The Last of Us Part 1 is a remake of Naughty Dog’s classic PlayStation 3 game. Unlike the PlayStation 4’s remastered version of the game, this version uses the advanced technology exclusive to the PlayStation 5 to recreate the game anew.
The Last of Us seems to be taking on Grand theft Auto V when it comes to how many iterations of the game we are honoured with (I’m ignoring Skyrim, as Bethesda is just being silly with the ports of that awesome and classic game). This new version of The Last of Us for PlayStation 5 is a bit curious. The game has a rather high price point that also rubs salt in the wounds of fans that, nearly two years since launch, still cannot get hold of Sony’s console.
Released as the PlayStation 3 swansong, post-apocalyptic narrative adventure, The Last of Us, was a huge hit for developer Naughty Dog- already riding the crest of the wave with their amazing Uncharted games. But the horrific adventures of Joel and Ellie, the protagonists of The Last of Us, were a far cry from the light-hearted exploits of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake.
The Last of Us does borrow many of the third-person mechanics of the Uncharted games. The cover system, shooting, and melee combat, as well as the climbing and exploration, are all very similar. Tonally, though, the games are worlds apart.
The Last of Us Part 1 features the unlikely pairing of a teenage girl and a middle-aged man as they trek across a devastated United States. The game starts with a harrowing sequence depicting the game’s protagonist, Joel, witnessing the first few hours of a highly infectious disease outbreak. Victims are transformed into frenzied killers as they succumb to a fungal infection that takes over their brain functions before eventually killing them. The game’s premise is horrific and the opening sequence sets the tone in the most brutal of ways.
Twenty years later and Joel is running guns and contraband with his friend Tess, living in a totalitarian walled city safe from the infected on the outside. A series of events leads to Joel and the teenage Ellie heading out on a journey across the harsh, abandoned world and on a mission that may just save mankind.
The story is about the relationship between a reluctant father figure and his surrogate daughter, and the lengths they will go to protect each other. The story plays such a big part in the enjoyment game so, even if it is nearly a decade old, I don’t want to spoil it for those that have still not played it.
The main antagonists in the game are the infected humans, in the various stages of deterioration, due to the deadly cordyceps fungus. Passed on by being bitten by an infected or exposed to spores, the disease slowly takes over the host’s body, first driving them mad before blinding them. They eventually turn into fungal growths that release deadly spores. It’s a horrific concept.
The runners, humans in the early stages of infection, are fast but weak. Next are the stalkers, more considered hunters that can still be easily downed. The blind clickers rely on sound to “see” their prey. They are best avoided or dealt with quickly by fire or with a shiv. If they catch you, you are dead. A lot rarer is the final stage of the infection, the bloaters. Slow but powerful they unleash toxic spores that obstruct vision and poison their prey.
As well as the infected, and to a point even more chilling, are the human opponents. Some prey on the weak, and others are just trying to survive the same as Joel and Ellie. The world of The Last of Us Part 1 is harsh and unforgiving and the story pulls no punches.
Like the Uncharted games, The Last of Us Part 1 is very much a curated experience. The path is clearly marked, usually with a yellow colouring in the environment. This “signposting” is less subtle in this remake, but it is still there. Whilst players are given open locations to explore, by and large everyone will come away having the same experience. This isn’t really a bad thing, as there’s less chance of getting lost or wasting time with unnecessary backtracking.
The game’s challenge lies with resource management, good use of stealth, and astute combat skills. The ability to “hear” the location of the enemy (displayed as a white silhouette), helps players plan attacks and/or the best path to avoid unnecessary conflict.
The game’s crafting system relies on scavenging components and materials. This in turn encourages exploration of the very detailed environments and the discovery of incidental elements that enhance the already gut-wrenching main plot. Medikits, shivs, and Molotov cocktails can be cobbled together on the fly, whilst upgrades to weapons need to be carried out at a workbench, all using scavenged objects. Bullets are scarce and should only be used if absolutely necessary. Most opponents can also be grabbed from behind or attacked head-on using fists or melee weapons.
The remake allows the player to customise their game difficulty, either by globally upping the challenge or fine-tuning the gameplay by customising certain aspects of the game. The player character can be made more or less resilient, enemies more or less aggressive, same with allies, and resources made more plentiful or scarce.
