The Last of Us 2 is happening. Of course it's happening: given the first game's success, not doing a sequel would be like a 10-year-old cancelling next year's Christmas because they 'don't believe in the artistic merit' of having cool shit. Despite their many similarities to the aforementioned children - a love of Batman, video games, and not having baths - studio heads love money, and the easiest way to make more of it is a high-profile sequel.
As expected, there's been a slew of people on the internet saying that there's no need for a sequel (apart from money), that it should be 'left alone', as if The Last of Us was a bullied Year 7 kid and not a fairly straightforward zombie flick-cum-game with a 70s ending. Hell, even I once thought that it shouldn't happen, but then I saw the light and decided that, with a bit of work, The Last of Us 2 could live up to its 8/10 predecessor. But only if it takes one of these forms:
The Godfather Part II, but with zombies
The obvious way to do it is to nick Francis Ford Coppola's (or Robert Evans', depending on which egomaniac you believe) way of following up an established standalone classic. The second Godfather movie has dual narratives: Vito Corleone establishing the family business in the early 1900s, contrasting with his son Michael consolidating and broadening his power in the 1950s. The film moves between the storylines stylishly and provocatively as it makes points about family, corruption, and bitching moustaches.
The analogue in The Last of Us 2, then, is to have players take on the role of Ellie as she makes her way in the world after the first game, flashing back to Joel's lost 20 years after his daughter got killed. Not having them together in the present timeline also intrigues, with players questioning just what has happened to Joel since the last game, and whether or not Ellie's actions are as morally grey as his.
On the downside, the reason this approach worked so well for Coppola was that his source material, Mario Puzo's original novel, had all the flashback stuff in it already: he just left it out of the first movie adaptation. A similar setup was also mooted for a potential Leon sequel, with Natalie Portman playing an adult 'cleaner', but it never came to pass. Not a slam-dunk then, but not the worst idea.
The Last of Us Begins
Fairly simple: follow Joel as he becomes Batman Beardman. 20 years is a long time - just ask Liverpool fans, or your da - and there's a lot of potential conflict to be mined out of it. What badness did Joel get up to to survive? How exactly did the rest of the world's governments fall? How did the basic infrastructure survive and evolve, enabling him to get even more gruff and sad?
The downside of this is that the world they create can't possibly be as detailed as the one you've created in your head - see Terminator Salvation - and well, it's a bit played out. When old George Lucas proposed the Star Wars prequels it seemed fresh and exciting, but not so now. Also: is The Last of Us thematically interesting enough to carry the backstory? Isn't it essentially just the story of a lost soul and his one chance at redemption, but with zombies? To make the prequel as interesting as that, you'd need an Ellie substitute, and then you're just into a weird situation where women are used as plot devices to show how Joel is Foxdie to women, rather than having any real character development.
The Last of Them
Another popular idea (on Twitter, when it's not telling people to die in fires) is a sequel set in the same universe, but with no connection to Ellie and Joel. This seems the most palatable way of continuing themes, moods, and beards, as is the case in True Detective, but in a way that doesn't necessarily change the established story. Something like Children of Men, but with grander political intrigue and in-fighting between surviving factions.
The problem with these sorts of follow-ups is that A) there's every chance they'll not be as memorable as that which inspired them, broadening character bases in order to not look like a direct copy and as such watering it all down, and B) it's tempting for the creator to become the fanboy, linking things back to the original production when they just don't fit. Exhibit A: Star Wars Episode I, where C-3PO is built by Darth Vader for reasons that make no sense whatsoever. Worst case scenario: the new main character is about to kill another saviour of humanity, when a silhouetted face appears on a monitor, imploring them not to do it. It's unmistakably Joel's voice, of course.
FYI: this sort of schlock only works in Inspector Gadget and Resident Evil games.
The First of Us
Invert the whole thing. Instead of a zombie game about the end of the world, have it about the start of it, hunting sabre tooth tigers and shit. The lead character is an ape who still doesn't have as much facial hair as Joel. Full Kubrick. No mercy. Seven million copies sold, 6,999,999 returned, 50 game of the year awards.
The Last of Us3
Ellie and Joel, having started a new life (and surrogate family - they've rescued a puppy from the medical facility at the end of the first game) head to France to escape the infection. On the flight over, while asleep in their business class pods, it's revealed an INFECTED has STOWED ABOARD. The plane goes down, crashing in BRITAIN, the land of shaved-head louts, 40-below temperatures, permanent midnight, and Charles Dance. Joel and the puppy (in fact there are two puppies, labradors, who were in Andrex commercials before the fall) are killed GROSSLY and UNFAIRLY, leaving Ellie to wander around the destitute environment and be MENACED by SCUM, losing all hope and eventually killing herself to stop the INFECTED MENACE from spreading yet further.
This is my favourite of the options, mainly because of the amount of hand-wringing and general sadness that will wash over the internet like an awesome wave of grief.
The Last of Us, but in co-op
The first game again, but now you can play with a friend. Also includes new squad commands, including military hand signals and Ellie shouting tango down every time she makes a kill. Full XP/Prestige system, DLC first on PlayStation, beta available to download today.