When it comes to Naughty Dog, some people will think of their previous work through the Uncharted series but perhaps their biggest achievement happened to be their 2013 release of The Last of Us. The game saw Sony’s PlayStation 3 console taken to the limit and told a heart-wrenching tale of struggle and survival that saw many treat it as the best game of the generation. It seems that Sony certainly has agreed with this as now The Last of Us’ original release has now been given a release on every platform since with The Last of Us Part I bringing up the third release of the title in under a decade. With numerous improvements throughout the game’s various mechanics and massive graphical and technical upgrade, is it worth delving into a third time?
Now let’s get this out of the way right away, The Last of Us Part I is a straight forward remake of the original The Last of Us that already has seen a re-release in The Last of Us Remastered, meaning that the story content that players will be experiencing has not been changed in any way. Events will play out the exact same with even the same dialogue being used from the original release as it has been enhanced so the same performances can remain true to form. This includes the expansion DLC The Last of Us: Left Behind that was also included in the Remaster and is meant to be played after beating the core storyline but can be accessed at any time in Part I.
Of course that is far from a real negative as the story told through The Last of Us Part I is still as gripping and emotional as before, perhaps more so thanks to the various graphical improvements made to the game. The reason for this is due to the way that the facial animations and shadowing have now added extra emotional meaning to the characters’ expressions and actions throughout the game’s cinematic cutscenes. While this may not change the way players will feel about the characters, it adds new levels of depth to some scenes as this extra level of detail really drives home certain scenes, especially compared to the original 2013 release. That being said, this still means that your mileage may vary as those who remember every element of the story will still be retreading old ground while newcomers will find themselves in for a real treat.
For newcomers, The Last of Us Part I is set in 2033 with a horrific apocalypse beginning twenty years prior when humanity began to turn into “Infected” that would kill and slaughter anything that moved. As such, humanity has survived by remaining within walled quarantine zones and avoiding infectious spores and the still dangerous Infected roaming outside. Players will take on the role of Joel, a smuggler who has lost much in his life to the point he cares little for others who is hired to escort a young girl named Ellie across the dangerous wilderness. Ellie is discovered to be apparently immune to the infection and a sign that a cure might be possible, but only if Joel can bring her to the Fireflies that are still surviving and working on solving this humanity dooming plague.
As mentioned before, while we won’t go too much into detail about this thrice-told story, it is one that is masterfully told with tons of emotionally charged scenes and great character writing over the course of the game. Joel and Ellie’s relationship grows in a meaningful and exceptional manner while the side characters fill their roles quite well in helping the journey move forward both as allies and obstacles and it is nice to note that the redesign of Tess does fit the character’s age and relationship with Joel a bit better, though it is worth noting that this is the only one to see a noticeable adjustment in design. As a result players will be able to once again experience this amazing storyline once and explore a bit more about Ellie’s history with the prequel DLC as well, though perhaps the addition of at least some extra content would have been nice to entice longtime fans who already saw everything that is shown here nine years ago.
In most ways The Last of Us Part I still plays similar to the original release as the core gameplay mechanics, systems, and layout of the stages have all remained the same. This includes everything down to the various puzzle solutions, locations of most collectibles, and codes. What has been refined is the smoothness of how well Joel and Ellie control and move around, for the most part as going down ledges is still awkward, the way that aiming guns is handled, and thanks to the Dualsense Haptic Feedback features giving every weapon a different feel to use, the sense of getting into combat as a whole.
This is especially true when it comes to the enemies that players will be facing off against as the enemy AI has been improved significantly to properly react to situations in a more interesting manner and act more aggressively, similar to how they do in The Last of Us Part II. Enemies will try to flank the player should they stay in one place too long, enemies that are taken hostage will try to talk their way out of things while their allies circle for a better shot, and other elements that make gunfights a far more interesting endeavor especially on harder difficulties. It is worth noting that even ally AI is improved a bit as not only will allies take a bit more active part in combat when they can, but they will also no longer randomly move into fire or walk aimlessly around enemies that they just so happen to be invisible to. While a small change, no longer watching Ellie walk past Clickers and right into other Infected while trying to sneak around makes for far better immersion.
