The Last of Us Bucks Depressing Trends All the Way to the Bank

Why Naughty Dog's successful experiment should serve as a sign to big publishers that change is acceptable.

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An anxious swirl builds in your stomach. The suffocating weight of inevitability roots you in place, tormenting your already fragile psyche. If only ignorance could save you from this burden. But there's no hope for that. The truth is out there, growing stronger as every minute passes. Shying away from reality won't change a thing. So you click on the latest sales figures, fully prepared for the bad news that they bear. A shock ripples through your body, and your eyes light up in amazement. The Last of Us sits atop the best-sellers list, standing out against the sea of soulless cash grabs, and redefining what you believe about the mainstream market. The cycle has been broken, and the masses have spoken: transformative experiences can sell.

There's a debilitating philosophy in this industry. Executives--those corporate entities who control the purse strings--believe that releasing a new series late in a console's life is akin to signing its death certificate. EA Labels president Frank Gibeau flatly argued just last year against new IPs so late in a generation. It's assumed that going against the flood of iterative sequels means failure at retail, so developers must play it safe by walking down the same, predictable path. But Naughty Dog doesn't have to play by those rules. As one of the most esteemed developers around, it has the clout and talent to rise above the noise. The Last of Us doesn't rely on characters and names that have been ingrained in the consciousness of the game-buying public. Rather, through expert craftsmanship and untested inventiveness, Naughty Dog created an adventure that demanded attention.

The cycle has been broken, and the masses have spoken: transformative experiences can sell.

Such a move should be celebrated by those starving for new experiences. Naughty Dog thumbed its nose at conventional wisdom, fully aware that there's incredible risk in crafting something unknown. By moving copies at an impressive rate, The Last of Us proved to developers and publishers alike that quality can still matter. Those who love video games want nothing more than to be immersed in the best adventures regardless of the titles that grace their covers. For those fiscally conservative men and women in suits, this should come as an eye-opening revelation. Popular franchises may sell well because name recognition creates hype, but there is always a place for excellent games, even during the final months of a console's life. Just look at the critical and commercial success Bully and God of War enjoyed last generation.

That The Last of Us is not part of an established franchise is just one aspect of why it's so important that it's selling well. Naughty Dog's take on the zombie apocalypse incorporates a feeling that has become endangered in recent years. As you cower behind overturned tables in the crumbling ruins of a suburban house, tension courses unabated through your veins. The stench of death is a constant companion. One false step can lead to your untimely end, so your ears continually strain for an imminent threat while you crouch-walk slowly through your waking nightmare. The Last of Us is maddening in all the right ways, transporting you to a horrific future in which safety may be present in the wishful fables of children, but has long since been exterminated in the outside world.

Contrast this feeling of helplessness to the other games that dot the landscape. Empowerment is a theme that has been built into the foundation of so many chart toppers. Stealth and survival horror games used to plunge you into an unrepentant world in which the slightest mistake was met with unavoidable death. But those days have long since faded away. Accessibility and inclusiveness have become dirty words because of the ways they have been implemented. No longer do games force you to inhabit the body of a character that's wildly overmatched. Rather, you're the hero, the attacker, the one who wields the power. You're the cause of death, not affected by it.

Naughty Dog's take on the zombie apocalypse incorporates a feeling that has become endangered in recent years.

By eschewing this developmental philosophy, Naughty Dog forces us to confront our own morality. Such a position is uncomfortable, but it shows that the gaming audience is more mature than we're given credit for. We don't always want to be an unstoppable killing machine sent to exterminate a swarm of brain-dead enemies. Joel wears his flaws on his tattered sleeves. He's just a weak individual desperately trying to survive against unrelenting odds. Clickers ignore your insatiable desire to live one more day, sinking their teeth into your neck as they quickly drain your life away. Strength is a laughable fantasy in The Last of Us. And because you're cast in the shoes of a severely flawed individual, you better understand one way a mere human could live in such a sickening world.

