There is so much I admire about Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Whether it’s the way the characters are written or how the post-apocalyptic world is designed, it’s a game where I always feel something after putting down the controller.
The original The Last of Us was a standout release for the PS3 and a master-class example of emotive storytelling, visual elements, and combat design. Experiencing Joel and Ellie’s journey across a post-apocalyptic United States was eye-opening to how refreshing Naughty Dog’s take on the genre was and the power the console had at the time. The relationship between the two characters was poignant, aided by the pacing of the story taking place across an entire year gave them room to grow naturally.
But just from replaying the original recently, it was easy to see why Naughty Dog may have wanted to update its magnum opus. Compared to Part 2, the character models feel unfurnished, the AI much simpler, and it simply isn’t as accessible a title. That makes for an inconsistent experience, depending on your tastes.
With The Last of Us Part 1, these improvements are obvious right off the bat. Joel, Ellie and the rest of the cast have received graphical upgrades to bring it up to the standards of Part 2. Using the original motion capture recordings, the studio is able to recreate those performances with improved fluidity and detail. It really makes the characters pop out and feel more lifelike compared to the original, and thus improves the actors’ performances.
The environments also look crisper and more authentic, with better environmental storytelling and enhanced lighting. Despite having played through these levels time and time again, I found myself frequently stopping to drink in all the extra detail. It makes these spaces much more enjoyable to traverse.
Naughty Dog has also brought over the improved AI from The Last of Us Part 2. Enemies will react more realistically to your actions. If an enemy sees his mate get killed, but doesn’t see you, they’ll become vigilant looking for the perpetrator. What makes it particularly impressive is they’ll be able to deduce the general area your attack came from, and their movement pattern changes to reflect this. It gives you a chance to flank them and reposition to come in for a sneak attack.
Similarly, enemies are a lot smarter when engaging with combat. One will try to flank you while another takes shots at you. They work together more effectively as a team, which makes these sections a lot more challenging than in the original.
Unfortunately, as a faithful remake, this also allows aspects of that 2013 design to bleed through into this version. For example, waist-high cover points still appear in combat scenarios, a trend I thought we’d moved past in the last generation. Areas that had to be stripped back due to technical size limitations also haven’t necessarily been expanded either. Naughty Dog has done a good job of disguising these aspects of the remake, but it’s still there nonetheless. It’s very obvious you’re playing a 2013 game with 2022 graphics, which can be jarring at times.
It’s also easy to criticise Naughty Dog for not bringing over some of Part 2’s more interesting gameplay changes, such as being able to crawl on the floor or dodge attacks. I must admit the absence of these features is a shame, and especially takes getting used to when you’re used to the more fluid and adaptive movements of Ellie in the second game. But at the same time, these environments were designed without these features in mind, and so it makes sense why they weren’t brought across.
The best question to ask when it comes to The Last of Us Part 1 is: “who exactly is this game for?” The £70 price tag is certainly a lot pricier than we were expecting, and for those who already own the game, it sucks to see there isn’t a discounted upgrade path available.
However, the release of this game also opens this game up to many new players. The marketing push will naturally attract new players who didn’t get to play the original on PS3 or PS4, as well as the confirmed PC version which will also bring in a brand new target demographic of gamers.
ACCESSIBLE FOR ALL!
Then there’s the expanded amount of accessibility options, making the game approachable to a wider audience of people who may have bounced off the original game for its lack of accessibility. Naughty Dog has worked with world-class accessibility advocates to ensure The Last of Us Part 1 is the most accessible game the developer has created.
All the features from Part 2’s renowned accessibility options have made it across here, with even many more making the cut. There’s now a narrator option that describes cinematics similar to a screen-reader, and also a DualSense feature that matches haptic power to the dialogue being spoken. It’s astounding just how much care went into these features, and brings the game on par with Part 2 for how accessible it is.
This carries across to the Left Behind chapter too, which was originally a DLC level that expanded Ellie’s backstory as well as shed some new light on the relationship between herself and Joel. It’s great to see this aspect of the original has been retained, and would have been a weird omission if Naughty Dog had decided to leave it out of the remake’s launch.
THE MISSING PIECES
However, the same can’t be said for the multiplayer. The Factions modes in the original The Last of Us was a refreshing take on post-apocalyptic PvP, favouring slower-paced score-based matches that really vibed with the community.
Unfortunately, this is not present in Part 1 at all, allowing Naughty Dog to completely focus its efforts on remaking the story from the ground up. Considering the studio plans on releasing its standalone Factions game at some point in the next few years, it makes sense to not splinter the communities between multiple titles. However, it will make the wait for that new spin-off all the more impatient.
The Last of Us Part 1 is a game that doesn’t feel like it needs to exist, but I’m glad it does. Even though that outdated 2013 design still bleeds through, the visual upgrades, combat tweaks and accessibility improvements makes it feel like a brand new title. In time, this will become the de facto definitive edition of the game that will be enjoyed for generations to come.
For our The Last of Us Part 1 review, a PS5 code was supplied to GameByte by Sony Interactive Entertainment.