As part of a series we're doing on "The Best Games of Generation 7," I've decided to throw my hat into this ring, and after much reflection and consideration, I'd have to give my overall best Game of Generation 7 to The Last of Us.
Initially released by Naughty Dog on the PS3 in 2013, it was much hyped coming up to its release, and the game did not disappoint. It won loads of "Game of the Year" awards and received near-universal praise for every aspect of the game, from the story to the gameplay, as well as fantastic performances by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson as main characters Joel and Ellie.
On top of the original PS3 release, which was already lauded as a masterpiece, just a little more than a year later they released The Last of Us Remastered for PS4. This improved upon the original in almost every way, with more graphic detail, a much smoother framerate—along with an option to turn off the 30fps lock—and considerably less motion blur. However, the graphics are only a minor postscript as to why The Last of Us is my choice for Best Game of Generation 7.
Simply put, it stands as one of the most constant and gripping gaming experiences I've ever had in my life. The thematically-built story pulls you in right away, and the entire cast plays their roles so well. No single character in the game felt out of place or like they didn't belong. There were no instances of bad or cringey dialogue to soil the mood either. Everyone in the game sold their performances better than most movies I have seen, and the game stepped along at a near-flawless pace. Joel and Ellie were both simply fascinating as main characters, and their cooperating attitudes switching back and forth from adversarial to almost father-daughter made them practically immune to becoming stale throughout the game.
Of course, story and characters alone aren't always enough to sell a game, much less one I consider as the best of a generation. The Last of Us is, at its heart, an extraordinarily violent action game. The combat is viscerally brutal, and at times very intense. The sound effects definitely lent a hand in amplifying the experience—you hear the impacting smack of every punch, the metallic "thud" of a pipe crushing bone, the rocky crumbling of a brick as you bash in someone's head, the loud recoil of a gun turning an enemy's head into paste, sounded by an unnerving meaty splatter.
Despite how strong Joel was, he was hardly an invincible action hero. Mistakes in combat were often costly, if not instantly fatal depending on the enemy. There are very few items in The Last of Us that would heal you instantly, and even then the benefit was minimal. Fortunately, there are enough breaks in action to create medkits and fix yourself up. Especially in the higher difficulty levels, raw materials were scarce, and survival depended on how you approached each battle.
I would say one of the strongest reasons I choose The Last of Us as the Best Game of Generation 7 is because it set the bar for an overall action gaming experience, which has yet to be surpassed. It was visually stunning, the story masterfully crafted, and the gameplay was extremely balanced between accessible and challenging. Gustavo Santaolalla's soundtrack flawlessly expresses the seeming hopelessness of human civilization on its last legs throughout the entire game. It captured dark and depressing without feeling like it was overdone or trying too hard.
As someone's whose played thousands of games in his lifetime, there are very few—especially as I get older—that leave lasting impressions, or even manage to move me emotionally. From the first tear-inducing scenes to the unexpected ending, The Last of Us is the pinnacle of its generation, and I have no doubts that even years from now it will still be considered one of the best games of all time.