Before You Dive into the Hit Show, Check Out THE LAST OF US on PS5

From all my years of spending my time wisely playing video games, I don’t think there has ever been a more well respected but, at the same time, controversial or hotly debated franchise more so than The Last of Us. There have been series that always inspire interesting conversations about what it’s trying to convey – none more so than probably the Metal Gear franchise and its auteur creator, Hideo Kojima – but nothing has caused such a strong love/hate relationship like Naughty Dog’s flagship franchise. The Last of Us released in Summer 2013 to favorable reviews and general positivity, thought the tech seemed to be breaking the back of what was left for the PS3 architecture. Then a mere few months after TLOU launched on the PS3, it was announced that Naughty Dog would release The Last of Us: Remastered on the newly launched PS4 in 2014, upscaling the resolution while also maximizing the frame rate to 60 FPS (a big deal considering TLOU ran usually at sub-30 FPS on the PS3). The remaster was met with resounding approval and is considered the preferred version of the game. After years of reveals and teases, Naughty Dog released The Last of Us Part II on an apparently unready public back in Summer 2019. The controversy surrounding that game and its storyline is unparalleled, tenfold over what was present during the initial TLOU, and I will NOT be diving into that pool in this review. 

To the surprise and dismay to most of the general public, during the Summer Games Fest 2022 presentation, it was revealed that we were getting a complete, ground-up remake of TLOU, aptly titled The Last of Us Part I (which, to me, is the most resounding confirmation that we WILL see The Last of Us Part III) and was expected to release ONLY on the PS5 in early September 2022. The big question from everybody’s mouth – Is this remake necessary at all? TLOU: Remastered was only a couple years back and was considered still a technically proficient game and widely accepted as not needing any sort of overhaul. Screenshots and comparison videos released leading up to launch showed how much work they put into this, but the real question still existed – is this worth the $70 price tag attached to it. Well, after waiting until it hit $50 over the holidays, I have to say that even though I did not think it was worth dropping $70 on it again, I do believe that TLOU: Part I is an amazing technical achievement that is well worth a $40-50 entrance fee to experience this seminal story.

If anyone is not familiar with the story, the tale involves the cross-country travels of Joel and Ellie during the post-pandemic/apocalyptic world after a fungal outbreak has killed off most of the human population, leaving most humans living within walled-off quarantine zones across the U.S. while humans not killed by the fungus, called infected, run the outside world, killing whoever get in their way. Some of these people look like just madmen, others have evolved and deteriorated to an unfathomable degree to become true monsters.  Joel is a hardened man, who was around when the pandemic began and experience a loss that has haunted him to this day, now living within the quarantine zone of Boston, doing odd jobs and dealing with illegal items that are exchanged with people and guards for services. Ellie is a young 14-year-old with a constant chip on her shoulder, mainly due to growing up in orphanages and getting prepped to become a FEDRA solider (the current military that “protects” the quarantine zones). Ellie, however, if quite important to the future of humanity as it appears that she is immune to the fungal infection that has spread across the world. A group of resistance fighters, called the Fireflies, have hired Joel and his partner Tess to deliver this “cargo” to the west where a hospital with doctors and nurses are waiting to curate Ellie’s blood and possibly find a cure for the infection that has enveloped the world. Suffice it to say, it is not an easy journey and both Joel and Ellie will come out very different people once this mission reaches its conclusion. 

Naughty Dog did an amazing job of recreating the entire journey of TLOU from scratch. While the story beats and locations you traverse throughout the game are unchanged, the way the environments and enemies look are vastly superior and reworked in every line of code that exists. The facial animations for Joel, Ellie and every main character that you come across have been highly revamped to feel more realistic and natural, similar to the advances that were captured in 2019’s TLOU Part II. I do feel to need to call special attention to the update to the character of Tess, played to perfection by Annie Wersching. The emotional heft and gravitas that she brought to the role originally has been magnified even more so with the facial updates and improved mo-cap, making her character stand above and beyond as the most improved from the OG version. Every single environmental object in this game, whether it be buildings, grass/dirt/trees, interior rooms, exterior surroundings, cars/trucks or literally anything in the game has been vastly upgraded from their previous incarnation is detail, polygonal count, resolution uptick to 4K and reworked to give the world a much more lived-in feeling, feeling more oppressive and threatening with every twist and turn. The infected, clickers (blind creatures who hunt on sound) and bloaters (severely infected people who have had years of rot and fungus balloon their appearance to unsightly means) all have been upgraded to look as gnarly and vicious as they have ever looked. Every fight with these enemies feel intense and intimate with all the upgrades to the visuals, making it a pure delight to experience all over again. The audio, which was already quite impressive in the original TLOU, has been revamped to truly surround the player with sounds, clinks, drips, and the screams of madness from the infected. In the 5.1 surround sound setup I have at home, I truly felt engrossed with the world, hearing clickers in my back right side while enemies funnel in from the front speakers, drawing my tension to max height and left me in a constant state of unease outside of a few “quiet” moments in the journey. Naughty Dog also did us a solid by including a ground-up remake of the lone story DLC content for the original TLOU, called Left Behind, which tells the story of Ellie and Riley, a friend who she grew up with in the solider training and is about to leave and join the fireflies. Left Behind was a massive achievement in storytelling for me, telling a compelling tale of young love and finding your way in the world, all shattered by an oppressive world that has crumbled around them. Ellie is giving even more layers than she already had from TLOU and truly makes her the main “star” of this franchise, and rightfully so in my opinion.

In the end, while I do understand the argument that a full-priced remake of The Last of Us Part I, leaving it as the third release of the OG game, is completely unnecessary and wish efforts were focused on a newer TLOU title or IP altogether, I am happy to report that Naughty Dog did put in a lot of work on this remake, redoing every single piece of code in this game to have it truly feel like a PS5, next-gen experience. Was it worth it to have a crew of people working on a second remake/remaster of a practically perfect game? Perhaps not, and while I would have appreciated maybe something new in terms of a new location/action scene/story beats, I can’t ignore the polish and craftmanship that went into this remake. Much like the Resident Evil remakes that have been popping up over the past few years, this is a great way to bring in a slew of people who may have only experienced the original with the tech that the developers believe truly brings out the original intention of the vision. The Last of Us Part I is worth it for people who have played through TLOU in 2013 and its remaster in 2014 – thought that $70 price tag does ding it somewhat – but it comes highly recommended for people who have never experienced the original journey of Joel and Ellie. You can’t deny the master craft on display here. 

The Last of Us Part I is out now for PS5. PC version will release on March 3rd, 2023.

Eric Mayo
Horror Lover / Resident Evil Fanatic
While Evil Dead 2 is my first horror love, my cozy horror that I always return to is the Friday the 13th franchise, though I am known to thrown on Tremors or even Malignant at a moment’s notice for some good old absurd fun. However, first and foremost, my most loved piece of horror anything was, is and always will be the Resident Evil series. Wesker for life!
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