Release Date : September 2, 2022
Developer(s) : Naughty Dog
Publisher(s) : Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms : Playstation 5
In Summer 2013, The Last of Us was a huge slap in the face for gamers. In the twilight of PS3, Naughty Dog signed its “after” Uncharted with a new license that gained its strength from its reflections, its unique identity, its dark and intimate story as well as the deep relationship between the two main characters. A memorable experience, instantly elevated to the throne of the industry for most people, and which has been given a new and improved form at the dawn of the PS4. A remaster, a sequel and a decade later, it’s back as The Last of Us Part 1.
A remake of one of PlayStation’s leading titles that has been the subject of much discussion before and after its announcement. Wrongly perceived as a remake of a remaster billed at $69.99 without any discount for the many owners of the original game on PS3 and PS4, it has immediately divided the players. On one side, those who see it as just another convenient edition for such a “young” title, while on the other side, others find it too expensive, and finally, those who think that a remake should bring new content and gameplay. The Last of Us Part 1 was a complex case from the start. After having gone through the game from top to bottom, the decision is clear and can be summarized in a simple burst of greatness.
THE LAST OF US PART 1, A GENUINE REMAKE OR NOT ?
The Last of Us is definitely one of the great video game monuments of the last decade. A risky bet at the time for Naughty Dog, who was then making series of great Uncharted games with a light and relaxed tone. At that time, the new Naughty Dog’s franchise had established itself as a monumental narrative masterpiece, with a strong human story at its core, carried by the intimate relationship of the now-famous duo that held the whole game together until the end, which was considered powerful, surprising, even brutal. It was also a magnificent technical performance on the PS3 at the end of its lifespan, both from the point of view of the direction and the facial animations that gave substance to a story and touching characters. But what was great ten years ago, then dusted off a year later with a simple facelift, is not necessarily great anymore.
In the meantime, technology has evolved. Naughty Dog was able to refine its tools and expertise on two other huge PS4 hits: Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us Part 2. With a second episode that was a hit with an even larger audience and an HBO series in the works, it’s almost natural that the developers wanted to remake the episode that started it all to open up the license to newcomers as it should be. Launching the PS4 version today means exposing yourself to a game that’s a little dated in terms of technique, gameplay, and graphics. If your humble servant of the day was among the great skeptics, you should know that the legitimacy of The Last of Us Part 1 is not up for debate. From the very first moment we find ourselves in the game, from the very first image, from the prologue, which has been done many times and which always manages to make us shed a tear, we understand the interest of this remake which is a pure success.
The purpose of The Last of Us Part 1 is not to introduce new content, or new stories, but rather to enhance this work by making it a technical reference for the PS5, just like the original game did in its time on PS3. It is to make those moments that marked us, moved us, or touched us even more powerful, more striking. It was far from being won as the level was already high at the time. Such an intimate work that seeks to tell a human story above all requires technical resources to support this approach.
TLOU Part 1 is therefore a great technological uppercut to the whole production in terms of modeling, animation, and especially facial capture. With an even more refined rendering than its sequel, The Last Us Remake features entirely improved characters, more realistic than ever. Joel, Ellie, or Tommy, already perfected in TLOU 2, get their new models totally transformed. Of course, if you have seen the second opus, some members of the cast impress by their modeling. The brothers Sam and Henry, Tess and Maria at the top of the list, are almost unrecognizable as their features are more realistic.
What really makes The Last of Us Part 1 a good game is the work done on the body and facial animations. The studio was careful to bring out all the motion capture archives and to rework each scene to match the actors’ performances as closely as possible. A detail that might seem unimpressive to anyone who doesn’t like it, but that thickens and gives even more life to the characters, the scenario, and the key moments of the game. It even has the luxury of making them more dramatic, more touching, and even more emotional.
Supported by new physics, each cinematic contains small details that make the game more realistic than it was. A muscle or a vein that contracts, a look that flees, a lip movement that betrays a disappointment, a worry, clothes that crumple, tears that naturally run down a face, the distress of a character who has just shot a member of his family. The examples are numerous, unimportant on paper, but almost indispensable in reality. More dramatic and photo-realistic than ever, the remake also manages to enhance those more restrained moments that allowed the characters to shine through their shadows, but also their silences even more expressive than before.
A REMAKE DEDICATED TO STORYTELLING
It’s a fact, The Last of Us Part 1 shines by its sense of detail. We remember that a developer wanted to testify that it was the most accurate and detailed project of the studio so far. The guy didn’t lie or exaggerate. Naughty Dog impresses more on the immense artistic work done on all the sets and environments of the game with the backdrop of an America shattered by a mysterious pandemic. Stores strangled by roots, offices nibbled away by overgrown vegetation, houses where nature has taken over, all have been completely redesigned from scratch. No more of the old assets duplicated to excess throughout the adventure. Each place has its own impression, its own little details that give the feeling of walking through a place where there was once life.
A complete restructuring that supports this keen sense of environmental storytelling that is so important to the game and that brings to mind the grim reality of this ruthless, unforgiving world. It joins the tight circle of games where absolutely nothing has been left to chance, where each scenery has a purpose serving the coherence of this universe. Everything is new, except the level design which remains completely identical beyond the artistic and graphic evolutions. The marketing campaign comparisons were quite impressive, but it’s clearly night and day with the remaster.
