The leaks for The Last Of Us Part 2 are a big deal and will have wide ranging impacts on not only all future Naughty Dog studios releases but the gaming industry as a whole. If you guys are not familiar with what is going on, allow me to catch you up on the current events. It would seem that somebody upset with the financial practices of said company leaked practically the entire game online for the world to see as way to shine a light on video game studios shady dealings. Don’t worry, we won’t discuss the ACTUAL spoilers here to preserve the experience for the fans that are still excited about the release. At first it was hard to believe that any of this was true, but when Neil Druckmann (Game Director and V.P. of Naughty Dog Studios) released a statement not denying what was presented but more letting fans know to avoid spoilers at all costs and not ruin the experience for others, you knew shit had hit the fan.
Allow me to backpedal a little bit for those amongst you who are maybe not familiar with the game at all. The Last of Us is a post-apocalyptic adventure game where you play as Joel Miller. You’re ultimately tasked with the protection of a girl named Ellie as it would seem she carries a natural immunity in her blood to the virus that has seemingly wiped out large swaths of the world. This is a heartbreakingly bleak yet beautiful adventure to be a part of. While the backdrop is a pretty typical zombie apocalypse story, it’s in the characters and the personal stories between them that really sell the outstanding nature of the game. At the time of release and in the subsequent years, TLOU would go on to be widely regarded both critically and by audiences as one of the all-time video game classics. It left a huge impact on the gaming community and when it was all said and done… the fans clamored for a sequel. TLOU didn’t end on a typical plot-based cliffhanger but it left both Joel and Ellie on an emotional tipping point that begged for future adventures with the two. To say that TLOU Part 2 was one of the most eagerly anticipated games for 2020 was an understatement. Between this, the FF7 Remake and Cyberpunk 2077, it was shaping up to be a blockbuster year for video games.
Sadly, some of that excitement is now mired in controversy and fan outcry as the reactions to TLOU Part 2 have been OVERWHELMINGLY negative. Again, I won’t go into specifics as to what was spoiled but needless to say that the creative direction that Neil and Co have decided to go in will at the very least be seen as extremely divisive.
I as a fan of any particular franchise like to be challenged and shocked. I like to have my expectations rocked and to be left wondering what the hell is coming next. However, if you’re going to fundamentally change the status quo of something SOOOOO many people hold dear it has to make narrative sense in a natural and organic way. It can’t be revolutionary without being evolutionary. Spending time with Joel and Ellie and getting to know them as characters on a personal level was 80 percent of what made the original game so special. It was shocking not for the sake of shock value but because you became so engrained in their journey that when shit happened you felt genuine concern and worry for their well-being. Not many video games these days illicit that sort of response from the player but this was the sort of thing that made TLOU stand out from the pack. So, to see the story-based direction that this sequel is going in and some of the rather “ballsy” choices it makes is confusing at best and really dis-heartening at worst. Naughty Dog Studios is known for placing just as much emphasis on story and narrative as they are gameplay. Their Uncharted series is also a very beloved adventure franchise that makes you feel like you’re right there with its cast of characters.
Listen, I am not going to wade into the gender politics and SJW issues at the heart of the controversy surrounding this game. Deep diving those aspects of this release require someone of a braver heart than me. It’s to my understanding that a leak of this size in any aspect of the entertainment industry has never been made this public on this scale. We’re talking the entire plot of the game laid bare plus several hours of pivotal cut scenes that reveal key plot points and twists. For a game series that is more known for its narrative, to have something like this happen on such a large level is completely devastating. Studios these days are known for pushing “crunch” culture on their developers and other team members dedicated to whatever title they’re working on. A LOT of man hours are dedicated to making sure that the best possible version of the game is available to consumers. Often times studios will offer huge back end bonus deals based on a game’s performance in lieu of higher salaries. What this means is that a studio like Naughty Dog can pay its workers lower day to day wages based off the back of a promise of more “bonus” money should the game perform well. This promise can often be seen as “nebulous” at best because it allows corporate leaders a lot of leeway to withhold whatever they want as they see fit. So, they’re essentially pushing a work culture of coercing people past the breaking point for essentially less money. Gearbox (the studio behind Borderlands) is very famous for withholding bonuses and proper pay incentives from its programmers. Randy Pitchford (CEO of Gearbox) has been all over the news as of late for purposefully withholding his employee’s pay for his own personal financial gain often embezzling millions of dollars at the sacrifice of paying his employees. So, the culture amongst triple AAA studios in terms of the way they treat their employees has not had the most “shining” reputation in the media.
I find myself at a crossroads on where to go next. While I still want to support the hard working devs who really gave it their all with this game, I really don’t like the story direction they’re seemingly going with IF these leaks all pan out to be true. I suppose a small modicum of “context” can smooth over some of the edges but the big key plot points are still irritating at best. As with consuming any sort of media, the best way to let creators know what is and isn’t working is by voting with your wallet. If something doesn’t seem interesting to you, simply avoid spending money on it. Even with all the disappointment I’m feeling over the game’s direction, I still find myself wanting to play it. We ultimately shouldn’t rush the judgement on something we ourselves haven’t had the pleasure of first-hand experience with. Yes, these leaks are unfortunate and it would seem that a lot of fans have already made up their minds on whether or not they’re going to purchase the game. I can’t say I count myself amongst them to be honest. I still have a level of curiosity that will inevitably lead to a purchase from me. Will it be a day 1 download and playthrough? Probably not, I am still knee deep in a second play-through on the Final Fantasy 7 remake and I also just downloaded myself a copy of Persona 5 Royal and bought digital version of the remaining Resident Evil games I didn’t already so I’ll probably be distracted for a while. When TLOU Part 2 goes on sale or I’ve completed enough of the games I haven’t even touched yet then ill probably give it a go.
TLOU Part 2 will still probably make huge bank and all these fans hemming and hawing over their opinions will probably fade into obscurity if not completely disappear. The game itself will still probably be successful enough to warrant a hundred more think pieces on the relationship between creator and audience member. These kinds of large-scale gaming events seem pretty insulated to fan outcry and even leaks of this magnitude. So, the interesting take away from this whole debacle isn’t going to be whether or not the game succeeds but how video game studios market their products and how much they revere pre-release marketing. If the game comes out and has a successful launch then the scuttlebutt around major leaks for major studio events might start to lose its luster in terms of press coverage. If, however, the game comes out and financially underperforms then there will be no end to the number of articles and postulating on what really lead to the game’s “financial” failure. You’ll have people on both sides of the aisle playing the blame game without ever entertaining the notion that maybe it wasn’t the leaks that sunk the ship but the fact that the game could possibly suck.