Where could Sony’s celebrated first party studio be headed next?
Naughty Dog have gone through a startling transformation as a developer over the years. Yes, they’ve always been a very talented studio that’s made excellent games, but the last decade and a half has not only seen their stock seeing its most meteoric rise ever, the developer has also almost completely changed its identity, going from a creator of mascot 3D platformers to one of grittier, more realistic cinematic and narrative-driven action-adventure games (almost to the extent that they’ve pretty much the blueprint the entire industry follows for that sort of games).
With The Last of Us Part 2 only just having come out, it is, of course, still too early to be thinking about what’s next for them. But let’s do it anyway, right? And according to us, while there’s certainly merit to the idea of a third The Last of Us game to wrap up the trilogy, we also think Naughty Dog might deliver something special once more something completely new. In this feature, we’re going to talk about four new genres that we would really like to see Naughty Dog tackle next (or at least in the foreseeable future), based either on the strengths that they’ve exhibited with their recent games, or because, well, we’d just like to see them do something completely different. Any one of these would be worth pursuing.
So without further ado, let’s get started.
Stealth games are becoming increasingly rare in the AAA space by the day, but some developers do still show their love for the genre every now and then. Over the last decade, The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2 have definitely been some of the best high-profile stealth games to have come out. And sure, the two of them aren’t as dedicated to the genre as something like, say, Hitman or Metal Gear Solid– but they make it an integral part of their gameplay experience nonetheless.
Stealth in The Last of Us was solid and always functional, but it’s fair to say that it was nothing special. With the sequel, Naughty Dog have brought in plenty of improvements and refinements to deliver what is definitely among the best linear stealth games we’ve played in years. The AI is devilishly clever, both in terms of communicating and in terms of tracking the player down; every single stealth encounter makes sure to play to the strengths of the game’s level design, demanding you to make use of the much more expanded movement options to always stay on the move; engaging and meaningful progression allow you to have some degree of control over how you want to tackle each situation, with things such as upgraded silencer, faster stealth kills, and improved Listen Mode coming in incredibly handy; and new enemies such as dogs and Shamblers, or improved returning ones such as Stalkers, inject an incredible amount of tension into each encounter.
No, The Last of Us Part 2 isn’t the most dynamic or systemic stealth game out there – The Phantom Pain it is not – but that shouldn’t take away from just how much of an improvement it is over its predecessor in terms of stealth. Because within the bounds of the game’s nature as a linear, guided experience, the stealth is as dynamic and layered as it can be- and executed much better than it was in the first game.
So who better than Naughty Dog, with their AAA production chops and immaculate talent, to deliver a game completely dedicated to stealth? A linear, guided military stealth game from Naughty Dog sounds like a great idea indeed- perhaps they could finally fill that void that has been left behind by the likes of Splinter Cell and Metal Gear.
OUT AND OUT HORROR
So this one is sort of obvious- in the same way that a stealth game from Naughty Dog would be. A decade ago, horror and Naughty Dog would have seemed like a weird, out-of-left-field suggestion, but it’s one that seems rather obvious now. The Last of Us and its sequel are both games with horror in their veins, from their settings and the enemies you take on to things such as resource management or even the decrepit, overgrown environments you so often find yourself in.
But though they’re both games that are deeply horror-driven at times, they’re not out-and-out horror- and out-and-out horror is clearly something Naughty Dog would excel at. The Last of Us and The Last of Us Part 2 both masterfully evoke strong emotions of tension and panic in players countless times, both through the course of ordinary gameplay – owing to how terrifying the Infected can be as enemies when used properly – and through handcrafted set-pieces.
So what would a horror Naughty Dog even look like? Well, they’ve got things such as the tone, atmosphere, resource management, environment design, and enemy design pretty much nailed down- a greater focus on those elements could lead to a purely horror-focused game coming from one of the most talented studios in the industry. That’s certainly worth getting excited about.
It’s been a while since Naughty Dog have tried their hand at the open world formula. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and The Last of Us Part 2 all play around with letting players loose in larger, more open-ended areas with the promise of optional, skippable content to varying degrees, and each of them does it really well. There are no intrusive markers or compasses on the screen, the games strike a great balance with regards to quantity and quality of optional content, and exploration always feels not only rewarding, but engaging within the context of the games themselves- which makes sense, since contextualization of gameplay is something Naughty Dog have become excellent at over the years.
Design philosophies like that, if applied to a larger open world game, might really be worth something. The open world space is one that all too often goes with quantity over quality, with vomiting markers and meaningless side objectives all over the game’s world, with tropes and mechanics that can shatter your immersion within a second. The few times that Naughty Dog have toyed with that sort of design in their recent games, they’ve managed to avoid all those things- for the most part, anyway.
Of course, doing something like that across a much larger world with more to see and do and interact with would obviously be much harder- but we’d still very much like to see them try.
The first three things that we’ve talked about in this feature have all been based on strengths that Naughty Dog have exhibited in their recent games- this one is quite the opposite. While stealth, horror, and (to a lesser extent) more open-ended design are things their recent output has excelled at, a sci-fi story and setting are things that seem to be completely outside of Naughty Dog’s wheelhouse based on their current style- and that is exactly why we’d like to see them do something in this area.
For starters, there’s the fact that seeing a studio as talented as Naughty Dog tackle something completely fresh and new is always an exciting prospect. The last time they did that, we got The Last of Us, and we all know how that went. New IP is the lifeblood of our industry, after all, and it’s something that Naughty Dog aren’t averse to doing, so it might conceivably happen.
Why specifically sci-fi though, other than the fact that it would be very different from things they’ve done in the past? Well, we feel it might strike the perfect balance between the Naughty Dog of old and the Naughty Dog of new- a hard sci-fi game could allow them to make something less realistic and grounded than Uncharted and The Last of Us, while still allowing them to tell a stories more mature and nuanced that Jak and Daxter and Crash Bandicoot.
Of course, a medieval or fantasy setting might also work for something like that- but can you imagine a next-gen space opera Mass Effect competitor from Naughty Dog? It’s a mouth-watering prospect, to say the least.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.