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Last Saturday, Naughty Dog presented the trailer for its new game, The Last of Us, at Spike TV's Video Game Awards. The trailer does exactly what it's meant to do: attract interest in the game. And it achieves that goal…at first.
A second look at the trailer reveals that The Last of Us has challenges to overcome before it can truly call itself original.
Naughty Dog needs to give gamers something to get excited about, so the trailer succeeds there. But it posesses typical elements: the suspense of what the heck is going on, an encounter with a monster, and a notation of the struggle to survive everyday. I've seen this before.
That begs the question, "How exactly will The Last of Us differ from other games in which humans have turned into creatures? Naughty Dog's trailer brings a host of fresh examples to mind. And not just from games.
Dead Island addresses the post-apocalyptic genre with zombies. The Walking Dead, whatever the differences between the television show and the comic, explores the same concept, and I Am Legend is still fresh in popular culture (the movie based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novel was released just four years ago).
Zombies…vampires…it doesn't matter. If the world ends because of humans turning into monsters, I'm not surprised. With an idea so constantly explored, there's no reason to look forward to this game unless Naughty Dog addresses the story from a different angle.
The key to The Last of Us' success will be what it does with this scenerio. Story is still king, and for that reason, this game might change everything. The examples named above all did something different with post-apocalcyptic worlds that involve monsters with varying degrees of success.
The Walking Dead has solidified its place in pop-culture history. While a zombie comic book and television show, it focuses more on the emotions and pyschology of its characters than blasting zombies. I Am Legend is best known for its scientific explanation for vampirism. The blood-type-specific immunity to the zombie virus in Dead Island has some intrique (although, the game was not as good as the trailer).
The post-apocalyptic era is quite well-tread ground, and there's nothing wrong with that. Considering how long the Earth has survived in this universe, we have cause to speculate how it all ends. Works of fiction are perhaps the best way to do this.
The Last of Us will probably maintain the Hollywood-style writing and cinematics of the Uncharted series. This idea is good and bad: Hollywood produces many diamonds each year, but Hollywood produces just as much garbage (Green Hornet, The Last Airbender, and Jack and Jill come to mind).
When working with creative expression, everything has the potential to be good or bad. What worked in one game may not carryover well into the next. Failure is always an option. No gamer should settle for the same-old plot regardless of how good the gameplay is. Settling for the same stifles creative progress.
But Naughty Dog has a strong reputation, especially with the Uncharted series, so what reason exists to doubt their skills? The designers are professionals; they know what's been done, and they'll probably work hard not to repeat what's already been said about the world's ending.
There's already signs of that: Evidently, the cause of the human crazies is a fungal infection.