Trek across America with Joel and Ellie for the very first time (again) with the re-remake in our The Last of Us Part I review.
Mention the words Naughty Dog, and there’s a fair chance most videogame enthusiasts won’t immediately imagine an unruly canine. Rather, this phrase invokes nostalgia – classic childhood memories of smashing crates, jumping and punching through 3D levels, or even risking life to seek lost treasure. I’m of course talking about the legendary American videogame studio, Naughty Dog, acquired by Sony Computer Entertainment in 2001 and responsible for beloved series like Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and Uncharted. But it wasn’t until 2013 that a single game would send this disobedient hound rocketing to stardom…
Thrusting the player into a post-apocalyptic America following the spread of a fatal Cordyceps fungus outbreak, The Last of Us was critically-acclaimed and revered as not only the best game of 2013, but one of the finest games ever created. Taking advantage of the game’s popularity and the enhanced power of the PlayStation 4, The Last of Us: Remastered released the following year, promptly allowing fans to experience Joel and Ellie’s journey in higher visual fidelity. And now another 8 years later, the cycle repeats! It seems every new Sony console means a new version of The Last of Us.
It’s basically the Skyrim of PlayStation games at this point.
Unfortunately, like the toxic Cordyceps-infected abominations found in-game, the reaction surrounding The Last of Us remake from many internet users has been similarly toxic. Unsurprisingly, this remake is far more than just a fresh coat of paint and may be well worth investing both your time and money. So take a final deep breath, lower your gas mask, and venture into our review for The Last of Us Part I.
For those who have somehow managed to avoid The Last of Us over the last decade, its story is arguably one of the most impactful pieces of the overall experience. Set 20 years after a the spread of a fatal Cordyceps outbreak, turning those infected into malformed monstrosities, America has descended into anarchy. Amongst the chaos and at the centre of this journey are two our two protagonists, constantly relying on each other to survive in this harsh new world: Joel & Ellie. Theirs is a tale of survival against all odds, packed with raw emotion, swamped in sheer horror and betrayal, and most of all, faced with the struggle of genuine human connection.
Somehow, America actually looks nicer after the apocalypse.
After coming into contact with the leader of a rebellious group known as The Fireflies, Joel is tasked with the important mission of transporting Ellie across America and uniting her with a team of medical researchers. The fate of the world and the future of mankind rests upon the shoulders of a troubled man and a young girl, both of whom face numerous challenges along the way.
Joel’s troubled past is pivotal throughout the game’s story.
The story of The Last of Us hits hard at every single moment. Cutscenes with flawless direction and acting will effortlessly draw in any viewer, while chaotic moments throughout the game will leave players on the edge of their seats with bated breath, only to tear them down with each gripping chapter.
With a game so focused on its story and characters, the gameplay of The Last of Us acts as less of a foundation and more of a support throughout Joel and Ellie’s journey. Despite this emphasis towards cinematics, there are still three main components comprising the interactive segments of the game: exploration, stealth, and combat.
Exploration is the largest component of the gameplay, allowing the player to take control of either Joel or Ellie across a variety of environments as they trek towards their destination. These segments are generally quite simple, with scattered pieces of information throughout each map, unlockable items, and environmental puzzles to progress through each area.
Finding their way through darkened alleys and city wreckage poses of a challenge for Joel and Ellie.
These portions of the game are simple and have not changed since the original release, so may seem overly familiar for players who have enjoyed the game previously. Though the real appeal during exploration is in the ability to soak in one’s surroundings – every single environment is packed with detail and realism.
Stealth in these hostile environments is essential in order to stay alive, and makes up a large chunk of gameplay. Hiding from the game’s terrifying enemies is vital, as many of the Cordyceps-infected creatures will sense Joel and Ellie through not only sight, but also sound. Clever use of the environment allows the ability to either dispatch enemies undetected, or even avoid them altogether, and feels highly intuitive once becoming familiar with the behaviours of each of the different foes.
The game’s most tense moments are certainly those in which combat is avoided altogether.
Combat though is unavoidable, even if the player possesses Solid Snake-style stealth skills. When faced with these situations, the game changes completely into a third-person cover shooter. Joel or Ellie are equipped with an arsenal of weapons that must often be gathered from the environment and crafted in order to cleverly dispose of their foes. These range from pistols and shotguns through to makeshift nail bombs, jagged melee weapons embedded with nails, and smoke grenades to throw enemies off-guard. Each weapon can also be upgraded throughout the game, enhancing their attributes for more efficient slaughter of enemies.
Sometimes the best tactic isn’t stealth, but just a healthy dose of lead.
Most of the combat gameplay is unchanged in The Last of Us Part I compared to its previous iterations, though players may find the AI has been slightly improved (though personally I did still encounter a few bugs). Added accessibility settings are now included too, meaning almost every aspect of gameplay right down to the aiming and vibration can be catered to the individual player’s needs, making the game far more approachable toward a wide audience of players.
