Naughty Dog has arguably become Sony’s ‘golden studio’ after back-to-back generations of critical masterpieces and extraordinary sales. One year removed from the release of The Last of Us Part II, however, and the acclaimed PlayStation devs have remained rather quiet. Here’s what they might be working on next.
Over the course of the past few generations, Naughty Dog has cemented itself as one of the industry’s most ambitious and successful developers. From the early days of Crash Bandicoot through to their unrivaled technical marvels on the PlayStation 4, the Santa Monica studio has become synonymous with pushing the medium forward.
Having now entered a new decade, and with Sony’s powerful PlayStation 5 hardware at their disposal, one can only be giddy at the thought of Naughty Dog’s next project. Though while other studios have opted to reveal their new-gen plans years in advance, Sony’s ‘top dogs’ have kept all but silent.
As co-president Neil Druckmann assists on the silver screen adaptation of The Last of Us, what are the hundreds of talented storytellers, programmers, and artists working on at Naughty Dog? Here’s what we might be in store for next.
The Last of Us Part III
The most obvious pick for Naughty Dog’s next title would be the third – and perhaps final – entry in The Last of Us series. While eight years passed between the original release and Part II in 2020, we know for a fact that an outline for a third chapter has already been written.
[Co-writer Halley Gross] and I did write an outline for a story that we’re not making,” Druckmann revealed during an appearance on the Script Apart podcast. While no further plans appear to be in motion just yet, he “hopes” the third act will eventually “see the light of day.”
This next chapter would explore “what happens after [Part II], though any proper commitment to its development remains “up in the air.”
Regardless of your thoughts on the latest entry and its daring narrative, no one can deny the impact of Part II. With 261 game of the year awards to its name, the most of any title in history, the sequel quickly became the third best-selling PlayStation game of all time.
Now 12 months on from Naughty Dog’s latest success, with a third chapter already laid out, it would certainly make a ton of sense for Sony to be pushing for the next entry. Just how long that might take to hit store shelves though, remains to be seen. If early development is yet to begin, Part III could easily still be 3-5 years off.
The Last of Us Remake
A remake of the original Last of Us is happening. We know this for certain thanks to an April 9 report from Bloomberg that outted the project has already been underway for quite some time.
Originally, a Sony support studio in San Diego was reportedly leading the PS5 remake. This team was soon relegated to a supporting role in the game’s development, with the original developers at Naughty Dog taking over.
There’s no telling how big this team might be, nor how far along the project already is. While we already received a PS4 remaster in 2014, this project appears to be a complete remake from the ground up.
In all likelihood, this remake could be designed as a way to boost sales around HBO’s upcoming adaptation. With filming now underway for the Pedro Pascal-led television series, a remake launching around the first season could bring new fans to the PS5.
The Last of Us Factions
When the original Last of Us arrived on the PS3, it did so with an innovative multiplayer experience. For the sequel, Naughty Dog originally had ambitions of doing the same, launching its narrative follow-up alongside a brand new multiplayer component.
Ahead of Part II’s release, however, and the devs decided to scrap those plans. The vision for Factions “grew beyond an additional mode,” Naughty Dog explained in September of 2019. At that stage, it was made clear multiplayer won’t be part of Part II and instead, serve as a standalone project later down the line.
An update regarding multiplayer: pic.twitter.com/CUd98LgJGC
— Naughty Dog (@Naughty_Dog) September 27, 2019
Years have passed since this announcement and we’re yet to see any updates on the status of Factions. New multiplayer-based job listings were even spotted early this year, suggesting the project still has a ways to go.
A group of developers are clearly still working on this multiplayer experience, though there’s no telling how much longer fans will have to wait.
The Last of Us PSVR experience
Finally for the Last of Us franchise, wouldn’t it be all too fitting to see one of the best-selling IPs jump to the world of virtual reality? While we haven’t had any rumors on this potential development, it would certainly make a whole lot of sense.
Sony recently unveiled the first details surrounding its next-gen PSVR equipment. With potentially millions invested into this next era of technological innovation, Sony would surely want a handful of its 15 first-party studios developing exclusives for the hardware.
What better way to launch the upcoming equipment than with an ambitious title from arguably their most popular studio?
