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Naughty Dog has returned with a reimagining of arguably its greatest work to date. Not quite a ground-up remake but much more than a remaster, The Last of Us Part 1 on PlayStation 5 is an extremely effective meld of the old and the new.

The story of Joel and Ellie needs no introduction, and nothing has changed here on that front. What has changed is the experience, thanks to the updated Naughty Dog engine that powered the sequel. This reinvigorated PS5 version has benefited greatly – but it is not a case of simply porting things over, as this is likely based on the PlayStation 4 Remastered code, which has been updated with the latest rendering technology within the updated Sequel’s engine. Today we’ll be digging into the improvements in the new version, the performance modes available, and how everything looks and plays compared to the original version.

Visual Improvements

Many new rendering techniques have helped bring The Last of Us up to date, such as the oil painting-like materials in the world, impeccable character models, and skin rendering complete with movie-level physically-based shading. This is the single biggest leap from either of the previous two editions, and many of the models are the ones we saw in the sequel. The animation and bone rigs of faces have also been improved with significantly better vowel forming of mouths and a wider emotive set of facial expressions. Some characters have also been redesigned from scratch, with Tess standing out as a drastic shift from the original. Changes to faces can be subjective, but the increase in detail, photorealism, movement, and sheer fidelity cannot be argued. The quality here is exceptional and nearly brings Part 1 in line with its 2020 sequel.

The “nearly” is because not everything is a match for the newer game, and Naughty Dog’s team is still working with the older core game engine code, motion-captured vertex movements, and decade-old performance capture. Some original sequences on both PS3 and PS4 were all still in-engine but not real-time; instead, they were pre-rendered out to a video file via a PlayStation 3 rendering farm back in 2013. Here on PlayStation 5 they are all real-time but based on the exact same core data, which means the improvements to models, animation, etc. are limited in certain areas. Issues like characters warping into new positions from grabs or combat are much better now than the remaster, but the movement and timing of moment-to-moment gameplay and cutscenes are a match. Sure, camera shots can be altered, post effects improved, and shading quality upgraded – as we see with the increased light sources, edge lighting on characters, and even minor changes to motion and skinning. But at its core the PS5 version is an old canvas covered in a fresh lick of the finest digital paint you can get.

Beyond the models, material composites, post effects, et al. – which includes excellent per-object motion blur, bokeh depth of field, subsurface scattering, and improved decals for gore and such – many of the level construction, foliage, assets, and even textures and materials have all been improved, increased, or even remade completely. Many shots show a significant leap in polygon count, with improved brick textures, changes to debris and rubbish, and more objects and details present within the world. Areas have been altered to move walls, gates, signs, and more, and the reduction of water bodies removes the cubemap issues we saw in the original. Part 1 uses screen space reflections mixed with those projected cubemaps, which improves the accuracy of reflections but can still have blend issues when drawing in and out when the camera moves.

Character models are improved and include brand-new modes, something you will see universally, with a much wider variety in characters and less reuse, helped by the leap in memory offered by the PS5. This helps change the look and feel of many scenes as you play. It’s by no means a night-and-day difference, but it again highlights the effort and attention that went into rebuilding huge portions of The Last of Us. The PlayStation 4 remaster, even shown in the best light possible on the PS4 Pro, is still largely a higher-resolution version, both in output to screen and textures, of the PlayStation 3 original. That will be 10 years old next year, and yet still stands up impeccably here, highlighting how ahead of the pack Naughty Dog was back then and how it certainly led the way on maxing out the PS3 – something covered more within the Performance section.

Game Refinements

From a presentation perspective, the voice capture, sound effects, soundtrack, big action scenes, and combat are all practically identical to the original. This means that the dodge mechanism from TLOU Part 2 is not here, nor is the enhanced dismemberment gore system – only the original game’s gore system. It is certainly still a violent game, and things like blood pooling, decal impacts, and other additions have been added, but the combat, both with weapons and melee, plays as it did in the original game. This is likely due to the animation and AI scripting of the Remastered code limiting some of the choices here, similar to what we just covered around the model bone rigging improvements earlier. It is refined and better than the source versions, but it is still limited in the scope of those improvements. This means enemies still react as they did, running at you and attacking in the same way.

