Sony's Paris Games Week press conference ended with a new trailer for Naughty Dog's anticipated survival horror drama The Last of Us: Part 2, but rather than the excitement you'd expect, the trailer was met with no small amount of controversy.
The trailer (above) was slick and looked great, but was also extremely, jarringly, violent. We see elbows being smashed repeatedly with hammers, weapons being embedded in people's skulls and characters struggling against being hung by their necks.
It made for uncomfortable viewing, but why has there been such an outrage?
The Last of Us was a very violent game. Every encounter with violent humans or the monstrous clickers turned – if all attempts at stealth failed – into brutal and bloody struggles.
This worked however, in conveying the desperation and violence of the world Naughty Dog created.
It succeeded in creating an atmosphere of peril and desperation in an unrecognisable world plunged into chaos after humanity is decimated by a fungal virus, and that continues in this new trailer for The Last of Us: Part 2.
This new footage prompts two questions: should such extreme violence be used to market a game, and what purpose does the violence serve?
Video games have an uneasy relationship with violence, and using it to sell games is indicative of an industry still trying to woo a teenage, predominately male demographic that's not in line with what we know of modern gaming audiences.
The Last of Us is acclaimed for telling a well-written and mature story, so it's strange that Sony and Naughty Dog felt the need to peddle a trailer that reflected neither of those qualities. Yes, the footage was mature in its graphic viciousness, but it was immature because it was devoid of any meaning.
Which leads us to the second question. Violence has long existed in all kinds of media, and a lot of it is gratuitous. When it's not, however, the violence is justified by context and purpose – typically the purpose of generating a connection between audiences and certain characters.
We see a character, an apparent leader of a quasi-religious group, dig a knife into a woman's stomach, then order two stooges holding another prisoner to "clip her wings". On her command they break her arm. She's the villain here, instigating the violence, and that would have been fine if this trailer set her up as an important character.
Instead she dies, as the prisoner with a broken arm escapes with the help of a nearby child armed with a bow and arrows. They then help the other woman, now hanging, down from her predicament, before they quickly set themselves up to fight off some arriving clickers.
We learn just one character's name, and nothing about their connections to the story of Ellie and Joel: the original game's protagonists.
Naughty Dog most likely has big plans for these characters, but in learning basically nothing about them here, the result is a short film that only offers up evidence that The Last of Us: Part 2 will look visually astounding and be exceptionally brutal. Players already knew that.
If Naughty Dog had given anything away at all, the trailer would have at least justified its existence. Instead, it's a five-minute tone piece that does nothing but tread water until the next trailer and firm details arrive.