Gaming

The Us-Like: Sony’s Exhaustive New Brand

Sony has been doing a LOT of games like this lately.
Sony has been doing a LOT of games like this lately. Screengrab from God of War: Ragnarök.
When I put out the Games of the Year list for 2022, there were two notable omissions: Horizon Forbidden West and God of War: Ragnarök. It’s not because they were terrible games. It’s because Sony Interactive Entertainment has gone all in on a very specific type of game and it’s very exhausting. I call this sub-genre the Us-Like.

When The Last of Us came out in 2013, it redefined what prestige gaming was. It was the sort of critical darling that makes even people who aren’t into video games want to play it. There’s a reason Sony has re-released it and remade it several times, including this year. It’s also turned Sony into a content mill for games that fit a very narrow style that they now make almost publish almost exclusively.

What is an Us-Like? It’s a third-person action game with a lot of cinematic content and aspirations. While there can be humor, the principal subject is always darkly serious. Part of the game will involve having a secondary character aid the player character in combat but will not strictly function as an escort mission. There is a premium placed on parental-child relationships, with the coming of age or loss of innocence of a teenager being a major theme. Settings are at least semi-post-apocalyptic, and usually involve snow at least once. Players explore for crafting and upgrade materials, and the most common enemies are always a kind of zombie.

Granted, The Last of Us invented very little of this. Hitman, Gears of War, Resident Evil, and other titles had these elements, but none ever combined them so perfectly to dominate game development for years to come.

This year was inarguably the year of the Us-Like. Sony released three of them, and if you’re like me that also made you want to go back and play their companion games. That’s over a hundred hours of high stakes combat in dead worlds with high tension narratives. This is apparently what PlayStation is now.

PlayStation has spent most of the last two decades trying to find an identity. It’s why the PS Classic was such a dud even as the PS1 design aesthetic goes through a renaissance in indie gaming. When Sony first launched their machine in 1994, all they had to be was everything the Nintendo wasn’t. That included Metal Gear Solid, Final Fantasy, Resident Evil, Castlevania, Crash Bandicoot, Legacy of Kain, Tomb Raider, Silent Hill, and a host of other classics. None of those are Sony exclusives anymore. In opening up a new playground for game design, they failed to cultivate a library like the one Nintendo has to this day.

Sony held onto a few properties, but it’s been a very mixed bag. It’s been nearly a decade since the last Sly Cooper game. The criminally underrated Knack series is dead because of poor sales. Ratchet and Clank is still kicking, and Rift Apart was arguably the first game to truly show off the capabilities of the PS5, but it got far less hype than the Us-Likes. There’s always Bloodborne, but since neither Sony nor From Software have said they’re working on a sequel, it’s not likely to be a defining Sony product in the future.

Heck, even Kratos has gone oddly missing from the Sony library. Despite headlining God of War, Sony doesn’t make most of the games from the original Greek series easily available. Why is there no compendium of the PS2 and PS3 titles? I’d guess it’s because those games are so radically different from the current Us-Like brand that Sony prefers they be relegated to collectors than part of the ongoing series.

It’s not that there is anything wrong with the Us-Likes. I have thoroughly enjoyed every single one of them. However, Sony’s complete reliance on the genre for their current exclusivity has made delving into their worlds kind of emotionally draining. Imagine if every single Nintendo game was a version of Mario, never straying out of the cutesy settings and whimsical abilities. It would get very monotonous, which is why Nintendo mixes it up with Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and other titles.

I appreciate that Sony has found a thing that works for them. Gaming is far better for having Us-Likes in them. It would just be nice if PlayStation wasn’t so associated with bleakness these days.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner