The Last of Us Remastered
September 14, 2014, Author: Andy Corrigan
Despite really wanting to write about it last year, my packed schedule unfortunately meant that I had to pass our review for The Last of Us over to one of our contributors (and please check that review out too if you value multiple perspectives). When games get a re-release in this way, in many cases we get the original reviewer to revisit and then add to the existing review (see our Tomb Raider or Child of Light reviews as examples), but for obvious reasons I haven’t been able to let this one go.
With it now getting the old 1080p/60fps treatment for PS4 and with the DLC, Left Behind, now included in the pack, I felt it was finally my chance to write something bespoke about Naughty Dog’s bleak and hard-hitting masterpiece.
Is the PS3’s finest now one of the PS4’s finest too? Absolutely.
(Keep scrolling for the written review!)
For those that didn’t have chance to play this last year, The Last of Us takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where a fungal brain infection called Cordyceps (which in real-life only affects insects) has made the jump to humankind. Its effects are devastating, transforming most of the world’s population into mindless, super violent not-zombies, lovingly labelled by survivors as ‘clickers’ due to the noises they now make.
Taking place twenty years after the world went to hell, the human race has adapted and pockets of military protected survivors exist in communities around the US. That’s not to say the world is in harmony, however. The clickers remain a threat, bandits and dangerous vagrants control the wilder areas in-between and a war is playing out between the military and a guerrilla group known as the Fireflies.
You play as Joel, a callous smuggler reluctantly tasked with delivering a teen named Ellie to a Fireflies hideout outside of the quarantined zones. It’s clear from the first moment that he doesn’t want to be responsible for this young girl, but Joel isn’t written this way just to be another grizzled white male protagonist as in so many other games.
His cantankerous demeanour is given the best possible context, and it makes total sense in light of a brutal prologue which, even for the second time, hit me like a ton of bricks. Ellie and Joel’s evolving relationship during their journey is unequivocally the strongest element of The Last of Us and when people say that it’s an emotional game because of this, they’re absolutely right; just in none of the ways that you’d predict going in.
Although you spend nearly all of your time as Joel, this is as much Ellie’s story as it is his – or even the player’s for that matter – and at every milestone you see their bond develop in fascinating ways. She’s such a strong, spirited character that at times it’s easy to forget that she never knew the world the way we know it. Having been born into the madness that Joel has lived for twenty years, she’s had to grow up fast and, as such, when she’s given the rare opportunity to see something she’s never seen before or gets to act like the child she should be, the hardships of her life hit particularly hard.
No more so is this true than in the DLC Left Behind, which is equal parts heart-warming and heart-breaking. Left Behind straddles two timelines, with ‘current’ events taking place between two particular chapters of the core game while also flashing back to before Ellie met Joel, as she spends a final night with her best friend Riley. Just as with the main game, the writing here is simply sublime, but in this particular case it provides an excellent, intimate look into Ellie’s character. Wonderful stuff all round.
The Last of Us plays out in an absorbing mix of exploration, rudimentary puzzle-solving and challenging encounters with both human opponents and clickers. You have a number of ways with which to approach enemies, but it mainly comes down to stealth, a shootout or a mixture of both.
I feel that more often than not, mainly because ammo is so scarce and your capacity for damage is so low, that you’re encouraged to play the stealth game in most cases. You can make use of cover, use Joel’s listening ability (which functions a little like Batman’s Detective Mode in the Arkham games) to see where enemies are, use bottles or bricks to distract and even set traps with the explosives and devices you craft, and so on.
Even if you get spotted and are forced into using weapons or brute strength to take someone down, the A.I. is always fun to engage and has many outcomes. You could hold your ground and try to shoot your way out if you have the ammo spare or try to lose your attackers’ line of sight and use their confusion to your advantage. If you’re really clever, you can separate them and take them out one at a time with ruthless takedowns. Foes are aggressive though, able to pin you down effectively and flank you when they have the opportunity.
