The Last of Us, set in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone ignores a noisy teenage girl, was acclaimed for balancing its grim setting and story with lighter moments of humanity and likable characters. Gamers are anticipating the upcoming sequel more than they’re anticipating seeing their loved ones over the holidays. So the game’s big new trailer took advantage of the hype by … dropping everything that made the series likable in favor of showing us some grimdark violence as envisioned by an edgy 13-year-old who brings knives to school and spends lunchtime looking at them in the bathroom.
The five-and-a-half-minute scene reveals that the sequel still exists and, uh … that’s about it. I guess we also learn that there will continue to be humans in the franchise, and the setting hasn’t moved to a fun water park in a distant future in which civilization has rebuilt. Beyond that, all we see are some hanging corpses, a woman getting threatened with torture and narrowly surviving a lynching, and a teen girl getting her arm broken with a hammer. Then a dude takes an arrow through the head, another dude takes a hammer to the neck, and the evil woman takes that same hammer to the head. Oh, and it all takes place on a rainy night (the grimmest of weather conditions!), and there’s some portentous dialogue with all the subtlety of, well, a hammer to the head to indicate that the apocalypse has created a crazy cult. What a bold and creative idea!
The trailer was widely criticized for its brutal violence, a discussion that’s only going to pop up more and more as graphics continue to improve to the point where reality itself starts to look bland and low-res. But it’s a bad trailer for so many other reasons. There’s zero context for the scene, the apparent big bad villain we’re being introduced to is immediately killed, and we’re told nothing about what to expect in terms of plot or gameplay. The only thing it communicates is tone, and that tone is pointlessly depressing. It’s like the developers said, “Hey, remember how the first game’s nasty violence was effective because it was spliced into a compelling story of companionship and love? Well, we got rid of most of that.” Who is this trailer even for? It’s a worrying sign to old fans, and it tells potential new ones to get hyped to buy Generic Apocalypse Scenario 14-B.
The game will probably be fine, or even great, but it says a lot about the industry if they think a marquee product should be marketed with damsel in distress horror cliches. What exactly is being said about horror gaming (that hasn’t already been said) by showing a teen having her bones broken in beautiful 4K? One of Sony’s big shots, Jim Ryan, defended the trailer by saying, “The Last Of Us obviously is a game made by adults to be played by adults. And there’s that market for those people who like that sort of game. Adults who like that sort of game.”
Hey, Jim, right now, the most critically acclaimed game made by adults to be played by adults is one in which Mario can run around in boxer shorts, play with a dog, and win prizes by turning into a mustachioed fish. “Adult” doesn’t mean an endless parade of gloomy violence — that’s a child’s idea of adult. An adult’s idea of adult is strong storytelling, gameplay innovation, and characters and situations we care about in a way that feels earned — none of which are on display in your horror B-movie outtake of a trailer. Yes, the violence is part of the experience too, but it’s a piece of the puzzle, not the sole focus which you apparently think we want to masturbate to. For guidance, watch your own damn teaser for your own damn game you released earlier:
Look, it has characters we know and care about! Ellie’s clearly matured and been through some shit, but she still wants to play her guitar despite her injuries! There are dead bodies that haven’t been fetishized, and a hint as to what the story is about! Your heroine gets to grow and be a badass without ripping faces open!
Pitching a game as nonstop gore because that’s what people supposedly want is every lazy stereotype about gaming and its fans that’s been around for decades. If you want the medium to be taken seriously, you have to move beyond that. Otherwise you’re saying, “Look, it’s torture porn, but you can play it! Awards, please.”
Note: For a bonus article, reread this while mentally replacing The Last Of Us with Detroit: Become Human and all the praise for the earlier game and teaser with jokes / factual statements about how David Cage is a hack.
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