Naughty Dog is no stranger to such technological innovation, though virtual reality would be something new and exciting for the team at Santa Monica. With all of PSVR 2’s improvements over the original, a new Last of Us project could be one of the best ways to showcase its potential.
Fending off infected from this new perspective would obviously create a more immersive gameplay experience. The game’s heart-pounding horror beats would only be elevated by this first-person pivot. Not to mention the storytelling opportunities the team could delve into without having to impact Ellie’s journey.
A standalone VR title could shed light on new characters, at a different stage in the post-outbreak narrative, perhaps even exploring a completely different side of the world.
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The opportunity for a compelling VR experience is wide open and with hundreds of employees at the ready, a smaller team within Naughty Dog could be hard at work on a PSVR release already.
Scrapped sci-fi project
— Unseen64 (@Unseen64) January 8, 2019
Before Uncharted ever came to be, Naughty Dog experimented with the idea of a new sci-fi game instead. Revealed in their very own art book from 2014, the team had put together a unique sci-fi pitch “complete with androids, robots, and futuristic weapons.”
The idea for the title revolved around a “giant hole in the ground. No one knew exactly what created the hole, but the adventure would have the player exploring the depths.”
While this project was discarded at the time, former Game Director Bruce Straley teased that it was still “very possible” the idea comes to fruition sooner or later. “There’s still a story, there are some great game ideas. I don’t think anybody else could do this game like Naughty Dog,” he said.
Rather than conceptualizing a whole new universe, there’s a good chance Naughty Dog simply looked back through the archives before settling on their next title.
Speaking of sci-fi, for all we know, Savage Starlight may have already laid the foundation for Naughty Dog’s next release. Scattered throughout The Last of Us as hidden collectibles, this comic book series focused on Dr. Daniela Star’s adventures in the year 2186 as she battled an alien force known as the Travelers.
Fans haven’t let this theory go since the 2013 title hit store shelves. Maybe it’s about time we see Naughty Dog venture into outer space. After all, the devs have a tendency to tease their next projects directly in earlier titles.
New Uncharted spinoff
Back in April, industry insider Jason Schreier reported that an Uncharted spinoff was indeed in the works. However, it was Bend Studio steering the ship, having previously worked on Uncharted Golden Abyss for the PlayStation Vita.
While this project was ultimately discarded as Bend began work on an entirely new IP, it’s evident Sony is high on the idea of an Uncharted spinoff. No surprise, given the Nathan Drake quadrilogy topped more than 41m copies sold by 2017.
If you’re yet to play through the games yourself, we won’t spoil the endings here, but the series now has multiple routes wide open for potential spinoffs. We already saw how successful a non-Drake storyline can be with Chloe and Nadine’s Lost Legacy.
It certainly feels as though it’s a matter of when, not if, a new Uncharted will hit store shelves. If Naughty Dog is divided into smaller teams once again, it wouldn’t be all too surprising if one group is handling a fresh Uncharted project.
Something entirely new
As a final option, there’s always a chance we see something fresh. Barring the PlayStation 4, we’ve seen one new Naughty Dog IP with each new console generation. While the PlayStation 5 is still fairly hard to come by, that’s not to say early development hasn’t already kicked off for a new game to release midway through the generation.
As masters of linear storytelling, it’s a safe bet to assume the devs won’t venture too far from their bread and butter, just with a new coat of paint.
Therefore, it’s probably fair not to expect anything too outlandish. An open-world game that lives up to the Naughty Dog standard could take a decade to develop, for instance. Moreover, a change to the first-person perspective could drastically alter their design process. So a third-person shooter to some degree, is more likely than not.
Exactly what form that might take is anyone’s guess. We’re closing in on a decade since Naughty Dog’s last original universe was put out into the wild. Who knows what type of setting the devs might delve into for their next original story.
With more than 500 employees at the time of writing, it’s fair to assume Naughty Dog is tackling multiple projects at once. Various teams could be juggling a mix of remakes, multiplayer experiences, technological innovations on new hardware, and everything in between.
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Now one year on from The Last of Us Part II, it’s only a matter of time until we get our first teaser of what’s next.