Bronze: The Last of Us by Naughty Dog
The Last of Us is a very explicit game not only in terms of content, but also in its storytelling. Naughty Dog's latest does not hesitate to show you every little drop of blood and piece of ripped flesh that is earned in the ruthless bits of action on Joel and Ellie's journey, but also every tear and worn smile between these two characters. Until the very end, when it ends quietly and leaves you to decide what the characters believe and what could happen next.
In its final climax Joel has to chose between Ellie's life and the ability to cure the rest of humanity. In a fascinating moment of character consistency the traumatized Joel chooses to cling to the past, to the girl that reminds me so much of his long dead daughter, saving Ellie but dooming the rest of humanity in the act. But the game does not end there. Indeed it goes on a few minutes longer as it gives us control of Ellie as we learn that Joel lied to Ellie about his choice, that there was never any hope for a cure. We walk up a hill towards a new horizon, and as we reach the summit Ellie stops Joel to ask him to swear to her that he's not lying about the cure.
Joel doesn't not hesitate for one moment when he says "I swear."
Ellie looks off into the distance for a few seconds, tears in her eyes. She then looks up and replies "Okay."
I really hope that there isn't a The Last of Us 2, because despite how rough its pacing is and how generally joyless the gameplay is, The Last of Us ends on an absolutely perfect note. There's no need to follow-up to that.
- Isaac Wagner
Silver: BioShock Infinite by Irrational Games
BioShock Infinite's story was already pretty weird with its concepts of time travel, but after an honestly poor final battle where you control the Songbird to fend off the final forces of the Vox Populi, suddenly Infinite's story takes an even further turn into insanity. Elizabeth opens a Tear to Rapture, the settling of the first BioShock, in a spectacular and masterful revelation. She then proceeds to explain that there's a huge network of multiverses ("There's always a lighthouse. There's always a man, there's always a city.") and that she is Booker's daughter whom Comstock kidnaps to take over his throne ruling Columbia after he dies. Furthermore she explains that Comstock is actually an alternate, possible version of Booker DeWitt that accepts a baptism after his battle at Wounded Knee, an event that Booker turns away from. And that despite them defeating Comstock in one universe, he will exist in all of the others unless they kill him off at the source. To defeat Comstock's evil once for all, Elizabeth (along with a bunch of other alternate reality Elizabeths) takes Booker back to the baptism after Wound Knee and he lets her drown him.
It's a mind-bogging ending that is thrilling in its complexity, despite some plot holes that arise due to its time travel nature. And also BioShock Infinite's ending is exciting not only for its thematic depth, but also in the seamless and technically unnecessary way it ties the original BioShock and Infinite, and indeed all other potential BioShock titles, together. It's a fantastic concept that hooks me into caring about the combined nature of the BioShock universe, and I'm incredibly interested in what a new BioShock title following this does in pushing this concept forward, if a new one is made at all.
Man, I'm really talking myself into playing that disappointing looking DLC, ain't I?
- Isaac Wagner
Gold: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons by Starbreeze
Starbreeze doesn't end probably their best game, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, on a particularly happy or flashy moment. The older brother suffers a fatal injury as both of them finally reach the Tree of Life which they originally sought out for to heal their dying father. Throughout the game you control both brothers, but suddenly the game rips control of the older brother away from you and it was striking how hard that hit me. I raced up the tree to get the healing substance, and right back down to try and save the older brother. But it was too late. The game then fast forwards as it forces you to bury your brother's corpse, then moves forward in time again as the little brother has arrived back home, but has came up against an obstacle of a large body of water. Ever since his mother drowned, the little brother has been unable to swim, forcing the older brother to carry him during those parts.
At this point I got incredibly frustrated with the game. I pushed the stick forward but the little brother didn't swim. I used his action button, but still he did nothing. Convinced the game was glitched out, I restarted the section again, and yet, the boy just stood there! I then went to YouTube videos to try and figure out what I was doing wrong, but to no avail. Confused I went back to the game and pondered. Suddenly an idea! Could it really be that simple? Am I that dumb? I hit the big brother's action and movement button. Imbued with the power of the big brother, the little brother crossed the water and cured his father.
It was a thrilling and emotional moment, one in which a button prompt did not arrive on the screen to tell me what to do and ruin the moment. Even more impressive that it let me do the action instead of just doing it in a cutscene. Indeed, in a cutscene it would've been a cheesy ending but instead it became much more powerful when I was the one to discover what had to be done and did it myself, utilizing the game's mechanics to reach its thematic conclusion. It's a form of storytelling that is exclusive to video games as it's all about "YOU", you the player pushing the story forward through interaction. This is the best way a game should end, and I hope more games learn from Starbreeze's masterful title going forward.
- Isaac Wagner