Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was a bona fide masterpiece when it first launched on the PS3 in June 2013, receiving a plethora of perfect scores and player praise that makes it one of the most critically-acclaimed games ever. For me, the only game from the PS3/360 generation that was better than the TLOU was Arkane’s Dishonored. Since its release, TLOU has received a PS4 remaster and spawned a sequel – The Last of Us Part II – which was equally as acclaimed yet more divisive among players. However, with a TV show releasing next year and a new generation of hardware to take advantage of, Naughty Dog has decided to give the original and the Left Behind DLC a new lease on life in the form of The Last of Us Part I. But is it a justified trip down memory lane or a glorified glow-up?
Given TLOU’s narrative remains unchanged, this review won’t tackle TLOU’s story – which by the way is excellent and one that features some of the best voice acting in video games. But for those looking for a quick recap or a primer, TLOU is set 20 years after the world has been decimated by a deadly infection and sees Joel, a smuggler, agree to sneak Ellie, a young girl who appears to be immune to the infection and perhaps the key to a cure, out of the city. What begins as a simple escort mission quickly unravels and sees Joel with no choice but to chaperone Ellie across the country, with the two building a strong bond in the process. It’s a journey with a ton of emotion and one with less said before experiencing it the better.
Are you ready to re-live the journey again?
So, is The Last of Us Part I a remake or a remaster? Naughty Dog claims that it is a remake, with the title rebuilt to utilise the PS5’s hardware and provide players with an improved experience. Whether it meets the definition of a remake is perhaps debatable, but what is certain is that it is more than a remaster, with upgrades extending beyond a fresh coat of paint.
The visual enhancements are easily Part I’s biggest improvements. I went back and dabbled with the PS4 remaster for comparison and the difference between the two is night and day. Character and enemy models and facial animations all look incredible, with Part I benefiting from better use of the mocap performances bringing the characters even further to life in gameplay and cutscenes. The lighting is another facet that is much improved, with reflections and locales all looking stunning.
But for me it’s the world design that is really impressive. I could honestly wax lyrical for days about the world that Naughty Dog has built – the abandoned and derelict areas are really what get me going. Environments are now denser and more detailed, and where areas or textures in the original suffered from pixelation due to hardware limitations (such as the buildings in the distance), this time around we’re treated to stunning skyline vistas and lush foliage wherever we look, while water ripples in a lifelike manner when players walk through puddles. Perhaps best of all are the areas that are thick with spores, with every particle floating in the air being visible, elevating the atmosphere to a whole new level.
If you want the option of choosing between frame rate and resolution, Part I has two modes. There’s a Performance Mode that sees the game run at 1440p and 60fps or Fidelity Mode that boasts 4K visuals at 30fps. Both have their perks but my personal preference was the Fidelity Mode and seeing the increased resolution.
The visual improvement in Part I are incredible
I could honestly wax lyrical for days about the world that Naughty Dog has built
Back in 2013, I found TLOU’s gameplay to have Naughty Dog’s trademark clunkiness. Part II refined the gameplay completely but don’t expect the same level of refinement here. It’s certainly tighter from a gunplay perspective, and encounters have been sharpened to keep you even further on your toes thanks to improved enemy AI behaviour. It does feel somewhat like a missed opportunity to not utilise the AI systems from Part II, but nevertheless the gameplay feels better than the original and PS4 remaster. However, Part I does feature the impressive upgrade bench animations from Part II, something I’ll never get sick of watching, so maybe all is forgiven.
Taking advantage of the PS5 hardware, Part I makes use of the haptic feedback and adaptive triggers on the DualSense controller, such as the feeling of rain and the resistance of weapons being felt by players. Furthermore, utilising the PS5’s 3D audio via my SteelSeries Arctis Nova Pro, the game’s soundscape is more immersive, with players able to pinpoint where sounds are coming from. And it goes without saying that Gustavo Santaolalla’s soundtrack remains a highlight.
Naughty Dog has proven itself to be an industry leader when it comes to accessibility and once again the Santa Monica-based studio raises the bar, including even more ways for disadvantaged players to experience TLOU. Alternate controls, visual aids, and navigation and combat options are just some of the ways players can tweak the game to suit their needs. New features such as a screen reader and DualSense customisation settings are just some new ways that Part I is more inclusive for all players. Seriously, the number of accessibility options here is not just impressive, it’s a testament to Naughty Dog’s commitment to ensuring all players can play their games and something that all developers should take note of. Gaming is for everyone after all.
The atmosphere has been taken to a whole new level
Without a doubt though, the elephant in the room is the game’s A$124.95 (US$69.99) price tag. It’s a huge asking price for a game that came out nine years ago and had a PS4 remaster a year later. Sure it comes with the fantastic Left Behind DLC, but it doesn’t include the popular Factions multiplayer mode (for obvious reasons), so while the game’s value will vary between players, it’s hard to say with full conviction that this is a package that’s a must buy for everyone. In saying that, I had a blast and I would easily say it’s a worthy investment for new players and staunch TLOU fans like myself.
It’s clear that Naughty Dog has put a lot of work into this project, and with the upcoming TV show, Part I is the perfect way to experience Joel and Ellie’s origin story for the first time, or re-live it once more. The price is certainly going to be a sticking point for a lot of people and I don’t blame them for feeling priced out of the game. But with overhauled visuals, improved gameplay, more accessibility options than you can poke a stick at, and one of the best stories in video games, The Last of Us Part I is a game that should be experienced by everyone at some (price) point.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Naughty Dog
- Sony Interactive Entertainment
- September 2, 2022