The Last of Us Remastered Review
Naughty Dog‘s first game for Sony’s PlayStation 4 will be out tomorrow, at long last. As I’m sure you’re aware by now, it is not a brand new adventure (which is going to be Uncharted 4, expected some time in 2015), but the most acclaimed game released last year – The Last of Us, in its Remastered version.
Those who have played it on PlayStation 3 already know what to expect, of course. The game is basically the same, save mostly for technical improvements, but I’ll take a moment first to briefly explain what The Last of Us for the others – after all, as Sony explained, this Remastered version is mainly targeting those PS4 users who didn’t own a PS3.
Suffice it to say, on the first day I received my review copy I found myself still playing at 1:30AM, and this wasn’t because I was rushing to get the review out either – I just couldn’t put it down, even though I’ve finished the original version and already knew everything about it. How could Naughty Dog achieve this? I’ll try to dissect it.
First of all, The Last of Us, as you probably have guessed from the title, is set in a post-apocalyptic version of the United States of America. There are “zombies”(sort of – they’re infected through Cordyceps, a parasite fungi which actually exists in real life, although it only affects insects), which everyone loves, but they aren’t really at the center of the plot – that part belongs rightfully to Joel and Ellie, the main characters who are brought to life thanks to the excellent performances of Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson; while initially the two don’t really get along, which fits the backgrounds of both, slowly but surely they warm up to each other in a believable way. I can honestly say that I’ve never been more attached to any character featured in a videogame.
That is because The Last of Us managed to blend action and storytelling in a perfect way. Many games will tell you that there’s a terrible danger out there, but when the gameplay doesn’t really convey that sensation, everything quickly falls apart; this one, on the other hand, offers incredibly intense gameplay moments coupled with a brutal, satisfying combat (especially the melee part) that just seems right given the setting – there’s nothing more rewarding than blowing the head off a zombie who’s attacking Ellie or a human looter who’s taunting you.
That sense of urgency is carried throughout the entire game, and will likely make your heart pound sometimes. For example, even crafting has to be done in real time, which means that you should probably prepare everything you need before entering combat; scavenging is incredibly important, as mandated by the tradition of the post-apocalyptic genre, and it helps nudging players into exploration. I’m very glad for this, and you should too, as it allows you to really sink in the world of The Last of Us; while pilfering houses and apartments, many different notes can be found ranging from the location of supplies to, mostly, the sad histories of those who didn’t make it.
Naughty Dog took the opportunity of this downtime to let the characters interact seamlessly with each other and the environment – you’ll see little touches such as Ellie playing darts or football with another kid, or asking Joel if the family described in a note they’ve just read managed to reunite, and adding that she’d like to think so. Somewhere in all of this, it dawned on me that I was in love with The Last of Us, once again.
There are some scary parts, although nothing that even someone who can’t stand horror (like me) can’t manage; the tension remains high though, as does the quality of the encounters in the entire single player campaign, which is pretty long at an average of 15 hours (without Left Behind, the DLC). While playing again on PS4, I found myself continously excited about the upcoming encounter – part of this is because The Last of Us offers many more combat options than Uncharted. The areas are big enough to allow different approaches, from stealth (heavily recommended, as it will save you valuable resources for later) to brute force; you can even throw bricks or empty bottles to distract enemies and just pass through, although that’s easier said than done.
I could probably go on and on praising the single player, but you should have the gist of it by now. I can only recommend playing without the Listen mode active, which is effectively a wall-hack that lets you see enemies when you really shouldn’t.
Of course, most readers will want to know about the specifics of this PS4 version – it’s the Remastered review, after all. Well, let me clarify that if you go in expecting mindblowing graphics, you could be disappointed; this is clearly not on the same level of Killzone: Shadow Fall or Infamous: Second Son, but it couldn’t possibly be, since those were specifically engineered for Sony’s latest console. There will be time for Naughty Dog to wow everyone graphically with Uncharted 4; still, The Last of Us was among the prettiest titles on PlayStation 3 and the amazing work done by Naughty Dog’s artists is even more visible thanks to 1080P, higher resolution textures and shadows available here, not to mention improved particle effects. Lighting was great even on PS3 and it shines far more here, thanks to the image clarity.
The frame rate jump is perhaps more noticeable, as the game ran at a somewhat inconsistent 30FPS on PS3. PS4’s Remastered runs almost always at 60FPS, with very few instances of small frame drops; this results in a significantly smoother and more responsive gameplay, so much that I cannot but agree with those developers who found inconceivable to go back to 30FPS. Naughty Dog added the option to lock frame rate@30, but even though enabling it also further improves the definition of shadows, I found the transition from 60 to 30 simply jarring and quickly felt the need to go back to the default state.
The frame rate upgrade is even more important for the multiplayer. Yes, while The Last of Us has been widely recognized for its singleplayer (and that would be enough to call it a masterpiece), Factions is a surprisingly compelling take on multiplayer; it could be described as a slower, more tactical version of a third person shooter, but that would be a disservice. The Last of Us keeps its identity even here: real time crafting, scarce ammunition and no regenerative health mean that you’ll want to avoid the run&gun approach; you can activate the aforementioned Listen mode with R2, but it will only last a couple of seconds before triggering a long cooldown.
With the multiplayer scene still without a king on PS4, I can see Factions becoming popular for some time – the Remastered version feels and looks better, it includes all of the previous DLCs (for a total of 15 maps) and another DLC is already on the way, bringing more maps, weapons and cool gestures (including Antonio Banderas’ meme).
The photo mode we reported on will be included in the Day One patch, so we’ll talk about it later.