A little trick thanks to which The Last of Us Part 1 manages to give the impression of crossing completely different areas from time to time. Because it mainly plays with your memory of the game, it sometimes gives the illusion that everything has changed, while everything is there, more beautiful, authentic, and realistic than ever. This attention to detail makes a big difference with the controller and clearly changes the game, contributing to an enhanced immersion.
Motivated by the idea of being as pleasant to observe as its successor, TLOU Remake doesn’t hesitate in its lighting and reflections management, nor in the projection of shadows, all of them particularly remarkable. Whether it’s during the cinematics or during the gameplay, they never fail and magnify the unique atmosphere of the game. This desire is reflected in its artistic direction, which swaps its bright colors for a visual identity closer to its sequel, allowing a better control and variation of atmospheres.
True to the ambitions of the Californian studio, The Last of Us Part 1 is a real picture worthy of the PS5, a full-fledged next-gen game that doesn’t have to be ashamed of its sequel. This is also reflected in the traditional mode choices, Performance to enjoy the constant 60 fps that never fades, and Fidelity to be able to play in 4K and run through a slightly prettier game than Part 2. The title is smooth as it can be, whether in one mode or the other, but also in the transitions between the cutscenes, now in real-time, and the gameplay.
Beyond the selling price, it is precisely this point that is the most annoying: “the lack of new mechanics”. Naughty Dog didn’t skimp on the modernization of its gameplay, considered by some as a hindrance to the experience of the original game. The Last of Us Part 1 inherits a lot from its successor, but no, Joel won’t be crawling through tall grass or dodging hand-to-hand attacks. That would make little sense. He’s a tough Texan, able to rely on brute strength and take a few hits, he doesn’t have the agility of his protege. Each to his own gameplay. If Part 1 takes all the general dynamics of the original work, it dusts off the handling in a rather unexpected way. In combat as well as in exploration, the remake gives us a completely different feeling thanks to a bunch of improvements that make the whole thing more fluid.
A REFINED MASTERPIECE
Completely improved, The Last of Us Part 1 adopts the same flexibility as the second episode offering more fluid and pleasant movements as well as less robotic transitions between weapons. All the animations have been reworked, especially the hand-to-hand ones, which are more brutal and natural, allowing you to feel the strength of Joel and his opponents. It also includes some valuable additions for the sake of realism. Enemies beg you to spare them, great care has been taken with weapons, workbenches, noises, and impacts. Projections are everywhere and it is not rare to see a piece of brain that has just been exploded dripping on a car.
Without being extremely cruel, TLOU Remake doesn’t hesitate to do some serious dismemberment and to be particularly visual during the fights. We are not at the level of its sequel, but the title is even more violent and brutal than the original work. All these little things put together make for a more enjoyable and immersive experience than ever, where the handling is no longer a flaw but a quality. And when the DualSense haptic feedback blends wisely into the mix, it works wonders.
Considered one of the major flaws in the genesis of the license, the AI has also been improved based on The Last of Us Part 2. Companions now avoid getting in the way of enemies during infiltration scenes, and are more useful in combat, and can locate enemies more effectively, who also benefit from better behavior. Patrols communicate, react to dead bodies, watch their backs, and don’t hesitate to use molotovs to flush you out or to organize themselves to catch you from behind. Then there are the infected who have undergone a similar treatment with new animations and behavior as erratic and creepy as the second opus.
The encounter with the first clicker doesn’t fail to have its little effect, even after replaying the game over and over again. We have to admit that with its new lighting and its crazy 3D audio system, The Last of Us Part 1 gives us an even more mastered atmosphere, sometimes offering moments on the verge of survival horror. The confrontations against Bloaters or the freaky Stalkers are even more stressful and intense.
All these elements, all these novelties and improvements put together give us an enjoyable experience, upgraded, familiar and exotic at the same time, whether you already are familiar with the original game or not. A few exclusive contents have been added as bonuses. You will be able to unlock new outfits for the duo and even go behind the scenes of the development. Always aiming for accessibility, Naughty Dog has gone all out with customizable options to allow everyone to personalize their experience and open up their work to the most possible players regardless of their level of difficulty.
For the rest, the real question is who is this exceptional complete remake for? The answer is not as easy as for a simple remaster. If you’ve never played the game, there’s no need to think about it: go for it. It’s the perfect catch-up session to discover this iconic game in the best conditions under the next-gen lenses. For the rest of us, it’s basically hard to justify a game that’s sold at a full price of $69.99 in this market, remake or not. Naughty Dog’s work is amazing, but it’s up to each of us to decide whether it deserves another immediate investment or not. If you played it a few months ago, maybe not. If your memories faded, we highly recommend it.
No matter how you place yourself in the debate, The Last of Us Part 1 is a real knockout. With exceptional technical performance, a remarkable revision of outdated and even shaky gameplay, an enhanced atmosphere, even more emotional cinematics, and more realistic environments than ever, this remake offers us a game that is more striking and sensual than ever. Naughty Dog succeeds in its bet by offering a familiar and yet exotic look at a legendary game. A full-fledged next-gen game, with the same content but literally in a different form, which deserves to be replayed sooner or later.