Despite the fact that enemy AI and character control now is far closer to the game’s sequel, the team has not taken various combat and stealth additions forward. Players cannot go prone while sneaking like they can in Part II nor can they dodge in any way, and while the former isn’t much of a loss given the way levels are designed, the lack of a dodge after adding it in Part II is a strange addition given how up close and personal many fights can become.
Where The Last of Us Part I does show its age is the fact that, despite the massive visual upgrade to all areas of the game that players travel through, the actual layout and size of these levels remains the same as the 2013 release and so do the various simple puzzles players need to solve. Nearly all levels are almost entirely straightforward with only minimal exploration with many combat arenas being obvious arenas where a shootout is about to happen or where players can sneak past foes. Similarly, various simple puzzles that see Joel needing to grab a ladder, board, dumpster, or even floating palette simply to progress that were likely added into the original release to mask loading times now serve as oft strange slowdowns of progression, especially since many simply involve moving an item just a small distance within the same room.
It is also worth noting that outside of the main campaign players will find that the incredible multiplayer mode known as Factions has been removed entirely with an eventual stand alone release planned sometime in the future. This removal is a shame and can really be felt thanks to the real slim pickings when it comes to Extras included in this release. Players will find that players will be able to unlock various bits of concept art, models, and more but perhaps the biggest changes come once players finish the game.
Completing the game allows players to obtain various cheats of sorts such as infinite ammo, one hit kills, and more that can make replaying the game something of a joyride especially with the various character costumes that unlock as well. It is worth noting that it is a rather strange choice to lock Developer Commentary mode behind a game completion since many longtime fans would certainly have enjoyed stepping into the game right away with this option. Alongside this come various different modes such as Speedrunning mode, single life mode, and more that help change things up as well as graphical filters that are completely useless.
For quite some time now various games have been offering various accessibility options for players and The Last of Us Part I offers perhaps some of the most wide ranging features in a game so far. Players can adjust everything from various visual and auditory clues for those who may be hard of hearing or have difficulty seeing while also giving players a number of variables to decrease the game’s difficulty even further than simply playing on an easier difficulty. In fact, a number of these various accessibility features come off as simple game improvements as well should players choose to add them, especially in regards to automatically picking up items from the floor such as ammo, crafting parts, and breakable weapons as well as pointing out the way towards story progress should players want to explore first.
Visuals & Audio
Now when it comes to The Last of Us Part I, the main improvement comes from the fact that Naughty Dog has rebuilt the game’s graphics from the ground up with a complete overhaul of nearly every visual aspect of the game. The company has provided sharp textures, smooth animations for the characters, and improved the lighting to such a degree that nearly every aspect of the world is gorgeously detailed. As mentioned before, this extensive upgrade to the graphics have improved how the characters come across emotionally and this is especially true when it comes to their eyes, as they appear to truly react to scenes as they unfold in a believable manner. It must be said that The Last of Us Part I may be the best looking PlayStation 5 game yet thanks to the level of detail put into nearly every aspect of the game, from the lush overgrown levels of the apocalyptic world players explore to the horrific Infected players must take down.
As for the performances, it appears that Naughty Dog has managed to retain the original voice work for all of the characters so players will find that the amazing performances for the characters remains true to the original though what has been improved is the overall ambiance of the world including atmospheric noises, gunfire, and even Infected noises as players travel through areas. The soundtrack once again features a similar array of music as before with a stellar score providing a great accompaniment to the events happening on screen.
The Last of Us Part I is clearly the best possible way to experience the gripping and emotional story of Joel and Ellie as graphical improvements, gameplay tweaks, and accessibility features make the experience all the more enjoyable compared to the original releases. That being said, it does come with a few caveats as well as a complete dearth of bonus features that one would expect from the third release of a less than a decade old game. With the removal of multiplayer, aged level design, and the fact that the storyline remains the exact same, longtime fans may find The Last of Us Part I a difficult pill to swallow, especially at the game’s significant price point compared to the current availability of the Remaster. As such, the title is in a bit of a strange place where for newcomers, this is easily the best way to play the game but for longtime fans it offers very little new to experience outside of its gameplay and visual improvements.
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