‘The Last Of Us Part 1’ Review: Exceptional Remake Of An All-Time Great
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Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part I delivers on the claim made by its developers: this is the definitive way to experience Naughty Dog’s seminal title. It may not be the expanded edition some fans were wishfully hoping for, but The Last Of Us Part I is a remake that wholly improves on the original by utilising both the capabilities of the PlayStation 5 and The Last of Us Part II’s advanced mechanics. Fans have spent the last several weeks scrutinising teasers, but The Last of Us Part I offers an effect only truly appreciated when played as a whole - creating the immersive experience Naughty Dog could only dream of back in 2013.
The Last of Us Part I is set 20 years after the outbreak of a parasitic fungal infection caused by virus-mutated cordyceps spores, which attacks the brain and turns humans into mindless killers known as Infected. Smuggler Joel is tasked with transporting teen Ellie across the US in search of a militia group known as The Fireflies. The task, if successful, could provide a spark of hope for humanity.
Take a look at the incredible launch trailer for The Last of Us Part I below.
The reason that The Last of Us Part I has stirred up such controversy in certain quarters is because both the PlayStation 3 original and its 2014 PlayStation 4 remaster still hold up as excellent games. Many called the necessity of the remake into question, but any concerns I personally had were swiftly put on hold thanks to Part I’s stellar prologue. Granted, game director Matthew Gallant and creative director Shaun Escayg had a great foundation to work with as The Last of Us has one of the strongest openings of all time. Having experienced it on multiple occasions, my familiarity can dampen its emotional impact - but that wasn’t the case this time around.
The prologue is the perfect tease of what’s to come and could quite easily become Sony’s poster child for the ‘Here’s why you should get a PlayStation 5’ campaign. I was completely blown away. I felt every footstep, every explosion. I could hear the Infected closing in behind me. The environments are so exquisitely detailed that if you take the time to examine your surroundings, you’ll be rewarded with great insight into the lives of Joel and his daughter Sarah. These are all improvements that I’ll explore individually but, right off the bat, The Last of Us Part I provides an epic spectacle. Fans of the franchise will relish in what is a truly enhanced experience while first-timers will likely end the prologue with their jaws on the floor.
Ever since Part I was announced, fans have been split over the game’s graphics, debating over comparative teasers released by Naughty Dog. Having experienced the game, I can very much attest that Part I lives up to the standards set by The Last of Us Part II. This is such a visually rich world. Sceptics have argued that pretty ray tracing hardly justifies a £70 price tag, but that’s a vast oversimplification. Part I has one goal: to boost immersion. The graphics are just one key ingredient in helping achieve that. Throughout my playthrough, I regularly opened up the 2014 remaster and I was shocked by just how much the environments had visually changed. (Although the way you proceed through them remains the same). Everything about Part I just felt right. It suddenly became strange to think of a ‘before'.
Don’t expect to feel like you’re playing a different game though. The Last of Us Part I takes a subtle approach that seeks to enhance the already beloved experience. Several examples have already been teased. There’s the farmhouse fire plus the Boston quarantine zone explosion. Part I doesn’t try to change the formula, instead improving upon what’s there. The finale of the ‘Lakeside Resort’ chapter is a real standout. Simple advancements in graphics provide for a much more intense experience (I’m holding back on spoilers). Likewise during the ‘University’ chapter, the addition of red flares overhauls the entire combat encounter by creating a new and eerie atmosphere. Glass breaks. Vases fall and smash. Branches, shattered windows and squeaky pet toys litter the floor, threatening to break your stealth cover throughout. Part I creates change by adding complexity to the world.
This is a remake so I didn’t expect to tread any major new ground, yet there was a small part of me hoping to stumble across a few additional spaces. Perhaps this is greedy of me, but I would’ve liked it if a handful of extra doors had opened, revealing new pockets of supplies or collectibles. I’m talking on a small scale here, nothing game changing. Just a simple nod to seasoned fans - a minute new discovery for those who know the game’s environments like the back of their hand. On my playthrough I didn’t find anything of this nature and, having finished the game, it’s really not a necessity. It wouldn’t have benefitted the overall experience in any way but hey, a couple of extra rooms could’ve been fun and I’m sure I’m not the only person to think so.
There are a lot of jokes about photorealism these days as devs across the industry fine-tune freckles and wrinkles - and whilst I don’t think photorealism should be the sole goal of the video games industry, it has its time and place and that’s here. Part I’s overhauled graphics totally allow for the original performances to be more effectively conveyed. Every raise of the eyebrow, falling tear, and shrug of the shoulders is captured. Alone, these details are tiny - but together, they make for a more emotionally compelling experience. As I said earlier, I’m very familiar with this narrative so I wondered if it had lost some of its impact on me. I was wrong. This is hands down the most emotionally invested I’ve been in this story since experiencing it for the first time. Joel and Ellie’s argument, Ellie’s showdown with David, Left Behind’s finale … they all carry so much more emotional weight thanks to the improved graphics.
I know fans are desperate to hear about gameplay. For several weeks now, people have asked the question: will Part II’s dodge and prone mechanics be included? Well, I can reveal they aren’t but that doesn’t mean that Part I is lacking in gameplay improvements. The remake benefits from the addition of Part II’s user interface so crafting and weapon selection is now congruous throughout the series. I’m going to mention that word again: immersion. As is also the case in Part II, Joel and Ellie will physically hold all collectibles - whether they be crafting tools, letters, audio recorders, or comic books. You no longer have to view them through the intrusive old UI. It’s a subtle improvement but one that prevents you from breaking away from the in-game world. The updated workbenches plus the implementation of Part II’s safe-cracking system work to a similar effect. These changes enhance the realism which a game like The Last of Us Part I hugely benefits from.
