It’s the end of the world as we know it (and it looks great)
Fourteen months ago, I reviewed The Last of Us—a review that was not always easy to write. The game was a huge tonal departure from Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise, and more so than any of the developer’s previous work, it was a project that pushed the envelope on games that intertwine serious levels of storytelling with more traditional gameplay elements. The trouble is, the more complex both sides of that equation become, the more the definition of what a videogame is becomes blurred—and the harder it can be to definitively judge the results.
Now, I return to that world and its characters in The Last of Us: Remastered and once again sit here trying to craft a review around the experience. A lot has happened in that year and some change, and time has allowed myself (and others) the chance to not only look at the story of Joel and Ellie from a post-playthrough perspective, but also a reflective one. For the most part, my specific likes and dislikes of The Last of Us are still the same now as they were then—so this will serve as a review of those elements more specifically related to how the game now exists in its Remastered form. I’ll leave most of my opinions on the game itself to that initial review I did for the PlayStation 3 release, which you can go read (or re-read) by clicking here).
Looking back, it’s hard to call The Last of Us one of the best games of the previous console generation—because that’s a strong statement to make without more time to really process everything we saw and played. Would I be surprised if, once we reach that point, the game earns that crown? No. While The Last of Us strained at times under the weight of trying to craft a compelling narrative and an engrossing action game—a formula developers have yet to truly figure out—Naughty Dog’s story of post-apocalyptic fungal zombies was still one of the most human dramas the game industry has seen from a major publisher.
This, more than anything else, is what I was reminded of as I played Remastered. Yes, the opening segment remains a touching look at love and loss, but it’s only the first of countless moments that make the adventure as strong and satisfying as it is. And while main heroes Joel and Ellie deservedly get top billing, The Last of Us simply wouldn’t be what it is without the entire cast of characters and the contributions each of them bring.
That’s all well and good, but plenty of us realized (and experienced) all of that not so long ago. Did Sony and Naughty Dog really need to rush out a PlayStation 4 port of the game, even if it was so darn good?
…Oh, you were waiting for more than a one-word answer. Well, there’s a few reasons why I not only had no problem with such a quick turnaround on the re-release, but actually welcome it. Even with the critical and financial success The Last of Us received upon its release, the game still sat in the shadow of the impending launch of Sony’s hugely hyped new system. The highest-profile titles can become overlooked as dollars are saved up to buy new hardware, and given how sparse libraries can be during the first year or two of a system’s life, it only made sense for Sony to want to get more mileage out of one of their biggest projects in years.
More than that, however, was the fact that you knew you weren’t getting the real version of The Last of Us as you played through it on the PS3. There’s probably no development studio that got more out of Sony’s last system than Naughty Dog, but even as beautiful as the game’s environments were and how fun it was to play, it was obvious that the team’s ambitions were grander than the system was able to accommodate.
Back when I played the new-gen re-release of Tomb Raider, I realized how easy it was to underappreciate just how big its graphical jump was. Sure, I thought the game looked better and ran nicer, but it wasn’t until I began doing side-by-side comparisons that I understood the magnitude of the difference between the two. The same is true for The Last of Us: Remastered. Character models, environments, lighting, the little subtleties put into every scene—all those things and more come to life in ways the previous version could simply never offer. It’s as if, the entire time, there was a PS4 game hiding beneath the surface of a PS3 game, waiting for the hardware that would one day come along and set it free.
It’s not just how Remastered looks that matters here—but also how it runs. The bump up to 60 frames per second is absolutely noticeable over the PS3 version, yet you can also lock the framerate to 30 fps if you’d like. Some may prefer the more “cinematic feel” of the lower option, but in trying the two, sticking at 60 and its smoother overall experience is the only choice for me. (Locking the game at 30 fps will provide a few lighting improvements, such as higher-quality shadows. The team at Naughty Dog did a lot of tricks to get the game to run as well as it originally did on the PS3, so while the PS4 is not only more powerful but also easier to develop for, moving the game over was no easy task.)
