Video Game Review: The Last of Us Part I
The Last of Us Part I looks gorgeous on the PS5.
Originally released more than nine years ago on the PlayStation 3, Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us earned its standing as one of the best games to ever grace Sony’s line of consoles. It would receive the remastered treatment for the PS4 just over a year later. Now, with an HBO show on the way, Sony has decided the time is right to overhaul the classic, renaming it The Last of Us Part I, and offering it to PlayStation 5 owners.
Unlike the 2014 version, TLOU Part I is a remake, not a remaster. That being said, it sticks to the original vision in a way that something like Capcom’s Resident Evil 2, which earned praise in 2019 for completely overhauling the visuals while also beefing up and altering the content, did not. While some tweaks have been made, most notably to the game’s A.I., Naughty Dog did not add anything of note or even alter the cinematic sequences.
Whether that approach warrants paying the PS5 full price will be for individual gamers to answer for themselves, though the game does at least contain the Left Behind DLC, which tells a two-part story featuring Ellie, both before she ever meets Joel and Tess and then after Joel is injured. It’s heavy on story to be sure, but it’s still fun. It checks in between two and three hours.
Setting aside the asking price, the PS5 version is, as you would expect, the best way to experience the game. The graphical jump is noticeable, though the Remastered PS4 version still looks damn good, and everything just feels more smoothed out with strong implementation of the next-gen DualShock. It had been long enough since we played TLOU that things felt fresh moment to moment, even though we remembered the big picture twists and turns.
While it can’t match the gameplay diversity of its sequel, TLOU Part I absolutely looks the part of a brand new PS5 game — if you didn’t know that this was a remake of a PS3-era title, you’d never know based on the graphical prowess, level design, and world building. Again, all of those are testaments to the original and just how well executed and polished it was at launch.
Of course, it’s that world building, along with the relationship between Joel and Ellie, that raised the game to its lofty heights originally, and in experiencing it for the first time since playing the sequel it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t tell the superior story.
Whereas TLOU 2 is relentlessly dark and largely a tale about crippling loss and the need for revenge, TLOU Part I knows when to pull back from the edge and inject bits of levity as Joel and Ellie, who still retains some level of innocence, grow closer on their cross-country journey while dangling the worthwhile carrot of developing a vaccine to bring humanity back from the brink.
Clocking in around 20 hours, The Last of Us Part I has excellent pacing and a good bit of variety in terms of encounters as you typically alternate between dealing with some combination of the infected and the hunters (humans that will kill you without a second thought to take everything you have).
Again, though, this is the area in which the game doesn’t quite measure up to its sequel, as you’ll see the same animations over and over again, and most of the encounters are confined to smaller spaces, doubtless a concession to the original hardware’s limitations.
As noted, the game does claim some quality of life improvements with the PS5 version, but beyond the aforementioned A.I., they feel pretty minor. Characters do move and interact with the environment more smoothly than before, and there does seem to be an uptick in the number of items you can smash, but those are too small to be true selling points.
In that same vein, the number of extras that are available feel largely unnecessary, such as graphical filters or the ability to change Joel and Ellie’s wardrobe. There is a nice suite of old-fashioned cheats available (e.g., unlimited ammo) that could unlock some fun, including explosive arrows to wade through your enemies rather than having to account for every bullet and sneak around. Still, would you really want to replay the full game like that when tension is so critical to the experience?
The Last of Us Part I is a tough one to score. On one hand, it’s a phenomenal game that looks better than ever. On the other, it’s essentially the same game that players have had access to since 2013, and its PS4 remaster holds up remarkably well at a fraction of the cost. We loved our time with it, however, and replaying it on a modern console is the way to do it (assuming you can bear the cost).