Clickers, however are different beasts altogether and while in reality they simply fall into three or four different class types, Naughty Dog have done well to disguise this otherwise ‘gamey’ implementation. Recently infected walk around erratically or stand sobbing, and these guys can still see you and will charge if you’re exposed. Some have infections so bad that their fungal growths cover their eyes and therefore they rely on sound to pinpoint you; however they do possess a one-hit kill so you have to be quite vigilant when dealing with clickers en masse. Once again, you can stealth or go in guns blazing, but with one-hit kills you’re safer keeping hidden or at least changing up your strategy.
The frequency of enemy encounters is perfectly paced throughout with any downtime being used to heighten tension masterfully. There were times where I was positively certain that I going to get attacked and never was, and traversing though tight environments with nothing scary jumping out still managed to leave my nerves shot to hell because of how I’ve been conditioned with other video-games. Likewise, there were moments I felt entirely safe only to find myself swamped by clickers or chased by gun-toting attackers in an instant. I loved how it played with my expectations of video-games in this way.
Although The Last of Us is fairly linear in terms of your overall path and direction, the world always feels huge and has enough room for exploration to take you off the beaten path. Good game design means that you never get lost, however, and you’re regularly offered a view of your goal by way of a carrot on a stick, only ever passively giving you an indication of where you should head.
The Last of Us: Remastered boasts 60fps, 1080p resolution and higher-definition textures than its PS3 counterpart, but I’m going to be honest; aside from that improved framerate, without comparing the two versions side-by-side, I was hard-pressed to tell the difference. Still, while it’s not the kind of obvious upgrade that Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition proved to be, it definitely feels smoother and sharper than it was.
That said, it’s not the visual fidelity that shone with The Last of Us in the first place, rather its design. Instead of the usual browns and greys that most games default to as they try and depict gritty ‘realism’, you’re shown a broken, concrete landscape that has been reclaimed by nature. Rich, vibrant greens contrast against lifeless buildings as wildlife wanders free. There’s such a range of environments too, with rain-soaked cities, suburban areas, forests suffering harsh winters; despite being bleak, it’s a gorgeous world and being in it just a pleasure.
There are also so many awesome little graphical touches that are easy to take for granted. If Joel and another character try to occupy the same space in cover, for example, he’ll position himself slightly further back instead of passing through them or being pushed out. It’s a little thing that highlights the level of detail that Naughty Dog considered.
That said, it doesn’t always work perfectly and there are times when Ellie or another A.I. companion will wander into the line of sight of an enemy, sometimes even right in front of them and not get seen. At other times I’d be trying to sneak around a blind clicker and Ellie would be there, bumping into them several times without even getting a reaction. Don’t get me wrong, the alternative of the guard seeing her and firing or the clicker taking a swipe would be massively frustrating given you’re not in control of your A.I. buddies, but these rare moments stand out and break immersion more than in some games, just because of how polished everything else is.
I never once touched the mulitiplayer mode, Factions, when I played The Last of Us on PS3, and I found myself a bit reluctant to here. I mean, you have this impeccably written, impactful story that you want to be untainted, and I couldn’t see how a tacked-on multiplayer mode could ever compliment or live up to that. Consummate professional as I am, however, I jumped in for this review and have to say that the multiplayer, surprisingly, works tremendously well, capturing all the key gameplay beats of the single-player modes.
Choosing between Hunter and Firefly factions, you’ll use the exact same mixture of stealth and gunplay as you did playing as Joel, and in the multiplayer arena this encourages teamwork and results in some really interesting strategies. You’ll still also loot buildings for supplies; craft extra items and weapons to help turn battles in your favour. It’s solid and fun to play
I haven’t played too extensively, spending only two nights with it before penning this review, but it’s certainly worth a look and seems to have enough upgrades and unlocks to keep it interesting long-term. I definitely feel compelled to spend at least a bit more time with it, and I rarely feel that way about unnecessary multiplayer modes.
While the visual differences – aside from the improved framerate – are hard to spot unless comparing side by side, The Last of Us: Remastered is a welcome addition to the PS4’s growing software library. The core game is an unrivalled, phenomenally tense action adventure that, for me, has been every bit as enjoyable this second time around. The inclusion of one of the most worthwhile DLC offerings I’ve ever played has only endeared me to it further. A decent multiplayer component, then, tops off an already incredible package.
Make no mistake, though, it’s the story and these characters that are the hook that makes The Last of Us the incredible experience it is, and there’s never been a better time to find out for yourself.