All of this results in one very easy conclusion: This is the true The Last of Us. It’s not that the PlayStation 4 version is simply the better option of the two; I could not and would not want to go back to the PlayStation 3 release at this point. This is the game its developers always wanted you to play, and giving them that chance to release such a version of The Last of Us is why I have no problem with Remastered’s quick arrival. If you’ve already seen and done everything there was in the PS3 version, should you now run out and buy it again? No, maybe not—but making you feel better about your previous purchase isn’t reason enough to keep all these improvements from those who will (or those who never played The Last of Us in the first place).
However, some of my favorite parts of Remastered are options that you’ll only find on the PS4. As a part of the package, the hour-and-a-half-long documentary Grounded is included, but perhaps even more interesting is the option to play all of the game’s cinematics (once unlocked) with commentary from creative director Neil Druckmann and actors Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie). Director’s commentaries are one of the few bonus features that I enjoy for movies, and I welcome their inclusion in videogaming with open arms.
And then, there’s Photo mode. A popular inclusion in Infamous: Second Son, the PS4’s built-in ability to capture screenshots is made far better by being able to pause the action, reposition the camera, play with brightness, filters, film grain, or focus, and adjust other elements to set up that perfect shot. Sony’s push for players to be able to really capture and share their favorite moments from games has been something I’ve loved from the start, and my hope is that the company encourages all of their studios to include such modes in every future exclusive title. Because, really, there’s only one downside to Remastered’s Photo mode—how you may end up spending just as much time capturing shots from the game as you do playing it.
Rounding out Remastered’s package are a selection of the more important DLC releases for the game: the phenomenal Ellie-focused Left Behind, the two previous multiplayer map packs, Abandoned Territories and Reclaimed Territories, and the brutal new difficulty level Grounded. To be clear, however: You aren’t getting all of the DLC that’s available for The Last of Us—not even close. There’s a long list of multiplayer-focused microtransactions (including character customization pieces) that are hoping you’ll spend money on them, and the final upcoming set of maps will require payment no matter what platform you’re playing on. I’m not particularly happy about the amount of DLC content that’s offered here—especially given the fact that Remastered is a nearly full-priced re-release of what was a full-priced game—but that’s for a bigger discussion of my problems with the game industry’s love for post-purchase purchases.
Forgiving what it doesn’t contain and taking into consideration everything it does, it’s hard for me not to look upon The Last of Us: Remastered as not only one of the best (and most justifiable) re-releases that gaming has seen during this new era of remasters, but also as one of the better gaming experiences you can have on Sony’s latest console. That’s not an insult to the other PlayStation 4 titles that have come along—it’s a testament to how good The Last of Us is and how much it benefits from the raw power of its new host. Remastered is a purchase befitting both those who have never played Naughty Dog’s effort and those who want to play it again in its new, more fitting form.
Sure, I understand the hesitation for some to repurchase a game they already own—but if there’s anything worthy of such a decision, it’s The Last of Us.
|Developer: Naughty Dog • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 07.29.2014|
While The Last of Us was one of the PS3’s most impressive, engrossing releases, The Last of Us: Remastered feels like the version of Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic story of survival that the developer always intended us to play. Its story and characters are just as strong as they were before, but they’re now reinforced by far more amazing visuals, consistent framerate, and a nice selection of new bonus features and DLC inclusions.
|The Good||The Last of Us’ world and characters come to life beautifully on the PS4; the game itself is still one of Naughty Dog’s best.|
|The Bad||Downsides of the original PS3 release—sometimes iffy AI, lack of creativity in multiplayer modes—are still present (of course), and multiplayer matchmaking currently takes way too long.|
|The Ugly||Selling so much player customization DLC for multiplayer when I still can’t pick which character model I want to use.|
|The Last of Us: Remastered is available exclusively on PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment for the benefit of this review.|