The strides that Naughty Dog has taken to separate The Last of Us from the majority of its high-profile competitors are noteworthy and a big reason why we should celebrate its commercial success. However, in many ways, it still stays close to what has come before it. Though death comes quickly and mercilessly, punishment stays out of the equation. So graphic and unsettling are the death sequences that you try desperately to avoid them, but there's no lasting penalty for failure. Furthermore, The Last of Us is just as linear as many of its peers. Neither of these elements is inherently good or bad, but it shows how even Naughty Dog is hesitant to completely turn their backs on popular conventions. We should be happy the developer did take some major risks in developing an unproven franchise in which tension is severe and constant, though. By designing the other elements to be more palatable, it ensured that those weaned on the many facile offerings out there could still enjoy this endeavor.

Although Naughty Dog's forays into uncharted waters are commonplace for an independent developer, The Last of Us stands out from other big-budget games in important ways. It should be noted that it probably would not have achieved such high sales if it lacked its extensive marketing push, but its media presence was no more than that of comparable experiences. Of all the reasons we should be ecstatic that it sold so well, there's nothing more important than its high mark of quality. Many amazing games go ignored by the average player, so it's heartwarming to know that something truly great can still get noticed. Kudos to Naughty Dog for a triumphant achievement. We can only hope that other AAA developers and publishers take notice of its success. There is more than one way to make your game popular, and The Last of Us proves that our tastes are more refined than many expected.

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Discussion

644 comments
Rum72
Rum72

I was so bored playing this game. nothing excellent about this game in my opinion and actually has a lot more things I disliked about it then I liked about it. media hype train wins... never again.

thedeadraptor
thedeadraptor

Tom McShea: Talking about a game like it's worth 10... Deliberately puts an 8.

couly
couly

Look how Tom McShea is trying to win us back. Maybe he should redo his poxy review.By that, I don't mean the score, I mean the lackluster review itself.

heroesfan261
heroesfan261

I'm not sure exactly how TLoU breaks the mold like this article is suggested. Sure it's got a nice story but it's just a kind of copy of The Walking Dead and Children of Men. In terms of gameplay there's really nothing remarkable about it whatsoever. You want recent games that break the mold? How about Dark Souls or Expeditions: Comquistador? Or even the upcoming sci-fi horror game Routine. There's so much you can choose from in terms of good recent games that separate themselves from the rest but The Last  of Us? really?

Derugs
Derugs

its whatever... I have nothing bad to say about the game; just nothing good either.  it does have a presence however and it's interesting to see how much people enjoy it.  Not compelling enough to peak my interests.  Entertaining to watch it being played on youtube though.  

jimrhurst
jimrhurst

I don't know whether to proud or sad for you for coming back to this game after all the fanboys flamed your review.  No matter, I agree with the thrust of the article, so I'll leave it at that.  We should all hope that new experiences have a shot anytime and that quality would win out.  So we should all root for TLOU, even though I personally haven't nor will likely play it.

beardface21
beardface21

Imagine if Kojima and Naughty Dog collaborated on a game...

Speranza318
Speranza318

I agree with you Tom - this game set a high standard for future games of it's kind.

Truth be told, it didn't do anything novel (the gameplay was standard, the story was done many times before and is really paralleling, for example, The Walking Dead on AMC in it's premise), but what it has done has been done at the highest quality.

Naughty Dog makes AAA games.  If they made a game like The Last of Us in the future (from a production/quality standpoint) with a novel story and very believable characters with the relationship building mechanics like Ellie and Joel, we will see a true masterpiece that we all are waiting for.


The challenge is where do companies draw the line between balancing game play time and watching cinematics before you lose a lot of audience?  Also, what kind of story must be created that hasn't been done before?  Maybe they can get Steven King to help them write their next script =D

reivaxavier02
reivaxavier02

Are you kidding me with this article Mr. Mc Shea?! After giving the game an 8.0, you're saying now that, 'The Last of Us proved to developers and publishers alike that quality can still matter.'? A Quality Game deserves at least a 9.0. 

Are you saying then that you made a mistake in your review? Is this the reason why you wrote this article? Well, good then. Join the WORLD in marveling the AWESOME game that is The Last Of Us.

