizabeth while playing BioShock Infinite, I completely fell in love with Joel and Ellie while playing The Last of Us. I felt like I had journeyed through hell with them as they crossed the country, and by the end I wanted to see them succeed. I never felt bonded to Elizabeth in the same way.
By the time The Last of Us' credits rolled I felt the same way I have felt after reading a well-crafted novel or emotional film: I felt satisfied. The Last of Us needs nothing more, and I feel like adding to the game would only lessen the impact of Naughty Dog's well-constructed adventure.
I know that this isn't how the game industry works. Naughty Dog has built a brand with The Last of Us. New intellectual properties are hard to sell, and the developer went out on a limb by creating something fresh and original. And it succeeded. It seems only fair that it should be able to utilize some of the capital it's built up by making a sequel. After all, a second game is bound to sell even better than the first (I'd hypocritically buy a copy).
Then again, Gone with the Wind is one of the highest-grossing films of all time, and it didn't get a sequel. Do books like The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby need sequels because people liked them? Do films like Schindler's List and Casablanca need sequels because they were critically acclaimed? No they don't, because they are works of art, and great art can stand on its own. The Last of Us is good enough to do just that.
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