Naughty Dog Will Lose Its Identity With Remakes And Remasters

If you asked any gamer who the best studio in the world is, they’d probably tell you the one behind their favourite games. That’s a legitimate way to look at it, but I’m not sure it’s accurate. It’s certainly not objective. ‘Best’ when categorising artists is never entirely objective, but you have to consider skill, achievement, legacy, and innovation into the mix. When you do, Naughty Dog would be a major contender to that crown, and that makes looking at the studio now feel a little depressing.



There are major caveats to Naughty Dog’s greatness, of course. It boasts a huge contingent of employees, with 2,000 people working on The Last of Us Part 2 at its peak. That’s connected to its astronomical budget, the size of which most studios can only dream of. And, the largest blot on the copybook, Naughty Dog is a proponent of and pioneer in crunch culture, and considers that being the best means pushing yourself to, and occasionally beyond, the limit. If we try to look as empirically as we can to find the ‘best’ gaming studio, and take ‘best studio’ as ‘makes the most impressive games’, then Naughty Dog’s advancements in narrative, character, visuals, and technical achievement, not to mention its repeated generation-topping review scores, see it as a standout contender. So why isn’t it acting like one?

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Naughty Dog is a risk taker. Those cast iron Metacritic scores might not paint the picture of a studio sailing close to the wind, but that only underlines the studio’s quality. Whether it’s Uncharted revolutionising the action-platformer genre with set-piece spectacles, The Last of Us Part 1’s controversial ending, Uncharted 4’s deeper focus on narrative and ground-breaking dynamic environments, or the biggest risk of all, killing Joel and having you play as his killer in The Last of Us Part 2, there are a lot of things you can criticise Naughty Dog for, but playing it safe wasn’t one of them. Until now.

Ellie playing the guitar in The Last of Us Part 2.

After pulling off its major risk in The Last of Us Part 2, every move Naughty Dog has made since seems to retreat further back into its shell. The studio is rumoured to be working on a new fantasy RPG IP, and that could be a true Naughty Dog game with everything that entails. But it feels like the studio has flown too close to the sun, its skin searing as it bubbles with melting wax, plummeting to the ground with a shriek of hubris.

First up there was The Last of Us Part 1, which had already been given one graphical tune up when it moved from PS3 to PS4 in 2014, was given a fully fledged remake. We were told, in deliberately obfuscating terms, that this remake would have gameplay improvements and tweaks to the original game’s AI to bring it up to modern standard.

Fans’ minds were racing – TLOU1 with TLOU2 gameplay? Sign me up! I was sceptical at the time, and was proven right when there were no TLOU2 gameplay mechanics to be found, but instead only minor improvements. Fans didn’t really care – Naughty Dog has credit in the bank, and with the TV show out soon, most people wanted to replay it anyway – but this was the world’s best studio turning its back on the future to obsessively retouch its past in ways that were barely perceptible.

Hot on its heels is the rumour that The Last of Us Part 2 is also getting a remaster, and this one is even harder to justify. TLOU2 came in the PS4’s electric death rattle that also gave us Ghost of Tsushima, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and Persona 5 Royal. It went out in style, but even with three years of the PS5, it doesn’t feel like another game has approached what The Last of Us Part 2 did. It’s still in the running for the most visually and technologically impressive game you can play right now. If Naughty Dog really is committed to a remake, I’m sure the PS5 could push it further. But to try would be vanity when another, fresher game could utilise those resources and development time to soar further, faster. The titular naughty dog used to be a rottweiler fighting in the street, now it’s a poodle posing in front of a mirror.

In between these two remasters/remakes is yet more obsession with The Last of Us in the form of Factions 2, although even its name is yet to be confirmed. This was supposed to launch in 2020 as part of TLOU2 itself, and three years later there’s no title, no trailer, and seemingly no idea. Bungie’s first task post-Sony acquisition was to help Naughty Dog out, and Bungie’s veterans appear to have offered the advice to throw the whole thing in the trash.

Factions was The Last of Us’ online multiplayer mode, and the sequel was thought to just be bringing it back with a few tweaks both narratively and mechanically. Once it became its own thing though, being an enjoyable online experience was no longer enough. Instead, it needed to be a constantly evolving live-service ecosystem with a seasonal narrative and short, medium, and long-term gameplay loop that keeps fans invested for minutes, months, and years with rewards doled out in a satisfying rhythm, while pushing players to play (and spend) more each time, coming back day after day, week after week.

Ellie splattered with blood in The Last of Us 2

It had to be entirely unlike anything Naughty Dog had done before, while being exactly like everything it had done before. It needed to fit specific focus-tested, algorithmically generated design ideas, but retain the unique and never-before-seen spirit of Naughty Dog. Now, it seems like it’s going to be nothing, and what little momentum is left will be used to make Abby’s golf club swing faster than ever thanks to the power of the PS5.

Naughty Dog remains one of the best studios in the world, and with this fantasy RPG bubbling away in the shadows, could retain that title for decades to come. But the old Naughty Dog wouldn’t leave a fresh idea to simmer in the background to airbrush one game for the second time, give its newest game an unnecessary makeover, and squander resources on a money-generating online shooter set in a curated world the studio clearly holds dear. I don’t know what’s next for Naughty Dog, but I hope it returns with a bite and not a strut.

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