The Last Of Us Part 1 Just Went Gold – So Where’s The Gameplay?

‘Going gold’ is a phrase that hasn’t quite broken into the gaming mainstream yet. For devs it’s a major milestone, for journalists it’s one of the most significant news stories pre-launch, and for the hardcore crowd it’s one of the best ways to dial up hype. For most players though, they’re rarely aware it has even happened, and they understand what it means even less. Essentially it means the game is finished, but there’s a bit more to it than that. The Last of Us Part 1 just went gold much earlier than expected, so it’s probably worth digging into it.

When I say it means the game is ‘finished’, that’s never really true these days. In the old days where games were made, scanned onto discs, and then sold in shops, going gold meant they were ready to be scanned. These days, it doesn’t quite work like that. Games are still scanned onto discs, but an increasing number are sold digitally, plus even physical copies are subject to day one patches and various tweaks down the line as devs spot (or players report) bugs and glitches that either weren’t detected internally or weren’t judged to be game-breaking enough to cause a delay when the opportunity to patch is right there.

The Last of Us Part 1 going gold means Naughty Dog is fully committed to the launch date and sees no chance of a delay, so is going to start making the discs. The devs won’t stop working, but at this stage it’s the refinement (refining on refinement, given the task at hand) portion of the development that a day one patch fixed. During the review period for Horizon Forbidden West, the game was patched to stop the texture pop-in, and then patched again at launch for a bug sweep. Subsequent patches followed that, amongst other things, made Aloy shut the hell up.

The Last of Us Part 1 will likely follow a similar pattern, but at this stage, I have more questions than answers. What, precisely, is The Last of Us Part 1? The language around the improvements have been vague, and it’s starting to feel deliberately so. Naughty Dog artist Anthony Vaccaro claimed the game was made with zero crunch, which given the crunch-heavy philosophy of The Last of Us Part 2, is staggering. It’s also a little worrying. As I’ve said before, I don’t think we should ever view crunch as necessary, not on the studio-wide scale at which it is employed. A few senior devs working longer shifts to get things over the line is very different to studio-mandated 12 hour workdays six days a week.

But what that means is in two years (let’s assume development began immediately after TLOU2), Naughty Dog has fully rebuilt one of the most technically impressive games ever to exist, overhauled the gameplay, and finished with a month to spare, all while also making Factions, also patching TLOU2, also living through a pandemic, and also avoiding crunch. I’m willing to be proved wrong, but I think something smells rotten in the state of Jackson.

The gameplay is the odd one out there. We keep hearing, though rarely from Naughty Dog itself, that the game definitely needs a remake because the gameplay that we all called the greatest of all time just nine years ago is actually garbage now. While Naughty Dog talks of improved animations and extra realism – itself objective when it changes the artstyle of the original significantly – gameplay is muted. We’ve seen none of it and heard no extra details on what it might be like. It has been speculated that we’ll get TLOU2 gameplay (unlikely, when Joel moves completely differently to Ellie/Abby), or that it will finally measure up to its E3 trailer. It has to be something though, right? They can’t just be making it look better, can they? That would just be a huge waste of time for arguably the most talented studio in the world, wouldn’t it?

The game is for all intents and purposes finished, and yet we have not seen one single second of its gameplay. If you believe the gameplay is going to be the most transformative part of this remake, I’ve got a twisted bridge over a foggy Seattle skyline to sell you.

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