Games Review: The Last of Us Remastered (PS4, 2014)

Naughty Dog’s decision to remaster their newly crowned PS3 masterwork The Last of Us and release it on PlayStation 4 around a year after it’s initial release just seemed like a weird move. Despite the studio’s hard-won integrity and reputation for excellent content, it felt like they were attempting to trade on the enormous goodwill and ever-growing fan base the game had inspired, and the announcement was met with widespread cynicism. It’s time to eat crow, you guys. We should have known better than to doubt.

The Last of Us: Remastered is a survival horror game set in a world ravaged by a virulent and human-transmissible strain of the Cordyceps fungus, turning a large percentage of the human population into aggressive but unintelligible infected. In the years since the pandemonium of the first major outbreak, humanity has begun to rebuild what it can of it’s former existence and limp on. We meet Joel, a world-weary loner still mourning the loss of his daughter and Ellie, a precocious, capable teenage girl placed in Joel’s care.

The game moves rather seamlessly from playable sections into cinematic cutscenes thanks to the nuanced voice and mo-cap performers that make up the game’s cast. The campaign retains every ounce of it’s emotional punch and is a mirror of the PS3 version with no major alterations and deviations. Each area of the game is different and interesting and the game does a very job of subtly letting the player know which way they should be going next – though, there was two or three sections I ended up lost in on both of my playthroughs on PS3 and PS4 simply due to poor conveyance. It’s an extremely minor gripe, though, when instances of this sort of thing are so few and far between.

But let’s get into the stuff most returning players want to know about. The most obvious point of difference between the last-gen and current-gen versions is purely cosmetic. The Last of Us: Remastered runs in 1080p, up from the original 720p and the game now runs at a silky, unwavering 60 frames per second, increased from 30fps on the PS3. The difference these enhancements make in tandem is pronounced. The scenery pops, the game feels as though it plays far more smoothly and it’s allowed Naughty Dog to go in and make a few tweaks – character models have been altered for greater detail (one example of this extreme attention to detail is Ellie now being much more freckly than she was originally) and they’ve substantially increased the draw distance, meaning they’ve all but eliminated the tree pop-in that annoyed many players in the original. It’s also allowed them to rework a lot of the lighting and particle effects to better fit the game’s dour mood. They’ve even made a concession for those who preferred the cinematic feel of the original’s frame rate and have included the ability to lock the game at 30fps right there in the menu.

The thrust of the game itself remains identical to the original – if you played The Last of Us, you already know exactly what you’re in for. Players are forced to search every nook and cranny for supplies with which they can build certain implements, upgrade weapons and craft heals. Every conflict can be tackled in multiple ways from sneaking about to going in guns blazing if you’re a particularly crack shot and aren’t concerned about ammo conservation. Gameplay elements like not having to worry too much about Ellie during combat are still present here. When things get real, Ellie will scoot out of harm’s way and try to keep pace with you and even occasionally shoot back.

It’s all for show, though, as she can’t actually be injured unless pinned by an infected person – a facet I originally found jarring and pulled me out of the moment but for which I was immensely thankful on the harder difficulty settings. I definitely found that the enhanced graphics and frame rate really made the game feel like it controlled a lot more smoothly and with pop-up a rarity, distractions are limited. Nowhere is this more apparent than in multiplayer – getting caught up in a fast-paced battle used to lead to a laggy frame rate and a lot of motion blur. Now, you’re able to move about and aim steadily without the poor, struggling hardware putting you off your game. The only real downside here is that you will be starting your multiplayer stats over from scratch as there is no way to port them across from the original.

The controls themselves have been tweaked slightly to better utilise the DualShock 4 as well. By far my favourite change was the remapping of the aim/fire buttons from L1 and R1 to the far more natural L2 and R2. The DualShock 3’s notoriously weak trigger buttons had forced Naughty Dog into the original’s unintuitive L1/R1 configuration (ND famously used the same configuration in their Uncharted series). Moving the controls to the DualShock 4’s much improved triggers was a slam dunk and they feel far more natural for it, however you can change it back if you really want to. Tapping the touchpad in the centre now brings up Joel’s backpack, previously bound to the Select button on the DualShock 3. Recordings and audio diaries are pushed the controller’s speaker, in similar fashion to last year’s Killzone: Shadow Fall, and the light bar on the rear of the controller changes colour to tell you what your health looks like, which is handy for playing on harder difficulty levels.

The Last of Us: Remastered is also packed with bonus content not found in the original – one of the biggest being that all currently available DLC is already included on the disc. You get access to the single player DLC Left Behind as well as the mutliplayer DLC Abandoned Territories and Reclaimed Territories. Players that purchased the Season Pass on their PS3’s will also find that it has been ported over to PS4 so any DLC you paid for already will count on your new machine too and you’ll still get the forthcoming DLC as well.

For those players keen to find out more about the making of the game, Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann and actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson have recorded commentary tracks for players to listen to as they progress through the main campaign, similar to Valve’s commentaries on Half-Life 2 and Portal 2. Photo Mode is another new addition, pinched from Sony stablemate Infamous: Second Son, which allows players to take impressive hi-res stills and screencaps of themselves and their environment from any angle.

There’s even a new difficulty level for hard-mode enthusiasts like myself called Grounded which disables the HUD, all game hints and Listening Mode. Supplies are so scarce they might as well not exist at all. Enemies do triple damage which means you can only take one or two shots before dying, and they’re all hyper-alert so sneaking by damned near impossible without smart use of the environment.

Taken as a whole, The Last of Us: Remastered is geared more towards those players who missed out on playing the game on release last year and are wanting to catch up. If you are among that group, this is an essential purchase. A generation-defining experience and the new high-water mark for cinematic storytelling in games. For those who did play the original and are keen for another playthrough, there is more than enough on offer here to warrant shelling out a second a time.

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10

Highlights:
Immersive, smart design
All the DLC!
Surprisingly solid multiplayer

Lowlights:
One or two sections with poor progression conveyance

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Released: 30 July 2014
Platform: PS4