Review copy courtesy of PlayStation.
I went in blind and was left jaw agape, heart palpitating, and tearing up in a matter of hours. This was how I first experienced The Last of Us on the PlayStation 4 (Remastered) in 2014. That first evening I booted up the game’s opening hours has been forever seared into my mind as one of my quintessential gaming memories – one I still talk about and think about often. Yet, I couldn’t help but feel puzzled and sceptical when a ground-up remake (The Last of Us Part I) was announced. Yes, the original was a masterpiece, but did we need a refresher so soon? Having played through Part I, my answer is well… yes and no. It depends on who’s asking.
Rebuilding a Legacy
The Last of Us Part I is a grounded and faithfully built remake of the original game that bridges the vast technological and presentation gap between the 2013 original and 2020’s The Last of Us Part II. Using nearly every trick in the book learnt in the time since, developer Naughty Dog takes another swing at more fully fleshing out the 2013 game’s creative vision, this time on the PlayStation 5.
In the gameplay department, controls and AI have been completely rebuilt with a modern interpretation. This effectively translates into a traversal and combat experience that feels smooth, fluid and yet grounded, fitting for the world and style of the series. Human and infected enemies now behave more organically, and your companions will stop running around and exposing themselves in fights as if they’ve got a death wish.
Like in the original, playing as Joel feels tanky and hefty, but with a much less arcade-y complexion to his movements this time. Each gunshot and melee swing provides a satisfying pop during combat, along with numerous UI and HUD-level changes which have made their way over from the 2020 sequel, creating a feeling of parity and continuation between both entries (Part I and Part II).
New Dog, Old Tricks
That said, this remake’s faithfulness also highlights Part I’s most glaring shortcoming – its PlayStation 3-era game design blueprint.
In my roughly 16-hour journey with Joel and Ellie, I found myself too often using on-screen button prompts (“Press Triangle!”) to move from one gated checkpoint to another with small, linear combat areas sandwiched in between. Oftentimes I marvelled at how modern and visually impressive the game looked, but felt irked by how old-fashioned and formulaic levels and encounters felt to navigate.
Don’t get me wrong. These encounters do still generally hold up quite well, and Part I successfully clings to the engaging rhythm of tense enemy encounters followed by big set-piece moments and emotionally-charged cutscenes that are interspersed by instances of respite, but at points, it did feel like I was playing a PS3 game wearing a PS5 game’s skin.
But boy oh boy, is that some pretty skin. Part I’s jaw-droppingly stunning new coat of paint provides plenty to marvel at and brings a newfound richness, vibrancy, and life to the world of The Last of Us as we’ve never seen before. Environments have been painstakingly fleshed out by artists, bringing new life and stories to every room, every street, and every town you’ll come across.
By rebuilding each texture and artefact, Naughty Dog demonstrates yet another masterclass in environmental storytelling and worldbuilding and invites players to thoroughly explore every nook and cranny. Every handwritten note, graffiti patch, room full of derelict junk, and bullet-punched firefly tag weaves together stories of a grim and desperately bleak post-apocalyptic world.
Facial animations and cutscenes have been completely revamped and this, in particular, had me glued to the screen in amazement time and again. Everything from the twitch of a nose, to the slight raise of an eyebrow, all the way to the welling of tears in a character’s eyes, is beautifully animated and brings an entirely new level of life and intensity to the already incredible performances by Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker and the rest of the cast.
In what feels like a stroke of genius, Naughty Dog succeeds in providing an even grander stage for The Last of Us’ biggest stars – its character writing and performances – and ensures that every emotional beat hits home. And then some.
Breaking down my experience with a PS5 game would be incomplete without mentioning the game’s Dualsense implementations. In this case, Part I leverages Dualsense to create a more immersive experience by adding features that we’ve come to expect, such as vibrations for raindrops and the trotting of horse hooves, as well as tensioned adaptive triggers for weapons such as bows and guns.
Interestingly, the game also includes an accessibility feature which uses the strength of the controller’s vibrations to emulate the emotional intensity of character dialogue in conversations. While the feature is designed primarily for those who are hard of hearing, I found that it brought yet another layer of immersion to an already gratifying experience.
As for the overall package, Part I also includes a rebuilt version of the wonderful Left Behind DLC, receiving a similar glow-up. However, the Factions multiplayer mode included in both the 2013 and 2014 versions do not make a return here. While understandable, it is a shame given how unique and important to the original package it was.
Having said all of this, the question remains: Did we need a remake so soon? And who is this game for?
Ultimately, by stacking modernised gameplay elements, up-to-date UI, along with best-in-class art and animation on top of classic game design and standout performances, The Last Of Us Part I provides a welcoming entry point for newcomers who are about to jump into the series for the first time (after watching the upcoming HBO show, perhaps). But at the end of the day, this is very much still the game you’ll remember playing at its core if you were planning to revisit it.
So… “yes” if you’re jumping in for the first time. But if you’ve played The Last of Us before, Part I can feel an awful lot like reinventing the wheel. Albeit, a cooler-looking, smoother-running wheel fits better with your new “The Last of Us” emblazoned car. In which case, “probably not” (at full price).
Screenshots taken on a PlayStation 5 with Performance mode. Additional visuals courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment Singapore.