You wouldn’t know it if you don’t read “Terrible Take Twitter” or the “Irate Internet,” but there’s been a lot of negativity around the remake of The Last of Us for PS5, subtly renamed to The Last of Us: Part 1. The gist of this anger is due to the original game on PS3 releasing a little over nine years ago. So, how dare Naughty Dog remake a game that new, right?
Frankly, I don’t care what projects a game development studio decides to take on, and in this particular instance the handwringing over an extensively spruced up remake feels rather performative. My take: this is a superb remake of an already brilliant game that brings it up to the standard people expect from a modern Naughty Dog game. It’s easily one of the best remakes I’ve ever played.
If you are coming to The Last of Us for the first time, what you’ve got is essentially a zombie apocalypse scenario, but we don’t call them zombies – they're the infected and they come in variety of horrific forms, such as Runners, Stalkers, and Clickers (the latter gives me shivers just reading the name). Joel, a bearded, gruff man, suffers a terrible loss when things take a dramatic turn, only for him to find Ellie, a teenage girl, in his care as they venture into hostile lands on a delivery mission.
Naughty Dog is great at creating believable characters, and The Last of Us delivers a number of standouts, all of which you’ll spend a decent chunk of time with to make them feel core to the whole experience. Unlike many games that feature ally NPCs, these don’t feel so much like bots, and crucially they don’t exist to spout inane gibberish.
The official line from PlayStation and Naughty Dog about the improvements you get in this remake is thus: “A total overhaul of the original experience, faithfully reproduced but incorporating modernized gameplay mechanics, improved controls and expanded accessibility options. Feel immersed in improved environmental storytelling, effects, facial animations, and enhanced exploration and combat.” Having not played the original in about eight years, I can’t claim to notice every little tweak and change, but as a complete game this remake is everything I wanted.
Like most of Naughty Dog’s games, presentation is a key part of what made The Last of Us stand out on PS3. Go back to that game today (or its marginally-improved PS4 port) and yes, it’s still the same excellent game full of top-tier interactive storytelling, but it’s not the showstopper it once was. The passage of time and the onward march of technology is kind to very few video games of the PS3/Xbox 360 era, even those that pushed the limits of what those consoles could produce.
On PS5, The Last of Us Part 1 looks gorgeous once more, and as a franchise soon to welcome new fans following the HBO TV series, it made perfect sense to bring the video game that started things up to this new high bar. Everything here has been improved, but it’s the lighting that hit me first. You probably remember that the original release excelled in this area, but it’s on another level in the remake. There’s far greater range on display now, meaning scenes have been finely tuned to a degree simply not possible two console generations ago.
Then you’ll notice the character models and world. “Surely this didn’t look this impressive on PS3,” you’ll think to yourself while pausing the game and firing up a YouTube video. You’re right, it didn’t – not even close. A burning house seen during the game’s grim, heart-breaking opening highlights the chasm between the various versions of the game, and from then on I found myself frequently stopping to take in the view. Beat for beat Part 1 is the same as the PS3 game, meaning you’ll experience a more linear-feeling game to Part 2, but Naughty Dog has really done the business bringing it to PS5.
The Last of Us has had its fair share of criticism in the past centered on its gameplay – in particular the amount of planks and ladders you need to move around, and the less than stellar gunplay. Maybe it’s the fact that in the almost-10-years that have followed the original release more and more games have opted for this heavy, rugged feel to combat, but in the remake I didn’t find it bothersome in the slightest. There’s a slight clunkiness to certain mechanics, such as switching weapons, which I’d usually hate, but... at the risk of sounding like the worst PlayStation fan of all time, it works here rather brilliantly. This struggle can combine with the more tense enemy encounters to really amp up the stress levels.
Melee combat, while a little simplistic, is meaty and, so my stumbles with unloaded weapons often forced my hand quite literally to use a metal bar or baseball bat. These thunderous blows are just as unpleasant as the world itself and I frequently ended encounters with a sense of relief. It was all over, for now. If only I remembered to make better use of Molotovs and nail bombs – the former being one of the most grimly pleasing firebombs to grace a video game, producing some truly nightmarish screams from the infected. As for those planks and ladders, well, they aren’t a huge problem. I’m not really sure what the hullabaloo was about back in 2013 to be honest.
Aside from the remade original story campaign, Part 1 also includes an equally well modernised version of the Left Behind DLC – featuring Ellie and her friend Riley, before the events of the main game. There are also a load of speedrunning features I’m never going to use (speed is not my thing) and a load of new accessibility features including multiple visual rendering options, audio description and more. If you fancy yourself a bit of a pro, or just have too much time to burn, a new permadeath mode is also included. I’m staying well clear.
Much has been made of the 3D audio, DualSense haptics, and improved AI in Part 1. These are all things that make this feel like a new experience, not just a port. The AI is the hardest to judge as no one plays the game tracking the movement of every enemy and buddy, but encounters play out really well, the dynamics changing rapidly depending on how well you utilise stealth. I played the game with USB headphones and the 3D audio is properly unsettling at points. At certain moments the tension proved to be a little too much, so I switched to playing with the sound muted for the sake of my heart.
Someone is bound to chime in to moan about the Factions multiplayer mode not being brought over to PS5. Would it have been great to see it here? Yes. Should it stop you buying and enjoying this remake? No. We know Naughty Dog is working on something new for a Last of Us multiplayer experience, so we’ll just have to wait and see how that turns out.
If this wasn’t a remake, I firmly believe it would be right at the top of Game of the Year articles as we assess things over a bit of Christmas Pudding. The PS5 has had some brilliant games already, no doubt, but as a fan of The Last of Us, Part 1 is my new favourite exclusive on the console. If you dislike Naughty Dog games, nothing here is going to change your views, but existing Doggers (yes, I’m using it) will lap this up and appreciate the work that’s gone into it.