It’s something in the trembling fingers. The camera holds on them, long enough to see the bruising, to see the blood, the tattoo. It’s impossible to see who this is, the roughness of the image pushing our minds to the rugged male protector we controlled in the first game. Time is taken to tune a guitar before it begins to be played as the dead surround her. They don’t seem to deter her from beginning to play. Even as she begins to sing, she remains unfamiliar. Her singing is flat, it goes in and out of a rhythm, and in and around a sort of tunefulness. A grimy face twists into something painful as her song reaches the end of the verse. Her brows frown, her eyes clench. A single drop of blood falls past her cheek, the guitar a more pressing matter than her injuries.
A figure emerges in the doorway and begins to calmly walk through the house. She doesn’t react, finishes her song. Even as he asks her if she “is going to go through with this”. She responds only by carefully placing the guitar on the floor and replying, with no remorse and no hesitation: “I’m gonna find, and I’m gonna kill every last one of them”. This may be Ellie, but I do not recognise her. She has no fear. All innocence has been washed away, replaced by an anger we cannot yet understand.
The trailer feels empty, so much is unsaid, so little is shown. But it is in these silences that Naughty Dog screams its genius. It is right that Ellie should no longer act like an innocent child. It is right that she should become more independent; it is right that she should be developing into something different. I don’t want her to be perfect. I want her to be flawed, to be angry, and to be bold. Make her irrational Naughty Dog, make her someone who can kill off a group of attackers one moment and then take some time to tune a guitar the next. Bring something new to this sequel, and to all of gaming if you can.
The original The Last of Us was a simple game of survival. As interesting as that is to see play out, Part 2 is presented as a story of revenge, of hate, and of anger. In all mediums, pain like this is so rarely done well. It tends to be too simplistic, characters turning from paragons of virtue to vassals of pure evil in too little a time. Furthermore, physical pain is all too often used as the sole way of toughening up women. I’m not saying that pain can’t consume Ellie, but it needs to be paced well. I’m not saying Ellie can’t be put through physical pain, but there needs to be something more. Something bigger than just brutality. If Naughty Dog can address Ellie’s character arc sensitively and maturely, Part 2 will break new boundaries that the first game merely touched on.
The third shot of the trailer also gives us a brief glimpse of a Firefly logo, a resistance group fighting against the oppressive governments of The Last of Us. The question is however, what role do they have to play in the sequel? We can easily see them as the bad guys; they have certainly done many immoral things and are arguably just as militant as the governments they fight against. However, all that they do is in the name of saving the human race from the virus that is quickly turning everyone into zombies. More than this, Marlene, the head of the Fireflies in the first game, was presented as a guardian figure to Ellie and the Left Behind DLC presented us with Ryley, another member of the Fireflies extremely close to Ellie. The Fireflies are not an evil corporation, they are a complex and important organisation; and Part 2 needs to explore them, as they go to plan B, without reducing them to the role of faceless and evil antagonists.
Of course, more than anything, the focus needs to be on Ellie and her relationship with Joel. And to do this right, Naughty Dog need to use subtlety. They need to know when to hold their moments and when to let things fall away; what to focus on and what to blur; what needs to be said and what to leave unsaid. If this trailer has shown us anything, it’s that Naughty Dog understand exactly what needs to be done. I know I sound like I’m asking too much, but with their strong record in crafting brilliant narratives and the trailer offering so much potential, this is an incredible opportunity for gaming to take a sophisticated route and turn its attention to new realms of the human psyche and of the species as a whole. So keep going down this road Naughty Dog, and you may just be about to add an even shinier diamond to your already dazzling crown.