The Last Of Us Part 2 returns with a horrifically violent trailer, showing that between games, the world has not changed. The trailer also raised the question about violence being used to sell a game.
The Last Of Us was not a pleasant game, set in a future where a cordyceps infection all but destroys humanity. Cities are overtaken by nature. Humans are forced to live in small, gated communities, not allowed to leave. The rest of the world is ravaged with the infected. Runners, Clickers, and bloaters roam the land, infecting anyone they come into contact with if they do not outright kill them first. The humans aren’t much better. Plunged into anarchy, the humans struggle to trust each other or what little authority is left. It is the epitome of every man for themselves.
Naughty Dog created a horrific, violent, dystopian world that no one would wish to exist in. In all the carnage, though, a relationship developed between father-figure Joel and daughter-figure Ellie. Players watched this relationship grow in the shadow of violence and fear. When the game came to an end, it felt concluded. While many hoped for a sequel, they would not have held it against Naughty Dog had they left it as a standalone story.
Naughty Dog felt differently. And what we have is The Last Of Us Part 2. Announced late last year, information on the game, including a release window, have been sparse. However, at this year’s Paris Games Week, Naughty Dog debuted a new trailer, and to say it got tongues wagging would be an understatement.
The new trailer saw an unnamed woman being strung up and about to be hanged. Another unnamed woman–later revealed as Emily–lifts her shirt and declares she was infected with sin, before placing a dagger at her belly, presumably to remove the sin: an unborn child? Before the deed can be started, another woman arrives. Yara is her name, and for trying to help the unnamed woman, she has her arm smashed with a hammer by two thugs at the orders of Emily. It is a grotesque sight that shows off the brutality that still exists in this world. Before Yara’s second arm can be mutilated, the thugs are hit from out of sight with an arrow. Emily is then eliminated by a combination of chocking by the legs of the woman strung up and a hammer blow to the head courtesy of Yara.
The bowman is then revealed to be a young boy: Lev. Yara tells him to cut the unnamed woman down, which he duly does. The trailer ends with the three attacked by the infected with the outcome left a mystery.
It is important to note at this point that the trailer coveys that the world has not changed. The old vestiges of human civilisation are gone, covered with weeds, moss and other wildlife. The light source for the scene is flame-light, not electric torch-light and while guns are used, more primitive weapons like bows, knives, and hammers are the order of the day. With the world being established early on as the same, it is clear the brutality of the world is also the same.
This is where the trailer has come in for criticism. The trailer is incredibly violent, and while the violence is indicative of the series as a whole, the problem for many is there was no context, leading the violence to be seen as a gratuitous marketing tool to sell the game. As the viewer, we are left to guess, who these people are, how they fit into the greater narrative and why they are in the predicament that precipitated the violence that we saw?
However, is the violence misrepresentative, is it without context? I don’t think so. Yes, we don’t know who these people are, but we know the world, and I think that was the purpose of the trailer. I think it was to show people how violent this world is, how humanity has changed or evolved so it can survive, how trying to compare this world, even to the one inhabited by Ellie and Joel in the previous games is redundant. I think it is to prove that society, like in real life, has moved on and quickly, to a more brutal, more bizarre world.
The trailer seems to highlight differing clans or gangs dominate the landscape, each with their own ideas on how the world should be run. Emily’s group takes umbrage with pregnancy. Now, we don’t know why that is, but if the trailer gave that away, people would complain it gave away too much. It is trying to strike a balance between enough to wet the appetite and not too much to give it away.
Another issue many have is the fact that the violence is directed towards women–using sexual violence as a means to shock the viewer. While yes, the violence towards women, and perpetrated in part, and directed by, a woman, is tough to watch, it all feeds into the world and the story Naughty Dog are trying to tell. In this world, no one is safe from both the infected and the humans. Yes the context issues come to the fore again, but as I mentioned, Naughty Dog had to be cagey about what they gave away but also be true to the story they are trying to tell and the world they have built. In hindsight, maybe they should have added a few seconds more of context, but considering this was an in-game cutscene, that was not possible.
Naughty Dog has proven that they are one of if the not the greatest storytelling game studios in the world capable of creating strong, individual characters be they male or female, and therefore have earned the benefit of the doubt. If any studio was going to use gratuitous violence against women to sell a game, it would not be them.
A final counter-argument has been that if it wasn’t Naughty Dog, if it wasn’t a sequel & if it wasn’t TLOU, what would the reaction be? Unfortunately, that is not an argument, because it is Naughty Dog, it is a sequel, and it is TLOU, so we can only argue about what it is, not what it could have been.
Could Naughty Dog have used a different part of the game for this trailer? Of course, they could. Would it have had the same effect? No, it wouldn’t. Could they have shifted camera angles just to imply the barbarity rather than graphically showing it? Yes. However, as content creators, it is this vision that they wish to portray, regardless if that is too violent for some. The new trailer quite clearly reintroduces players to the horrors of the world Naughty Dog have built. It also introduces new characters and builds intrigue for who these characters are and how they relate to Joel and Ellie. Yes it was grim, and if it were for an Uncharted game, it would feel out of place, but for the Last Of Us Part 2, it just stayed on the side of story-driven world-building violence. Just. That doesn’t mean, however, that we need more of this style of this trailer to sell the game.