Editor’s note: This review contains spoilers.
After repeated delays and major leaks, the video game studio Naughty Dog released “The Last of Us Part II” for PlayStation on June 19. While the first game, “The Last of Us,” was universally beloved, nothing has been more divisive in the fanbase than the release of the sequel. Since the initial backlash, the studio has been relatively quiet.
But on Sept. 22, the studio released a statement on Twitter that recounted the difficulties that the studio had faced over the past year — including COVID-19 — and concluded with the announcement that “Sept. 26 will be known as the Last of Us Day — a name that not only acknowledges the world around us, but also reflects the growth of the community as we welcome millions of new players.”
Previously, Sept. 26 was known as “outbreak day” within the gaming community and marked the release of new promotional material and select deals on merchandise. With the announcement of the re-branding on Sept. 26, fans were eager to see what Naughty Dog had in store for them after “The Last of Us Part II” fell short of expectations. Unfortunately, it was more of the same.
Instead of the previously hinted at multi-player version, or details about the new HBO show adaption of “The Last of Us,” fans were rewarded with free PS4 themes, reaction GIFs on Twitter, two new posters of the main characters by Mondo, a limited edition vinyl and select “The Last of Us” themed apparel available at discounted rates.
Twitter user @DombtheBombYT tweeted using one of the newly released GIFs, “Everyone at the end of #TheLastofUsDay if there is no multiplayer announced for The Last of Us 2.” The irony shouldn’t be lost on Naughty Dog.
However, Wyatt Ameden, a senior video game design student, said that Naughty Dog “shouldn’t have to apologize; you either like it or you don’t,” referencing the perception that the rebranding was an apology from Naughty Dog to fans. He also acknowledged that the studio might have had bigger plans for Sept. 26, but additional projects were likely impeded by COVID-19.
When asked about #TheLastofUsDay, gamer Connor Randolph said that it was “a bit of a bummer” but that it was “our fault for wanting our socks to be blown off. We should be used to being let down by video game studios.”
Gamer Jaskaran Singh didn’t even know that the event was happening but when told he felt that it was “such a ball drop” and thought it would’ve been a good opportunity for Naughty Dog to show care for the fans instead of “just making revenue off of them.”
But this mixed range of emotions towards the rebanding is indicative of a bigger story. “The Last of Us Part II” divided the fanbase over the summer after early leaks revealed the death of main character Joel and that main character Ellie is gay, which led some fans to decry what they percieved as a ‘forced SJW agenda’. These fans proceeded to flood the game with negative reviews on review site “Metacritic,” but this didn’t stop others from purchasing four million copies in three days, breaking previous sales records for the PS4.
Randolph said that the controversy surrounding the game was “based in ignorance, transphobia and homophobia” and that he still loved the incredible gameplay that forced players to confront their own ethics and morality.
Singh thought people who hated the game were held back by “their own jadedness” and were missing out by not realizing the uniqueness of the game compared to the “homogeneity of AAA games,” a distinction used by the video game industry for big budget games. He also credited the game for the complexity of main character Abby seen by the contrasting of her muscular stature with her paralyzing fear of heights, as well as her direct parallel to Joel’s character arc in the first game.
Citing his expertise in the field, Ameden clarified that his problems had nothing to do with the controversy and everything to do with the pacing of the game, which killed momentum and caused “emotional beats to not hit how they were supposed to.” Nonetheless, he still praised the game and said one of his favorite scenes was the museum section because it was “a beautiful return to the classic feel from the first game.”
While the divisiveness of the reaction to “The Last of Us Part II” was a catalyst for much overdue conversations about toxicity in video game culture, #TheLastofUsDay has shown how studios need to take a less profit-driven approach to their fans. This blunder has certainly cost Naughty Dog some much-needed redemption points.
While reaction GIFs and free PS4 themes might have seemed like a good idea at the time, the fans have spoken, and next Sept. 26 they would much rather see news about the upcoming video-game themed HBO show or information about the continuation of the franchise in order to be appeased.
Shelby Kleinhans is a freelance photographer and reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @BirdsNotReal99