Addressed to Naughty Dog. (NOTE: there are absolutely no spoilers)
For the attention of: Neil Druckmann, Bruce Straley, Evan Wells, Christophe Balestra, the remainder of the Naughty Dog team who worked on the game, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson.
Dear Naughty Dog,
You’ve done it. You actually went and done it. For eight years, not one game has challenged Metal Gear Solid 3 as my favorite game ever. It takes a lot to do that. I loved MGS3 because it opened my eyes in terms of mature storytelling (lets not mention the fact I got scared of MGS2 at 11 years old) in a game. The Cold War setting, the story, the characters (especially The Boss). And that ending.
Only two games have ever made me cry, but MGS3 was the first game that did it for me. It would have taken something truly special for me to even consider a new favorite game ever. There have been games over the past eight years that have come close of course – Uncharted 2, Metal Gear Solid 4, Mass Effect 2, BioShock Infinite among them – but it was still a case of close, but no cherry.
Now, I’ve found not only likely to be my Game of the Year or even my Game of the Generation. After eight years, I’ve finally found something to replace Metal Gear Solid 3 as my favorite game ever.
Its name is The Last of Us.
I’m a player who likes sticking with the tried and trusted tactics of a game, but I don’t think I’ve had a game that has challenged me to change up said tactics so much and still have me enjoy it so much. If a straight up firefight with Hunters don’t do it, I could instead take the stealth option and go off unscathed. I’ve not enjoyed a stealth mechanic such as TLOU’s in years. And there are moments that can be quite intense, be it coming up against Hunters or a handful of Infected, including a horde of the terrifying Clickers.
I’ve seen comparisons made to Resident Evil 4 on Twitter and that’s about on the money. You managed to make a mesh-up of three different playstyles of action, horror and stealth achieveable. On paper, it should never have worked. But you made it work. And with incredible style too.
But as much as I loved playing the game, I loved even more seeing how it played out. A relationship that started out so distant and reluctantly from one another is one that eventually becomes such a close relationship towards the end.
Ellie, born after the fungal outbreak, seems so charmed by the world around her at times. From as little to Fireflies (as I mentioned already) to even being bewildered at the sight of an ice cream truck, there’s parts of the world that may seem nothing to Joel but new to Ellie. And that’s quite incredible and charming to see.
And what of Joel, a man born before the outbreak, someone who knew the old world. For one, Joel is no Nathan Drake. He isn’t a cocky pretty boy who manages to find a way around any problem comes his way with a kind of happy go lucky attitude (okay, maybe not happy go lucky, but something like that). He isn’t as athletic as his Uncharted counterpart either. You managed to reinforce the fact that Joel is a average guy. No special talent, no special skills, just someone who had to improvise to make his way in the world with the girl.
Combined, though, the relationship between Joel and Ellie in the game is one that maintains something special, even from that very first reluctant meeting in Boston. In fact, without trying to mention it at all, there’s a scene which epitomises that relationship that just makes you go ‘wow’. Tie in the utterly incredible score you made with Gustavo Santaolalla of Babel fame, it’s just something phenomenal to behold. I hope those who’ll read this will know what scene I’m referring to when they come across it when they play the game.
And I have to thank you, Naughty Dog, for giving such a moment of unspeakable splender. And it must be stated how incredible the performances you, Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, gave to both of those characters. Not just in that scene, but throughout. You made two characters made out of code and polygons feel human in what is an otherwise violent and broken down world.
Throughout, The Last of Us is quite simply a bleak yet emotional ride, evidenced by the first twenty minutes of the game. While Metal Gear Solid 3 was the first game to ever make me shed a tear at a game, it did so at the end. The Last of Us did so essentially at the beginning of the game. It was a proper kick in the heart stuff too. I’ve always felt if a game can make you feel like you’ve formed an emotional bond with it, it’s a work of art. The Last of Us is art in every sense of the word.
Two years ago, I wrote this retrospective piece on you for VG247 as you celebrated a 25th anniversary that really went under the radar. This was at a time where Uncharted 3 had been out for a few weeks and just after you announced – to my surprise – The Last of Us. In it, I said that the quality of your games has never let up and that with “The Last of Us inbound, that trait looks like it will continue.”
That sentiment remains true, but not once did I expect you to surpass even your own quality by a great deal. Four years after you turned the industry sideways with one of the most incredible, mature games of this generation with Uncharted 2, you’ve gone an ocean further here. You’ve managed to surpass even one of your own games, which in itself, will be up for many game of the generation nods in the most outstanding way possible.
I don’t quite know what else to really say at this point that has been said, so I’m gonna wrap it up now. But not before I say this one last thing.
You managed to make one of the greatest games ever at the tail-end of the PlayStation 3’s lifecycle as this generation comes to an end. You made a showcase that immortalises games not as something more than just a stupid niche thing but as a truly wonderful brand of entertainment. And after eight years, you gave me my newest favorite game ever. You have made something truly, truly special. And as a whole, you’ve become a teller of the most amazing, mature stories
Speaking as a fan, not a games journalist, I only have one thing to say to close this off.
To all at Naughty Dog and to Troy and Ashley: Thank you. Just, thank you.
Disclosure: This opinion is based on a final PlayStation 3 retail copy of The Last of Us, provided by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe. The Last of Us releases worldwide on June 14 for PlayStation 3.