CountyOfKings
CountyOfKings

This game was one of the best games I have ever played... Who cares what someone else rated it? That's one persons opinion. Especially when so many other people agree that it is better than just an 8. As far as the deaths not meaning anything, there are plenty of games that you could choose to not do something a certain away and in turn that game not be as great. Ultimately these are people's opinions whether you like it or not. Also I'm sure he gets rated on views/comments or traffic in some kind of way, and a rating of 8 although people obviously hate it, gets this type of reaction and generates that much more traffic for him. So for people claiming they hate him or hate this and that, it all means the same to them.. It's like having a controversial radio host, people calling in or listening in just to hear what idiotic things they say still gets the ratings up. If you wanna show that you don't like the way things are done on here or the scoring of certain games then just don't come on here for that, rather than posting comments on here that make you sounds like a crying baby. I for one do not come here to watch reviews, since I don't agree with most of the ratings on here so I gather my info on buys elsewhere but I'm not gonna whine about them giving a great game a 8 when everyone else has given it a much higher score. I will say it is a bit odd for the same reviewer that gave it an ok rating to write a piece about how great and defying in turn the game was...

vitonemesis
vitonemesis

Just shut up Tom. This has "I'm apologizing" for that stupid review writing all over it. The damage is done.

Just shut up.  

Freboy
Freboy

I imagine some game executive reading the first paragraph in this article, then closing the browser in disgust. He turns to the window and tells himself loudly 'We all know that gamers only really like shooting or bashing enemies to death. I should go ask how the development of God of War 7 is going... now that Gears of War 6 has hit the shelves..."

tightwad34
tightwad34

Was that first screenshot from the actual game? I don't remember that.  "Those who love video games want nothing more than to be immersed in the best adventures regardless of the titles that grace the cover". I could not agree more with that. Those who sheepishly buy shit just because it has this or that on the cover are not doing any of us a favor. Sure the more games sell the more games we will see, but when people eat up the same crap we are going to see the same crap. Look at the movie industry and all the predictable ones coming out. People like their good guy always wins endings and that is getting really old.

vivalatour
vivalatour

what's the score , who cares , how many were sold ?

reaper5wtf
reaper5wtf

Lol at the backtrack. 8.5 just shows how crap of a reviewer Tom McShea is and I will never trust or read a review of his ever again, and I will actively tell others that I know to ignore it as well. This is just like that Ratchet & Clank review when Kevin VAnOrd said it had too much variety likes it's a bad thing. I don't trust his opinion at all now, and you have resigned yourself to the same fate for me and many other gamers. It just show show biased you are and that you have no idea what gamers like, which makes you a bad reviewer.

You're opinions regarding the lack of fearing death is completely idiotic, because it isn't that easy. It's not like the enemy damage remains like in Bioshock, and the areas in TLoOu where the checkpoints are a bit further apart are extremely frustrating. This is a classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation, because if it did make you replay longer sections of the game, people would have hated it and it would have gotten panned by far better critics than you. Try playing on survivor and then say that you wish the checkpoints were further apart.

JSRF_Clutch
JSRF_Clutch

Sony boys still upset over that score huh? Ha!

Who cares what he gave it? Didn't ruin your experience did it? Friggin crybabies

tuckervet
tuckervet

Come on Tom, you know you want to go 9+. For all you TLOU haters go back and read some of the accolades from the vast majority of reviewers and gamers.  Maybe they are all wrong? Odds are though most of us can play this game and appreciate excellence.  I would have liked it to be less linear and, yeah, maybe more punishing, but my personal preference aside the shear artistry from plot development, musical score, visual design and voice acting was brilliant.  If you want a game play chess or Super Mario.  For me I want the experience.

edinko
edinko

THis game while nice is as mainstream and shallow as it gets. Its an modern  dumbed down cinematic game. Its not different from mainstream its the monument the poster boy of todays cinematic/no gameplay/movie lie attitude.

While this particular one is good I have enough of games that are not games and are just movies where you press a button occasionaly.

I want to play a game not watch a movie. When I want to watch a story I `ll go see a movie.

ANy indie rogue like woth 8 bit graphics and no cutscenes beats all the heavy rains of this world by an order of magnitude cause it has a GAME.

Of course the reality is that shallowness sells today.  The dumber and less interactive the better it sells

Sarijon
Sarijon

I'm always ready to give a new ip a go, especially when it comes to one with such good credentials and is beautifully crafted in design, game play and aesthetics. Much better than the constant regurgitation of the same game that is the current trend ........... and on the horizon we have both Watch Dogs & The Division, Viva new IPs I say!!

SoulxReaperx366
SoulxReaperx366

It doesn't matter when a game comes out, it matters how good the game is.

Oldgun
Oldgun

Is this a re-review?!