This is where things get really interesting. Taking full advantage of the added horsepower behind the PlayStation 5, the visuals of The Last of Us Part I are above and beyond those offered in the PS4 remaster. Offering a superb degree of detail, this visual overhaul enhances every single aspect of the game’s aesthetic. From lighting and reflection through to realistic added environmental detail and updated character models, there are few games that can boast the visual finesse of this remake. My friend WindyCornerTV has kindly made a side-by-side comparison of the game’s visuals:
Players are also given the option to choose between two (or even three) separate distinct visual modes: Performance or Fidelity. Performance opts for framerate in favour of resolution, generally achieving 60fps in sacrifice of a fixed 1440p resolution. Fidelity achieves a constant 4K resolution but instead sacrifices framerate, with a target of 30fps instead making the game feel detailed but sluggish. For players with a compatible screen, a variable refresh rate mode is available, though I wasn’t able to access this. Regardless of how you choose to play, the game looks absolutely phenomenal at every single moment. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the images below:
Thankfully, one part of The Last of Us that’s been completely untouched is the beautifully eerie soundtrack by Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla, whose distinct style enhances every single moment of the game. Through his focus on the South American Ronroco (a form of traditional guitar), Santaolalla weaves simple yet haunting melodies throughout the story. These beautiful guitar tracks are contrasted by harsh and often grating percussion, especially when encountering the game’s formidable enemies. There’s no denying that the music of The Last of Us is key to the overall experience, and is wise to be left unaltered. Here are three key tracks to enjoy, each representing the overall mood of the game’s score:
The title track “The Last of Us” perfectly sets the mood during the game’s opening cutscene.
The Path (A New Beginning) represents a glimmer of hope in a devastated world.
Representing the beauty that can be found in sadness, “Left Behind (Together)” is a gorgeous yet melancholy track.
But enough about the soundtrack! Because there are some impressive adjustments to the audio throughout the game that make Part I the most immersive Last of Us experience yet. This can be attributed to its 3D audio, which is applied when using a compatible headset (for this playthrough the SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro was used). Being able to accurately pinpoint enemies based on their footsteps, their conversations, or even the harrowing echo of a Clicker in the distance creates an unbelievable tension that simply wasn’t possible in the game’s earlier iterations. For a game so reliant on stealth, sound, and immersion, the addition of flawless 3D audio to its ambience and sound effects provides as impressive an advancement as its visuals.
If you hear the sound of a Clicker behind you, don’t forget to panic.
So we’ve discussed the game, its subtle changes to gameplay, the stunning updated visuals, and the immersive audio. But it’s still pretty much just the same game otherwise, right? Well, not quite.
Although it might not be applicable to all players, but the added accessibility features of The Last of Us Part I go beyond what almost any other game have to offer. This is an experience that is catered towards gamers of all requirements, and a welcome addition for those who might have otherwise been unable to enjoy The Last of Us before. Naughty Dog have built upon the accessbility of The Last of Us: Part II and created the most approachable game in their library to date. Added features include:
- Full customisation of controls, button presses, aiming modes, and analogue sticks
- Magnification and vision aid options (e.g., High Contrast, Screen Magnification) for vision-impaired players
- Screen and display options to reduce likelihood of motion sickness
- Navigation and traversal assist for players requiring assistance in these sections
- Screen reading and audio cues to describe critical parts of the game through speech
- Combat accessibility for players needing assistance during these segments
These are just a few of the options available, making The Last of Us Part I one of the most accessible games ever created. Everyone should be given the opportunity to enjoy videogames, and Naughty Dog have well and truly ensured that.
In terms of added content and unlockables, completionists who have previously played through the game in its entirety are provided with special bonuses. These range from detailed character and enemy models, hundreds of pieces of new concept art, unlockable outfits for Joel and Ellie, a variety of in-game options like visual and audio filters, and a wide selection of cheats that can be applied to the game. One of the most fascinating is the 8-bit filter, which completely overhauls the game’s visuals akin to that of a retro game! Take a look:
The extra DualSense features are also worth a mention – with enhanced haptics for every physical impact, every crunching step, and every tapping raindrop that slides off Joel’s furrowed brow. Adaptive triggers also convey a sense of immersion, though feel underutilised when compared to titles like Returnal or Resident Evil Village. But for a game that can be easily completed in 10 – 15 hours, or may have been finished already on previous consoles, Naughty Dog have added a tonne of extra content to provide enough value to keep players coming back again and again for another journey across America.
Many of the unlockable shirts for Ellie feature art from different PlayStation games. Even ICO!
So this all begs the question: is The Last of Us Part I a remake that’s truly worth it? Yes, without a doubt. This is not only the definitive way to rediscover one of the finest games ever created, but adds a huge range of not only content, but also much needed in-game accessibility. Coupled with the intuitive features of the PS5 DualSense controller, flawlessly enhanced visuals and immersive 3D audio, and this remake provides an unforgettable experience that sends one resounding message from the talented team at Naughty Dog: you haven’t even seen The Last of Us.
So, why should you play it?
- Never played The Last of Us? Now is your perfect opportunity.
- Experienced the game on PS3 only? This massive leap is worth the jump.
- Stunning overhauled visuals with breath-taking environmental detail.
- 3D audio offers an unmatched sense of in-game immersion.
- Huge variety of added content, with incentive for multiple playthroughs.
- Most impressive suite of accessibility features in a game to date.
But why shouldn’t you play it?
- Playing purely for the gameplay? Little has changed, so may not be worth your while.
- Only just recently played through the PS4 remaster? The remake may seem too familiar.
- Can’t justify the financial expense (hopefully it comes to PS+ in future).
A review code was kindly provided by PlayStation Australia for the purpose of this review.
If you enjoyed our The Last of Us Part I review, you can find more reviews and articles here.