It’s been less than a decade since The Last of Us originally launched exclusively on PlayStation 3, and we’re now already getting a remake. Painstakingly rebuilt for Sony’s flashy PS5, and with a PC release also in the works, The Last of Us Part I is the perfect entry point for those who have never experienced this brutal classic, while also giving diehard fans a decent excuse to double or triple dip.
So, what are players getting for that divisive £70 asking price? The Last of Us Part I packs in the original game, as well as the Left Behind story DLC and some all-new bonus features and content. The fantastic Factions multiplayer mode is missing, but that’s for obvious reasons. Not only is Naughty Dog preparing to show more of its new TLOU online experience, the PS4 servers for The Last of Us Remastered are still live and well populated, even to this day.
If you’re dropping money on The Last of Us Part I hoping for completely new levels and cutscenes, you’ll be left sorely disappointed. Content-wise, it’s almost exactly the same as the original game and its DLC, albeit having undergone a masterful makeover. There are some fun extras there too though, including speed-running and permadeath modes, as well as an advanced suite of accessibility options that take a few steps beyond those found in The Last of Us Part II, and DualSense haptics.
Seeing this game in motion, the difference here is truly night and day compared to previous iterations. When Naughty Dog officially unveiled this project, director Neil Druckmann said it had allowed the studio to realise the original vision they had for The Last of Us, unburdened by the limits of legacy hardware. It really shows. From that very first frame, the amount of passion and technical prowess that’s gone into this remake is astoundingly apparent. From the way tiny cordyceps particles dance in the light, to the individual grey hairs and wrinkles adorning Joel’s gorgeous mug, the level of detail here is staggering.
In case you wanted further proof that this is a remake and not a remaster of a remaster, just look at some cutscene footage. Naughty Dog has gone back and analysed performance capture for the original game from a decade ago, leveraging the power of PS5 to create more lifelike facial animations. The game’s cast of characters become all that more compelling and believable, their interactions carrying more weight and emotion with every subtle eye movement or subtle gesture. It’s truly uncanny stuff.
The backdrop upon which their gritty post-apocalyptic saga takes place is equally as impressive. Again, Naughty Dog has rebuilt these environments with the benefit of modern hardware; from suffocating, fungi-infested sewers to busy streets and snow-covered forests, The Last of Us Part I is hardly lacking in visual variety, either. Another impressive detail is the enhanced destructibility with surfaces chipping and breaking apart under fire, dialling up that sense of immersion to 11.
Saying that the gameplay has been completely overhauled would be grossly misleading. Without playing them side by side, you’d swear Part I feels exactly the same as the original, albeit slightly smoother. Don’t go expecting Joel to jump and crawl like Ellie does in The Last of Us Part II. If there’s three things he hates it’s jumping, crawling, and golf. Jokes aside, while playing this remake we never felt like these additional mechanics were needed, though it does inherit something else from its sequel.
We get to see the same dynamic AI controlling the minds of enemy and ally NPCs alike, naturally dancing between cover while trying to outmanoeuvre one another. Maybe it’s more of a testament to how well designed TLOU’s combat has always been, but we played the same skirmish in both the PS4 remaster and remake with dramatically different results. Oh, that’s another thing passed on from Part II: the option to boot up and replay your favourite encounters from the main menu. There are other touches too, such as the improved weapon upgrade workbench.
The majority of changes here still feel cosmetic, though they amount to one of the best-executed video game makeovers we’ve seen to date. As someone who feels an increasing need to shotgun playthroughs beneath the pressure of an ever-growing backlog, I spent a hefty chunk of my time absorbed in Part I’s photo mode. There’s a good spread of tools here, perfect for capturing the game’s gorgeous overgrown vistas or moments of bloody carnage. While not quite as good as the photo mode in Days Gone, it has a brilliant frame forward feature, meaning you don’t have to be quite so precise with timing snapshots. Expect your social media feeds to be chock full of photos from The Last of Us for the next few weeks.
Modernisation can be tough in video games, especially when venturing into the realm of the remake. It requires a careful balancing act that could easily end in a developer going too far, plastering over a game’s flawless foundations or stripping it of its soul. With The Last of Us Part I, Naughty Dog knew exactly when to apply the brakes, retaining the frantic feel of its combat and survival mechanics while dramatically improving every other aspect of this PlayStation classic. Thanks to the remake, it’s just as essential today as was back when The Last of Us made its game-changing debut.