Review: The Last of Us Part 1

Last April, I wrote an article claiming Sony and Naughty Dog revealed a remake of The Last of Us was risk averse. I mentioned in the article that the leadership team at PlayStation wasn’t listening to the studios and could not muster the support needed to allow these studios to grow. In the case of The Last of Us Part 1, the remake was in development at Visual Arts Service Group, an internal studio known to support the bigger leads like Naughty Dog, Guerrilla Games, and Insomniac Games. Without the proper funding and support from Sony, the project was shifted to Naughty Dog to complete the remake. This isn’t the first case we’ve seen where Sony would lean on Naughty Dog or Insomniac Games to get things done and I don’t expect it to be the last.

I wrote that article way before being able to sit down and see for myself whether or not The Last of Us Part 1 is worth revisiting. In short, I think it’s a testament to how incredible the teams at Naughty Dog have been for decades now. The remake is a massive step up from both the vanilla and remastered versions released in 2013 and 2014 respectively. From the beginning when the earliest rumoured swirled regarding a remake of the game not even a decade old, I questioned why we needed this. The game even as a remaster looked great when it was released on PlayStation 4, and the consensus was this was the definitive version.

What’s in The Last of Us Part 1?

Naughty Dog took what they learned during the development of The Last of Us Part 2 and came up with a slew of changes. The first thing the team did, according to the PlayStation Blog was revisiting the game and update the resolution/framerate, which now renders at native 4K and 40 FPS or at a dynamic 4K that targets 60 FPS.

From the art direction to the character models, everything you see in The Last of Us Part 1 was rebuilt “from the ground up,” so that the game can take advantage of PlayStation 5 hardware. Whether you think the game needs to improve physics and environmental damage and the seamless cinematic transition is subjective. However, seeing the work done in Part 1 is what makes me second-guess my recommendation of the game itself. On the one hand, this is now the most definitive way to play The Last of Us but on the other hand, it is also the same game from a decade ago.

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The work done on the various animations is exceptional and I can see why Naughty Dog would want to utilize the tech from Part 2 and recreate Part 1. By now, the comparison videos online do not do the game justice and it is an immense improvement by all standards. Furthermore, the gore and dismemberment systems from the sequel have been implemented in Part 1 so you can toss a nail bomb and watch as it shreds a group of infected. Alternatively, when dealing with humans you can hear them scream out names like in Part 2, and while these are fine additions, is it the ones players actually want?

Plus, enhancements made to environments and 3D audio adds a grounded experience. My DualSense adventure began a bit rocky though and I wasn’t sold for the first few hours as it felt like minimal work done by the developers. Then, I discovered a setting in the DualSense menu that was coded to help deaf players understand a conversation’s nuance by emphasizing the dialogue. It was once I turned this feature on did I begin to truly feel the diversity the DualSense offers players just like in games like Astro’s Playroom or Horizon Forbidden West. I’m a bit disappointed there’s no gyro aim included for players to enable in the menus though.

However, the 3D audio is easily a highlight and if you own a compatible headset like the Pulse 3D headset it makes a world of difference. Combat situations alone become elevated and you can hear where runners are lurking and where a clicker is across the room. I wouldn’t put the experience up there with the likes of Returnal, Demon’s Souls, or Gran Turismo 7 it is a rather exciting way to re-experience the campaign and the many enemy encounters.

Naughty Dog added a new speed run mode for players to tackle the entire campaign in the shortest amount of time. With charity streams like Awesome Games Done Quick, this is a great feature many speed runners will add to their streams. While I sit on the opposite side of the spectrum and spend far too much exploring every nook and cranny I do find this new mode a nice way to remix the experience.

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Considering this is narratively the same game from 2013, you won’t be surprised by anything the story throws your way. However, that isn’t to say some of the same cutscenes won’t emotionally affect you or stir some semblance of feelings. The opening moments of The Last of Us to this day is one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve seen and is as hard to watch now as it was in 2013. We know the cast is incredible, we know the performances convey a wealth of emotions.

If anything, this is the most ideal way to revisit this universe. However, not everyone will want to pay a premium and I wholly understand that choice. It’s a tough sell given the state of the world with rising costs on pretty much everything. Then there’s the fact that The Last of Us Remastered is available for PlayStation Plus subscribers and it’s still a great experience delivering an experience. However, the accessibility features alone make this an easy suggestion whether you agree with it or not. A lot of people who didn’t have the best experience previously can now join those who have completed the game.

Accessibility

I’m trying to approach this review differently and it would be a disservice to not mention the level of accessibility Naughty Dog has added. We published an article close to the launch of The Last of Us Part 2 where we focused on the level of accessibility players could expect when playing the game. In short, there are a lot of options to choose from to make the game your own including alternate controls, magnification, audio cues, text-to-speech and more. Navigation is also a customization for the visually impaired and you can adjust the experience to simplify traversal and make inputs easier.

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Combat has many options to adjust the experience to make it fit your needs including adjusting enemy behaviours and reducing their accuracy and perception, making sure they can’t escape when grabbed, and more. If you want to enable invincibility or slow motion you can make these choices.

In The Last of Us Part 1, Naughty Dog delivers the above and more. “Every single accessibility option that is added, is a barrier removed for someone,” says Game Director Matthew Gallant. This time the developers have added audio descriptions to the feature list and a once unplayable game for the disabled is now not only playable but able to be completed by them. That alone is worth the money for a large community of gamers.

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This was done with the help of Descriptive Video Works, a team of specialists that previously worked with Ubisoft on Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to offer similar audio descriptions. A wonderful blog post on the PlayStation Blog dives into the vast amount of choices disabled players can pick to make the experience wholly their own.

One of my most used features once I discovered it was being able to turn on the voice vibrations in conversation. In a lot of cases, it makes things feel far more immersive for me but I can see how this would help a deaf player understand the tone of a scene far better thanks to being to emphasize the situation.

Verdict

The Last of Us Part 1 was always going to be a divisive title, that’s a given. With that in mind, even now nearly a decade later, returning to this is a heavy experience. The performances are given a new life thanks to a decade of techniques given the chance to be refined — but a knife can only be sharpened so far before all you are doing is wearing it away. I’ve played The Last of Us a dozen times at this point and I’ve seen everything I’ve needed to see. I want to see what comes next for Naughty Dog because by now, we’ve seen what the capable team has done in almost three decades of continually setting an industry standard bar many find inspiration from.

[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]

Reviewed on: PlayStation 5

The Last of Us Part IRecommendedThe graphical upgrade is wildly impressiveAI, quality of life improvements make this feel far more connected to its sequelTons of accessibility optionsA 1:1 remake that hits the same beatsVery occasionally clipping on character interactionsOriginal Article

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