Spoiler Warning: Not only will we go over some of the alleged leaks from The Last Of Us Part II, but there will be spoilers for the first game’s ending too.
Once upon a time I worked in the video games field. I mostly did website content and marketing for a big company (that shall remain nameless) but I got to know a number of people in the industry – at the company I worked for, at other companies in the city, and even in games journalism.
The leaked cut-scenes for The Last Of Us Part II seem to have come from Naughty Dog’s QA department – or perhaps an outsourced QA tester. QA, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, stands for “quality assurance”, and these are basically product testers, people who play through a game to find bugs and glitches so that the developers don’t have to. In my own experience I did some work with the QA team, but it was primarily proofreading and copyediting for in-game text – both tasks that could be given to a QA department depending on the structure of a company.
The company I worked for was, on the surface, ferocious about information security. Non-disclosure agreements were signed, and one clause in my contract was that I couldn’t undertake similar work for a “rival” company for at least 12 months after leaving the company I worked for – all under the threat of being sued or even arrested. But in practice, it wouldn’t have been hard to leak information. In my role, for example, I would take screenshots or use screenshots and videos taken by others on a regular basis to form part of the company’s marketing material. These images and videos would be unencrypted, with no identifiable information contained within the file. I was often working with games that hadn’t even been announced, yet it would have been incredibly easy to copy them onto a floppy disk (sorry, am I showing my age?) or USB drive, or email them to myself or someone else. Considering how many people worked in the office I was in, it’s a wonder leaks like this don’t happen more often, even in normal times.
And these are not normal times. With “non-essential” jobs all but shut down, practically every large games company around the world has shuttered its offices and asked members of staff to work from home. This can include QA testers. If it was easy to record and copy information, including images and videos, while working in a busy office, doing so from home would be a piece of cake – and I would speculate that that is precisely what happened.
The motivation for anyone to leak significant information about an entertainment product escapes me somewhat, I must admit. Some people have guessed that it was someone “disgruntled” within the company who was using the leaks to make a point. But my guess is that most of these people do it for attention. Seeing articles (like this one, ironically) and knowing they alone caused all the fuss is surely at least part of what motivates leakers.
The Last Of Us was released in 2013, and ended somewhat ambiguously. It was one of my favourite games of the last generation, and one of the things I liked about it is that it was a self-contained story. Of course the world the game created had scope to tell many other stories, and in a way I’m not surprised to see another entry in the series, but as a one-off game it felt like lightning in a bottle – something not easily recaptured. I was sceptical of the idea of a sequel from the beginning, just as I would be if a sequel were announced for a film like Sam Mendes’ 1917. Why? Because it was a single story. It doesn’t need further explanation, yet in the current era of sequels and franchises, almost every successful entertainment product comes under pressure to follow suit and churn out something else.
Regardless, The Last Of Us Part II has been made, and is, by all accounts, practically complete. The pandemic has delayed its release, as it has for many other titles, unfortunately, but work on the game is largely done.
The question of “what comes after an ending?” is one that sequels struggle with all the time. Look at the direct-to-video Disney sequels like The Little Mermaid II or Pocahontas II for how a sequel can be difficult to handle. The fundamental issue is that a story like The Last Of Us is complete. The ending may have been ambiguous, and it was certainly an emotional gut-punch, but it was an ending. It was even a semi-happy one, at least from Joel’s point of view. The point isn’t that nothing was ever going to happen to these characters afterwards, because if we got lost in that world and it felt real then of course we would want them to go on and live their lives. Instead, the point is that we didn’t need to see it, because our interaction with Joel and Ellie was purely their road trip across America in the first game. That was their story; that was the only part we needed to see. While you could absolutely argue that there’s scope to take another look at The Last Of Us’ fungus-apocalypse setting, if it were up to me I’d have left Joel and Ellie out of it – or included little more than a cameo appearance from them.
Now we’re getting into spoiler territory, so I’m giving you one last chance to jump ship.
Not only does Ellie seem to find out that Joel lied to her about the operation and what happened to the Fireflies, but Joel himself is killed. To repeat what I said a moment ago, I’m not sure I wanted to see this next chapter. I was quite content to leave Joel and Ellie in the hills approaching their new home, to conclude their journey as they become as close as family; as Ellie finds the caregiver she never had and Joel finds someone to care about after losing his daughter. Those character moments defined The Last Of Us for me, and over the course of a game I’ve replayed several times, the coming together of the two central characters is what made it a fantastic story.
Killing off one of them – or both, if you believe some of the less-reputable rumours out there – is just not what I’d have chosen. And I know, reading spoilers out of context can be a bad thing, because a story is about more than just one single plot point. But if you’re a regular reader you’ll know that I’ve just been through something similar with The Rise of Skywalker – the latest Star Wars film. Because I can’t go to the cinema I’d read a synopsis of the plot long before I saw the film, and I was thoroughly unimpressed with what I’d read. On the day I was finally able to sit down and watch it I still thought that there was a glimmer of hope – but it was not to be, and The Rise of Skywalker was an utterly crap film. In short, my gut feelings about story points tend to be right more often than not. And when it comes to what I’ve seen and read about The Last Of Us Part II, I’m expecting a let-down.
I’m strongly of the opinion that some stories are one-offs. They don’t need sequels or to be spun out into bigger franchises; they accomplished what they needed to in a single story. Other games have fallen victim to this – the Mass Effect trilogy was a single, complete story, yet a desire on the part of EA and Bioware to revisit its world led to the disappointment that was Mass Effect: Andromeda. The first Mass Effect warranted a sequel – the Reapers were still out there, even though their vanguard had been defeated. But Mass Effect 3 was a final and definitive end, even if you got the “extra-good” ending. Mass Effect: Andromeda didn’t need to be made, because sometimes complete stories are best left alone.
While I’m hopeful that any game I’m somewhat anticipating will be good, the big spoilers and leaks that I’ve seen for The Last Of Us Part II serve only to reinforce my opinion that there was no need to make a sequel, or at least not one that brought back the same characters. And while it is absolutely true – as I’ve argued myself in the past – that the sequel doesn’t “ruin” or in any way change the original game, which will still exist and can be revisited to my heart’s content, I still feel disappointed in what I’ve read.
A game like The Last Of Us was purely a story – one for which the term “cinematic” was practically invented. The gameplay was secondary to the story, and in that sense it’s a title that I would be just as happy to watch as I was to play. Those kind of games are rare, but they’re fantastic when their developers get it right. That’s why The Last Of Us was one of my picks for the top ten games of the last decade – you can find the full list by clicking or tapping here. While I have no doubt that Naughty Dog will make a success of the gameplay of The Last Of Us Part II, and that the game will be polished and free of the kind of glitches and bugs that plagued titles like Mass Effect: Andromeda, if the story isn’t up to scratch none of that will matter. For gamers who just want any old action-shooter, maybe it’ll be fine. But for someone interested in the story it won’t be a success. It will simply be another example of why tacking on a sequel to an already-complete story can be an impossible task.
The Last Of Us and The Last Of Us Part II are the copyright of Naughty Dog and/or Sony Interactive Entertainment. Promotional images courtesy of IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.