The customisation doesn’t stop at the difficulty settings. The comprehensive and rather outstanding accessibility features of The Last of Us Part 2 have been incorporated into the remake. This goes far beyond just audio cues and subtitles, allowing players to fine-tune the game in such a way that it can be enjoyed by anyone. I really can’t stress how incredible this is. Players moaning about the high cost of the remake may want to consider that they are contributing to others being able to play the game that perhaps could do so before.
The game also makes full use of the PS5’s Dualsense controller. The haptics allows players to feel every jump, fall, and strike, as well as adding a bit of vibration to increase tension. The adaptive triggers add a bit of feedback when using weapons. The haptic feedback is customisable in the settings.
For most, the standout features of this remake are the new visuals. Whole scenes have been altered and character models upgraded. There are new water shaders and the whole look of the game is less smudged than it was (especially compared to the original PS3 version). The lighting effects are straight out of the PlayStation 5 arsenal, even if, altogether, the composition of 3D character models and environments places the look of the game on the edge of the uncanny valley.
As seems common with first-party PlayStation 5 games, players have the choice of selecting a performance or fidelity graphics setting. Performance has the game running at a dynamically scaled 4K resolution at sixty frames per second and fidelity runs the game at native 4K but at 30 frames per second. All be honest, on my 42-inch 4K TV I couldn’t notice the difference in visual clarity, but I could notice the smoother movement at 60fps.
Somewhat similar to the most recent Assassin’s Creed games, the game visuals look almost indistinguishable from the sorts of images we would only see as concept drawings in art books. The Last of Us Part 1, whilst not quite photo-real looks absolutely breathtaking.
The original game’s amazing photo mode has been updated to add lighting options that make for some great compositions. I found myself spending a lot of time trying to capture the perfect shot.
As well as the original story, the game also includes the DLC expansion, Left Behind. This serves as a prequel to the main game and an origin of sorts for Ellie. The DLC expands on part of the main game, with players controlling Ellie, with flashbacks to before she met Joel showing us the chain of events that set her on her journey.
There’s no Faction multiplayer mode included in the remake package, but there is a new game plus mode, permadeath mode, and a speed run mode that are all unlocked after the first playthrough. Completing the game also unlocks extra skins, art, and even director’s commentary. For most, I’d recommend heading straight into The Last of Us Part 2 once you are done, though.
The real elephant in the room is whether or not the game, which is sold at full price, is worth the price of entry. It’s a tough one. Over the years we have got used to discounted upgrade patches and remasters of older games. For many paying full price for a nine-year-old game is going to be a bit too much. Whether it is worth it for you depends on your relationship with the original game.
PlayStation 5 owners that have never played The Last of Us are, in this remake, getting a brand-new AAA game that serves as a prequel to The Last of Us Part 2. The price will be a bit harder on players that have already bought The Last of Us on PS3 and/or The Last of Us Remastered for PS4. In that case, the patched PS4 version is likely going to be enough for a potential replay on PS5. It’s the hardcore fans that are going to be reluctantly fronting up the cash for this new version of the game.
As I mentioned, before, though, this new version of the game has extensive accessibility options as well as completely reworked visuals. The story, motion capture, and vocal performances are the only parts of the original that remain. Still, it’s a lot of effort on the part of the developer for a game that you can already play on a PlayStation 5 (the PS4 remastered version still runs exceptionally well on the newer hardware).
The Last of Us Part 1 seems to be more about Naughty Dog doing a bit of a George Lucas on the game. The remake is much more than just a bit of retexturing and a better lighting model- which is what we usually get for our twenty-buck remaster. The game’s visual standard has been brought up to (and perhaps beyond) that of The Last of Us Part 2. The character models better suit their ages and some recasting allows the story to better tie into Abby’s flashbacks in the sequel. There’s also the likelihood of a PC version of the coming very soon that would look distinctively sub-par if it was just a port of the PlayStation 4 remaster.
Whilst much will be made of the cost of the game, if you’ve never played The Last of Us before, the price of entry is well worth it. For everyone else, it’s about how much you want to pay to revisit the game. Whichever way you look at it, The Last of Us Part 1 is the definitive version of what is possibly one of the best video games ever made.