It’s that time folks. I’m going to talk about combat. Like I said, prone and dodge have not been introduced. I think Part I functions perfectly fine without these features, yet for a remake that’s been “built from the ground up” the additional stealth option of going prone doesn’t feel like an unreasonable request. With that in mind, I didn’t notice the absence of prone. I simply think that a game of this price could’ve perhaps added the option because widening the possible approaches to combat widens the replayability. All in all, the gameplay was more than satisfactory. I could definitely tell that Part I had implemented Part II’s improved enemy AI. Human enemies reacted to finding the body of a comrade, fanning out to search the area. If you are spotted, it can be tricky to lose them again. On several occasions, NPCs would beg for their lives - just like they do in Part II - making me feel all the more guilty for finishing them off. The most unexpected AI change though came in the form of Stalkers.
If you’ve played Part II, you’ll know just how terrifying Stalkers can be and I bet you’re now getting horrifying flashbacks to the convention centre sequence. Stalkers fail to show up in listening mode and taunt you as they peek around corners. They are present in the original version of The Last of Us but were easily mistaken for Runners as they lacked distinctive AI. That’s no longer the case. You know the hotel basement you all hate? It just got a whole lot worse. Having finally completed that sequence, I let out a sigh of relief. The scariest part of the game was over - but then I was met by another two hugely overhauled Stalker encounters across Part I and Left Behind that caught me off-guard. There’s nothing worse than seeing a Stalker scurry behind cover - and you’ll find plenty of that in this remake.
I mentioned the implementation of Part II’s UI. This also carries over into weapons use as Part I shares the reticles used in Part II. There are also some nice weapons effects when it comes to reloading and firing, if you're not too busy to appreciate the discarded casings. The same goes for stealth kills. I couldn’t help but feel guilty when whilst playing as Joel, feeling the thud-thud on my controller of an NPC trying to break free from my grasp as I strangled them to death. If you’re interested in the finer details, Joel and Ellie will also get out of breath from running.
The Last of Us Part I is exclusively built for the PlayStation 5, which has two major selling points: the use of 3D audio and haptic feedback. Both excel in enhancing the game here. I used Pulse 3D headphones for my review playthrough and if you have the option to do the same, I’d recommend it. Hearing the distant screech of a Clicker or a horde of Infected behind you is pretty scary but the 3D audio didn’t just creep me out, it enhanced my gameplay. You can’t have eyes in all directions and listening out for the sound of human footsteps behind me or the nearby scurrying of a Stalker proved to be very useful. Outside of combat, it brought life to the world. Inside the Boston QZ, I could overhear conversations from inside various apartments, with particular dialogue growing louder as I neared the door. During the prologue I genuinely thought I’d left a TV on in my own home, not realising it was the dull murmuring of Joel’s own. On one occasion, my headphones ran out of battery but after a few minutes of using my TV’s speakers, I realised it would be far better to wait. The audio felt flat without the 3D enhancements. Likewise, the haptic feedback lives up to expectation. Every weapon has its own unique resistance, and varying vibrations reflect sensations ranging from rainfall to the brunt of an explosion.
I’ve mentioned The Last of Us Part II a lot because not only does Part I borrow its mechanics, but the whole point of the remake is to bring the two games in line with one another in terms of both quality and cohesion - and I want to touch on the latter. It’s pretty obvious that Joel and Ellie now match their Part II flashback versions, but Maria has also had a Part II-inspired overhaul and, you’ll be pleased to know, the Firefly doctor is now Jerry Anderson. Additionally, Jackson now matches its appearance in the sequel.
They’ll likely be overlooked by many players seeing as they’re unlocked upon completion of the main story, but there are some fun extras accessible via the main menu. There’s concept art, a model viewer, filters, plus various weapons and clothing skins for Ellie and Joel. Of course, there’s also a very apt photo mode and a speedrun mode - the latter of which isn’t something I’m tempted to check out but I’m sure will be a welcomed addition to some. These are all pleasant features but ones which had no effect on my overall appreciation of the game.
When the credits rolled on both The Last of Us Part I and Left Behind, I was left with a burning desire to jump straight into Part II - which tells me that Part I succeeded in exactly what it set out to do. I became completely reinvested in the franchise. Context is important: had this been the first time that I’d experienced The Last of Us, I think Part I would’ve achieved a perfect review score, but we have to examine it for what it is, namely a remake. In almost every area, The Last of Us Part I wholly improves on its predecessor, creating a game that is as detailed, thorough, and immersive as is possible, but there’s also the absence of the prone ability and a few new explorable areas. Part I may not require those things and functions perfectly well without them; but when we’re talking about a pricey remake, it’s not a stretch to argue that they could’ve been included. If you’re not a fan of The Last of Us, you won’t find a reimagined experience. This is a faithful and expertly enhanced remake. Fans will find no better way to experience this story, and first-time players are likely to discover a new all-time favourite.
Pros: great use of haptic feedback and 3D audio, stunning environments, vastly improved immersion
Cons: prone and dodge would’ve been welcomed additions, no environment expansions
For fans of: The Last of Us Part II (shocking, I know), Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Shadow Of The Tomb Raider
The Last of Us Part I releases on PlayStation 5 (version tested) on September 2 2022. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a complete guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.