The Last Of Us Part I - Remastered, Remade, Re-energised
While it has only been nine years since the launch of The Last Of Us, it has been a long nine years in terms of the legacy that is has built. Following a 2013 launch, a level of acclaim that has arguably never been seen for years prior, nor since, a 2014 PS4 remaster, and the equally acclaimed, if controversial sequel, The Last Of Us Part II. The jury is still out on whether the 2013 game was ever planned to have a sequel, nor whether or not it required one, but the presence of the sequel, and its Part II subtitle clearly prompted a change in naming convention internally at Naughty Dog for the original game. Typically we don’t see remakes for game’s as early as what we’re seeing with this one, The Last Of Us Part I, but with an HBO developed TV series mere months away, the impact of the franchise having never been greater, Naughty Dog and PlayStation clearly determined that it was time to update the original for a new generation. The question is, is the game adding enough to justify a remake less than a decade later?
The Last Of Us is to this day, still considered to be amongst the greatest games of all time, renowned for it’s atmosphere, it’s characters, their incredible casting, the richly detailed visuals, it’s plot, and the deeply impacting narrative. Nine years on, and that original PS3 version, let alone the PS4 remaster, have barely aged a day, continuing to set one of the highest benchmarks that most game’s with superior technology, and years of opportunity to study The Last Of Us, still cannot come close to reaching. It’s with all that said, that I feel conflicted in my reporting, because for as brilliant as The Last Of Us is, and for as incredible as this next-gen remake, in the form of The Last Of Us Part I is, there are a number of ways that it feels completely unnecessary – but then is a small number of other ways, it proves to be the best thing Naughty Dog could have done for the game, and it’s fans, old and new.
With that sweeping declaration aside, it’s time to assess the game on its own merits. The Last Of Us Part I is a 1:1 retelling of the original game, a game whose highest moments still echo in the minds of millions. The plot places Joel Miller, a broken 40-something old who has endured the grief of having his only child gunned down in his arms at the beginning of the cordyceps pandemic, and Ellie Williams, a 14 year old girl born amidst the pandemic, fighting for survival as they travel from near opposite corners of the United States to bring Ellie to a group called the Firefly’s. Ellie had unfortunately been bitten by an infected and overcome by the cordyceps virus human, but she soon learned that she was somehow immune, the first human anyone had encountered who had proven to be immune. Suddenly the most precious cargo in the world, it’s Joel’s job to safely escort her to the Firefly’s in order to *hopefully* save humanity. Naturally in stories such as this, the journey is never as simple as it sounds at first, with numerous obstacles, and chance encounters all filling the duos path, but each of those encounters present deeply impactful, and lead to an exhausting feeling when each arc closes. The primary narrative beats of The Last Of Us, decades on, still hit as hard, and resonate as solidly as they ever have; and so, for players, both new and returning, The Last Of Us Part I will tug on the emotional heartstrings, more in this post-2020 world than it ever did before.
While we’ve seen The Last Of Us’ gameplay formula refined and enhanced in Ellie’s The Last Of Us Part II adventure, the moment-to-moment of the original has remained has engaging and sweat inducing as it’s ever been. The threat of the infected, and worse, desperate humans, is always lingering, and the scenarios that Naughty Dog orchestrated for players always extract the best and worst from players. A stealth game at it’s core, The Last Of Us Part I’s levels have been so cleverly designed, with the AI so good (for it’s time), that players are forced to embrace the game’s ruleset. There are rarely enough resources to create the plentiful number of one-hit kill shivs, or bullets to guarantee success, in fact, every scenario endeavours to leave you feeling as though you’re boxed into a corner, forced to scratch and scrape you way out. Most video games are a power trip, perhaps you start from a lowly point, but by the time the game concludes you’re a colossus who laughs before everything else in the road. In the case of The Last Of Us, you never feel powerful, you never feel safe, and you’re constantly on edge, because one missed shot, or one wrong move, and a legion of Clickers could be running your way, spelling an inevitable, and gruesome death.
Of course if you’ve not been witness to the game’s marketing or pre-release chatter, firstly congratulations, you’re probably a lot happier for it, but you’ll be wanting to know what is new about the game. While the narrative is identical, the scenarios, balancing, and world design all the same, it’s the cosmetic glow up that is the primary reason to consider picking up Part I. Despite the game being beat-for-beat the same as it was in 2013, Naughty Dog have pulled the game apart on a visual level, remaking assets, from characters of all levels of importance, to the infected, every moss covered balustrade, right down to the way water shifts as a body parts it. Just as important as the things that were rebuilt, or the incredible improvements in lighting that have been embedded, it’s the things that were also removed that make just as large of a difference. These changes are more subtle, decisions like the removal of overhead pipes that to many are just background objects, were actually points of distraction to the eye, and so they were wisely removed. Several animations have also been changed to add to the realism of what are already extraordinary cutscenes. Of course, there’s one thing that remains true to its core, the phenomenal Gustavo Santaolalla soundtrack that will fill your lungs with the freshest of breezes, even all of these years on.
Another final, but extremely important aspect to this remake is the newly added accessibility feature-set. PlayStation’s first-party studios, spearheaded by Naughty Dog have made incredible strides in the real of accessibility for players of various sensory or motor skills based disabilities. The opportunity to remake The Last Of Us, as opposed to simply remastering it again, has given the developer an opportunity to bring everything they’ve learned in these last nine years over to this classic title that was otherwise trapped in time. The vast range of accessibility options not only address the needs of the community who had been otherwise incapable of playing the original game, but also provide countless opportunities for other players to tweak aspects of the game to tailor their experience more to their personal preferences. The importance of what the team have done in this realm cannot be overstated.
While it’s certainly disappointing to see The Last Of Us return without its iconic multiplayer, Factions, players are so incredibly fortunate to get to re-experience a game that is widely considered one of the all-time greats, remade from top to bottom, and given the tender love, and care that it deserves. Every pore is as it should be, every texture perfected, and every moment, something to savour. Many will look at The Last Of Us Part I and consider it an unnecessary investment from Sony, the original still looks great – but Naughty Dog have pulled off the impossible in making the definitive video game of the last decade, somehow, even better, and in doing so they’ve also opened it up to millions of new players, of a variety of needs and levels of experience. It turns out that you can improve upon perfection.
The Last Of Us Part I was reviewed on a PS5 thanks to a code kindly provided by PlayStation Australia