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There’s a notable difference in the way that video game and movie fans discuss home releases.
While releasing the same film a multitude of times on VHS, then DVD, then HDDVD, then Blu-Ray and then UHD Blu-Ray is an accepted practice, in games, the sheer idea of releasing The Last of Us for the third time in under a decade has generated a level of anger and dismissal that seems strange for what is one of the most critically beloved games ever.
There are legitimate holes one could poke in the idea of The Last of Us Part 1. For one, the price is a lot for any game, no less one that you probably own in some form. It’s also worth noting that it’s arguably a lesser package than the PS3 or PS4 versions as it’s missing multiplayer (although a Last of Us multiplayer project is currently in development).
But it’s in the third camp that we find our biggest difference of opinion. The idea that it’s a “pointless” remake and that it’s “barely different” to the PlayStation 4 version. The Last of Us Part 1 isn’t a pointless remake. The Last of Us Part 1 is an essential remake that uses the sheer power at its disposal to make the best elements of the game even better.
There’s a scene around fifteen minutes into the story (and if you’ve played the game, you know what we’re talking about) that was a perfect case study for why the game should exist.
While that scene was moving on the PS3 and PS4, and really set the tone for the powerful emotional heartstrings that were yet to be tugged throughout, on PS5, it’s practically unwatchable. Not only is the sequence itself horrific, but the reactions from Joel and Tommy are so heightened, so much more impactful, and so realistic, that it feels like a milestone moment for performance capture in games, just like it was the first time.
Some will want to skip this scene. Others will find themselves turning away or fighting the lump in their throat. This is all thanks to the incredible strides the game has made visually.
At times, the difference between the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game feels akin to BluePoint’s Demon’s Souls. And it’s not in the sweeping city or the worn-down interiors, which look fantastic, but it’s in the characters. Naughty Dog has been afforded so much more room to wordlessly convey the game’s narrative, and form relationships, that we feel like we’re catching new threads of a game that we’ve played half a dozen times over the decade.
The final narrative beat in The Last of Us asks the players to question whether or not Ellie believes Joel. And while that was wonderfully handled in the original, and was a landmark for subtle storytelling in games, The Last of Us Part 1 is full of those moments.
“At times, the difference between the PS4 and PS5 versions of the game feels akin to BluePoint’s Demon’s Souls. And it’s not in the sweeping city or the worn-down interiors, which look fantastic, but it’s in the characters.”
When it comes to gameplay, The Last of Us Part 1 lacks the improvements that so improved the combat of the stellar second game, but as the encounters are far more limited in Part 1, it still works perfectly well. You’ll ideally avoid resorting to firepower, especially on the harder difficulty settings, and with stunning HDR and lighting effects, those quiet crawls past clickers in subway stations are just as terrifying as they’ve always been.
The game offers two modes, a fidelity option that targets 40 FPS and offers all of the visual bells and whistles that you’d expect from a modern PS5 game trying to push graphics to the limit. We found that this was a fairly consistent way to play the game, apart from the way instances where the player’s flashlight interacts with water in dark areas.
The cascading lighting and shadows are spectacular, but the frame rate takes a brief respite from the action to accommodate the lighting wizardly. The performance mode is rock solid, and for those with the screens to display it, there’s even a 120 FPS mode as well.
It is clearly very easy to look at this product from the outside and say, “it’s just graphics”, and if you’re looking for an itemised list of what is new in the game, then fine, but it misses the context of why significant graphical improvements on The Last Of Us would be so important.
The thing that made The Last of Us such a significant game was the galactic leaps it made in performance capture and storytelling on the PS3 in its dying days. This version of the game finally feels like it’s conveying the game’s most sublime storytelling moments in the way it was always meant to, but technologically couldn’t. There isn’t a developer working today that can deliver these experiences with quite the utter mastery that Naughty Dog displays.
$70 is a steep mountain to climb. While the lack of multiplayer is a shame, as the original mode was highly underrated, Naughty Dog clearly has multiplayer aspirations that would far outshine remaking the game’s original suite.
But, if you want to play the very best version of one of the greatest games that has ever been made, then The Last Of Us Part 1 is a triumph. Not everyone needs to buy that UHD Bluray. But there are some people that want that. And in this case, it not only makes the entire experience look generationally better than its last iteration, but it also makes an already stellar story, and unmatched performances even better.
$70 is a steep mountain to climb. But, if you want to play the very best version of one of the greatest games that has ever been made, then The Last Of Us Part 1 is a triumph.
- Jaw-dropping graphics
- Performances that are still peerless
- Technical improvements enhance the narrative itself
- Lighting and HDR ramp up the horror
- No multiplayer