Boiling a year's worth of content down to ten top picks, as we did with our nominees, is taxing enough. Picking one as our Game of the Year? It's not easy.
We covered a large swath of titles in our nominations, from the triplest of A to a turn-based strategy RPG to an indie adventure game made by a few people, and still there were plenty of amazing games left off. Tearaway. Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon. Everything else you'll be complaining got snubbed in the comments.
But pick we must and pick we did.
And the winner is ...
The Last of Us
The Last of Us is a beautiful send off for the PlayStation 3. It carries with it Naughty Dog's considerably heft; the artistic, technical, and budgetary ability to build what we call "AAA games." It leaves behind the vibrant pulp adventure that is Uncharted in favor of something more challenging. Mechanically it is still third-person action, but the reduction in platforming elements alone informs on its design tone. It is weighty, and the player carries that weight.
There is no handsomely clambering up walls like a sprightly mountain goat. You're constantly seeking ladders or other means of coping with human deficiency and limits. The stealthy neck snaps are not aggressive leaps and a quick twist pulled off in an instant. They are drawn out and inelegant. You slowly choke the life out of another human as they gurgle and sputter away the last breaths of their life.
Naughty Dog has done something rare in the medium and that is tell a mature tell in a mature way. For as raw and grotesque as it is, The Last of Us is an exercise in subtlety and subdued story-telling. The writing is good, but it knows when to shut the dialogue off and continue telling the story in others ways, with affective music or the meticulously crafted homes you work your way through that all tell their own tale.
The Last of Us in some ways represents the height of big budget development. It isn't unfamiliar or arcane, treading in well worn post apocalyptic ruin and third-person action/horror gameplay. It also upsets this familiarity and quietly offers a much deeper, challenging experience for anyone who wants to explore it.
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