TomMcShea
TomMcShea

@heroesfan261 Dark Souls is among the greatest games ever made. I've written a couple editorials about it already. The Last of Us pails in comparison to it in every way (even storytelling), but they aren't even comparable. The Last of Us is clearly a AAA game and I praised it for breaking free from those conventions in the couple places it did. Dark Souls is its own unique entity and I will continue to praise its many brilliant design decisions until I'm blue in the face.

Speranza318
Speranza318

I mean you're comparing apples and oranges here, but I see what you're trying to do.  You can't compare the story of TLoU to the gameplay in Dark Souls and vice versa.  TLoU clearly had a better story and production value than Dark Souls in terms of characters, voice acting, and overall story plot (although I'd agree with you  that TLoU is very similar to the walking dead as stated in my previous post).

On the flip side, Dark Souls had an amazingly tight gameplay that required a lot of skill to master where TLoU purposely feels clunky at times (with Joel's unsteady hand, sloppy melee, etc).

It's all in what you value in a game - TLoU's selling point is the visual/audio presentation, the relationship of characters, and their growth as you progress through the game.  I can think of very few games that presented such characters in such a realistic way.  Dark Souls certainly did not do this, although the visuals, characters, and voice acting were decent.

TomMcShea
TomMcShea

@reivaxavier02 A quality game deserves at least a 9.0? So you think any game that gets less than that isn't a quality? Wow, that's pretty ridiculous standards.

Dan11223344
Dan11223344

@vitonemesis The damage to you insecure personality i take it? Because as this article clearly states, the game has been a huge commercial success, so either you didn't read/understand the article or like i said the damage is to your insecurities and lack of a unique opinion. Because there is no damage to this games sales/interest.

stev69
stev69

@vitonemesisBitter fanboy much? What damage exactly? Are the proles revolting? So what if someone you never met didn't give the game you love the score you think it should have got, get over it man. Its not like an 8 is even a bad score.

TomMcShea
TomMcShea

@tightwad34 I don't think any of the screens i pulled were actually in the game. These were all pre-release promotion pics. They look good, huh?

TomMcShea
TomMcShea

@Quietpower09 The "backtracking" comments are especially puzzling. So many people say this yet no one can point out where.

tightwad34
tightwad34

@JSRF_Clutch Only the ones who don't have a very open mind are upset. It's one person's opinion and if you can't respect that or if you let it ruin your day then you may want to get your mind checked.

leviathanwing
leviathanwing

@Oldgun he was against it before he was for it.... sound familiar doesn it?  is this another 180?

heroesfan261
heroesfan261

@Speranza318 Actually I think Dark Souls's voice work was just as good. And I feel that Dark Souls had a much more unique art-style than TLoU. The bottom line is that TLoU really isn't innovative. The story is fairly unoriginal and the gameplay is sub-par. At least Dark Souls had a highly original story even if there wasn't much plot. The last of us just feels very done-before especially in comparison to other recent and upcoming games, yet it gets praise from gamespot  for being unique when it really isn't.

reivaxavier02
reivaxavier02

@TomMcShea 
@reivaxavier02 The Last Of Us is definitely a GOTY contender. If it does win, people will wonder now how an 8.0 game even got nominated for GOTY. Has Gamespot ever had games that were nominated for GOTY but only had an 8.0 - below rating?

Speranza318
Speranza318

@TomMcShea @reivaxavier02 Well, to be fair....C is considered "average" or "passable" (70's), B is "above average" (80's), A is what I'd call quality which usualy refers to 90+ in most testing standards.  So a score of 8.0 or 80% is better than average but not much.

vgbum
vgbum

@TomMcShea @reivaxavier02

According to you, a game that gets an 8 is a quality game. If so, there are plenty of quality games still coming out during the end of this gen's cycle so your statement "The Last of Us proved to developers and publishers alike that quality can still matter" is a clearly fabrication designed to sway any passersby to believe your article has any weight. It's pretty insulting to say that other devs don't believe in putting quality in their games especially just so you can misdirect the negative attention away from you and to their publishers. 

This guy wants to call a game a "transformative experience" but gives it an 8? A game that can transform me and make me different from before I play and after is definitely worth more than an 8. It's kinda like how his terrible review of Transformers: WFC, that was filled with errors to the point he had to pull and revise the article, transformed my opinion of him and Gamespot as a credible source for reviews. In terms of bad reviews, that one gets a 9/10. Sure as heck aren't ridiculous standards for me to expect a reviewer to get the name of the game and the core gameplay mechanic right rofl. 

http://www.gamespot.com/transformers-war-for-cybertron/reviews/transformers-war-for-cybertron-review-6267012/?page=2

Speranza318
Speranza318

@reivaxavier02 @vitonemesis The one who should have apologized was Carolyn Petit for singling out The Last Of Us to stir the pot on her feminist arguments.  At least Tom reviewed the game based on it's game play and story.  The irony was Deadpool came out around the same time and was ignored by Carolyn when it clearly degraded women.

Mickael
Mickael

@stev69 @vitonemesis  This has nothing to do with being a fanboy.  The Last of Us is TRULY that good of a game.  

tightwad34
tightwad34

@TomMcShea Yeah they do look dang good. I am very eager to see what ND can do on the next-gen consoles, along with everyone else. I was pretty sure they weren't from the game, but I had to make sure.

edinko
edinko

@leviathanwing @edinko 1. I never said I played the game

2. It was enough to watch it for a long enough time.

This cinematic lame games are unbearable for me . I am just sick of it.WHen I want to watch a story I`ll watch a movie. I really don't need to pretend that I am controlling something by pressing X or holding the stick forwards.

A game that is a pure game without crappy cutscenes all the time like Dark Souls is great. But a "game" like heavy rain no thank you.

Its enough of "watching" games. I want to play

RG923
RG923

@heroesfan261 @Speranza318 What raises The Last of Us up is its execution. I agree that its premise and twists are unoriginal, but it's incredibly well-done. As far as gameplay, it's not anywhere near as deep or involving as Dark Souls, but it's superb at what it is. There's a lot of risk-reward thinking going on that is rare to find now in games.

Dan11223344
Dan11223344

@vgbum @TomMcShea @reivaxavier02 8/10 is a brilliant score. The problem isnt that Tom gave it an 8 the problem is that too many reviewers throw 9's around. If you look at film reviews on IMDB some of the best films of all time got 7-8's. On a scale of 1 to 10, 5 should be the average. 8 is far above, and giving 9-10's is saying the game is near perfect or perfect. No game is perfect whilst companies are still able to enhance experiences. 

And most importantly, Tom is a human being with an opinion, which may differ from yours but is valid none the less. Seriously can people let this internet tantrum go now? Its been weeks since the review. And as you can see it didn't affect sales in the slightest (assuming you're of the camp that believed it to be a negative review). In short, let it go, its over now.

ForceSkin
ForceSkin

@edinko You're a fool, you criticise the game without even playing the game? The gameplay, while not revolutionary, was very tight mechanically and quite visceral. This worked in tandem with an excellent story which was thoughtfully written and executed, and elevates TLOU to the level of art. At no point did I feel like a passive observer just watching another cutscene. The moment-to-moment action of TLOU was simply captivating, and truly it becomes greater than than the sum of its parts. My advice would be to stop posting on TLOU threads before you go and play it for yourself. Then someone might take your opinion seriously.

EdotheHero
EdotheHero

@edinko @canuckbiker watching a game and playing it are extremely different things - i would be bored watching a walkthrough video of the last of us. this game isn't just 'a movie where you press a button occasionally', otherwise i need to get my mind checked because that's certainly not how i played the game.

and yes, heavy rain is a game, because it offers a direct experience through interaction with the game itself. it is not a movie, and i'm up for any kind of game experience as long as that experience is powerful.

edinko
edinko

@canuckbiker Watching it for a long enough time is enough. I am not criticizing the game itself but the sickening modern trend of games that are simply not games. Like heavy rain. Do you honestly think that a "game" which has no real gameplay and is just watching cutscenes is a "game" li\ke for example dark souls? That is a real game that you play and not merely watch like a movie.

That's my whole point. That I am tired of the modern dragon lair syndrome. When I want to watch something I`ll watch a movie. I want to play a game not press X to watch a boring cutscene

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

I don't know in what world you can criticize a games gameplay without playing it, but you don't speak for me or apparently a lot of people. I like TLOU, heavy rain, and dark souls. All these games are great and immersive in their own ways. In short with out variety and personal preferences we'd all still be playing Mario brothers and nothing else.