Naughty Dog's acclaimed adventure is back, for a third time, and we have some thoughts.
"Ellie. You are treading on some mighty thin ice here." That scene and performances from Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson have been stuck in my mind since The Last of Us launched in 2013. They showed just how far both storytelling, acting, visuals and sound had come back then, so it's no surprise this moment also sold me on why I needed this remake... Even if Joel's warning to Ellie also applies to Naughty Dog and PlayStation regarding this new version.
Because there's no hiding that paying £69.99 for a nine year old PS3 game you can get a remaster of on PS4 for £15.99 at the time of writing is a thought that has ticked a lot of people off. Understandable when the multiplayer mode Factions isn't included and remakes like Resident Evil 2 and Final Fantasy VII: Remake have raised the bar for how extensive changes can be in these kinds of products. That doesn't stop me from saying The Last of Us: Part I is well worth it.
Take the aforementioned scene as an example. While it truly touched me in the original and remaster, Part I takes it to a whole new level. Seeing every muscle in Joel's face clearly show how much he is struggling to restrain his anger and sorrow as he says those magical words and then Ellie telling him "Everyone I have cared for has either died or left me. Everyone...fucking except for you." as her eyes start glistening and tears slide down her cheeks floored me. This, and every other moment, just feels more real and impactful now thanks to the far more detailed faces and eyes, and I've even started to see certain scenes in different ways because of a person's body language and/expressions. A fascinating experience considering I've played through this story five times before this. Especially when the general atmosphere has been changed and improved as well.
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Just look at how the lighting and colours in most areas have been greatly improved and tweaked (my screenshots are even from the performance mode). Whether it's the slightly darker and drab quarantine zone, more vivid forest areas or spookier underground tunnels. Those of you who've played The Last of Us: Part II know what I'm talking about here, and that's before mentioning how the world feels more alive now. Better lighting can only take a small credit for this, as most areas are filled with a lot more detail this time around. More vegetation really highlights how overgrown urban areas are, previously sterile rooms in Boston's Old State House now have paintings and antiques in them, and indoor areas are filled with objects that react when interacted with. A few of you might need to see comparisons to notice some of these changes, while others should be obvious for everyone. Not just in terms of cinematic sequences and graphics either.
Gameplay is always the most important aspect for me, which is why I'm glad Part I makes this better as well. One of the original's biggest shortcomings in this department is the artificial intelligence. Watching Ellie run straight past an enemy while you were trying to be stealthy ruined every sense of immersion back then, so I'm very happy to say both she and the enemies have become much smarter. The AI still isn't perfect, as I've seen both Ellie and others do some weird stuff a handful of times, but it's nothing compared to before. Having enemies work far better together makes every combat sequence more exhilarating and forces you to stay on your feet, while those of us who prefer stealth can enjoy how enemies react differently depending on what they see and hear. Hearing is a significant part for us as well.
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Sound has been a big talking-point for Sony this generation, and the difference between The Last of Us and The Last of Us: Part I shows why. Sure, you can to some extent get an indication of where sounds are coming from in the original, but I realised how much better the remake is after noticing how few times I used the listening mode. Joel's incredible x-ray-like hearing was an essential part of the experience back in 2013, so it's kind of funny that I forgot about it several times here. Who needs it when the sound in my headphones is so precise that I can easily look straight at the source of a sound as soon as I hear it? It's even a breeze to hear if it's coming from above or below, allowing you to stay fully immersed instead seeing that colourless version of the amazing world all the time. Some will still find it helpful for different reasons of course, as it makes this astounding game easier to enjoy and experience for many. That's also why Naughty Dog deserves a lot of praise for adding The Last of Us: Part II's groundbreaking accessibility options and a few others highlighted in the video below to this version.
This being said, we're not getting a flawless remake here. Naughty Dog's engine is still struggling to load everything in when playing in 60 frames per second. Those of us who prefer higher framerate will therefore see small instances of details suddenly popping up when turning fast. Cases of this are even more rare when playing in 4K and 30 fps, but both of the graphics modes are still so impressive that this is me just nit-picking.
Nit-picking is also me missing Ellie's agility. Not being able to dive and prone feels restrictive after playing Part II, but it also makes sense considering Joel's age and not having changed the environments to better utilise an option like that. Some have called PlayStation lazy and Part I a cash-grab because of this, while I'm just very pleased with what we're getting.
That's because The Last of Us: Part I is simply put a prettier and better version of what's already a masterpiece. The astounding story and its characters are taken to another level thanks to the far more detailed facial expressions and added animations, while smarter companions and enemies along with being able to explore the enhanced environments in either 4K and 30 fps or 60 fps with dynamic resolution makes the gameplay better as well. Top that with great 3D sound, new fantastic accessibility options, some cool bonus material, and good use of the DualSense's functions and it's clear that The Last of Us: Part I is a must-have for those of us who love the original.
Those of you who have questioned the need for a remake and the disappointingly high price tag can lower my score an point or two, however, as these significant visual and audible upgrades with some minor gameplay tweaks don't give as much bang for your buck as the best remakes we've had lately. PlayStation is clearly treading on some mighty thin ice here, but those of us who've liked the idea of a definitive version of this masterpiece should definitely walk on it.
9 / 10
World-class visuals and sound take everything to another level,
Some cool new bonus material,
Amazing accessibility options