Other tweaks come by way of the DualSense controller’s abilities, including the use of haptic feedback and adaptive triggers, as well as improved sound mixing via 3D audio and a slew of customisation options to play how you want. Tutorials and menu pop-ups have also been improved, with them no longer placing a hold on gameplay.

Modes

There are two performance modes to choose from: Native 4K Fidelity mode, and Dynamic 4K Performance mode, with a third Variable Refresh Rate option available if your display supports it.

Fidelity mode targets 30fps, unless you have a 120Hz screen, in which case it targets 40fps – a 33% improvement in performance. This is simply due to the frame-time needed, with 40fps requiring a new frame every 25ms, which is divisible into 120Hz and 30fps requiring 33.3ms, which is not.

The Performance mode, meanwhile, targets 60fps regardless of the type of screen you have.

Finally, if you have a display capable of variable refresh rate, a third option becomes available, which unlocks the framerate in either mode. This means you can exceed the 40fps target in Fidelity mode, or the 60fps target in Performance mode.

Performance

Naughty Dog’s developers did an admirable job harnessing the PS3’s notoriously difficult hardware architecture with the original The Last of Us. It was – and remains – an incredible piece of work highlighting how capable that machine could be in the right hands, with quieter moments running at the 30fps target. But once the action heated up, framerates could buckle into the low 20s as alpha effects, light sources, shadows, and high polygon loads taxed the system.

The PlayStation 4 remaster managed to more than double the resolution of the PS3’s 1280x720p to a full 1080p. In addition, it not only solved the performance issues, it also doubled the framerate to 60fps. That said, the framerate was not locked and could dip in combat and cinematics. The later PlayStation 4 Pro patch offered an 1800p/60 mode, and while the performance here can dip again into the low 50s and high 40s, it’s far from problematic in most segments. The PS4 Pro version also offered a 1080p/60 mode which was visually identical to the PS3 version (aside from the increased resolution and textures), just with better performance.

Starting with the PlayStation 5 Performance mode, we have a dynamic 4K resolution that provides a locked 60fps in all tested sections, no doubt with room to spare. The only dips come from camera cuts during cinematics, which are intended to help physics settle or swap assets between shots. The short version here is if you want to experience the most consistent performance level then you should turn this mode on and never look back.

The need for a native 4K output can be strong, though, and as such the 30fps mode is the same story, never dipping below it in my tests with the unlocked 40fps mode showing that it, again, has room to spare. Therefore, the Fidelity mode can hit 50fps in quiet sections at that fixed 3840x2160p. In action or real-time cutscenes, though, it can be around the 45fps mark, meaning we are getting approximately 50% higher performance over the 30fps mode, which really highlights the performance headroom that capped mode leaves. In dense areas with fog volumes, particles, and shadow-casting light sources it can dip into the mid 30s, but these are rare from all my tests. As such, this offers the cleanest image quality with still a very smooth performance level, feeling closer to 60 than 30, and could be a big pull for many. I will state, though, that you can feel the dips to the low 30s when they crop in this mode, albeit very rarely.

The final mode is the unlocked Performance mode, and this again can see around a 65% increase over that previous 60fps cap, even allowing the engine to hit the 100s in rare circumstances, though with general action and cinematics hovering somewhere in the middle. Due to the mode requiring VRR to work, the framerate always stays north of that 60fps base. It is the fastest mode here. Again, the only change between this and the Fidelity mode is that this dynamically scales down from that 4K mode, likely to a 1440p base. But in some sections it can be at that same 4K target or just below, meaning the balance of pixels and performance is kept in focus. The extra response this mode gives does help in combat sections, and I am impressed by how fast and clean this mode is considering how much it is pushing at times. The choice of the two modes – with the additional VRR option – means that you will certainly find a mode that works best for you.

A remake or remaster can be a blessing or a curse, and with The Last of Us Part 1 being the second revision in a decade for Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic action game, some may say this version was not yet required. However, the exhaustive upgrades on offer here are hard to ignore. The Last of Us has never looked better, with models and world detail being close to parity with the 2020 sequel. It is not quite at the same level of fidelity, but certainly close enough in the vast majority to stand proud on the PS5. If you look closely you can still see areas of the original version underneath: incidental objects can be low polycount, and the real-time cutscene models and lighting still look much better than in-game at times. That said, whether you’re coming to it for the first time or you have already played and completed this stunning game, this update is the best way to play, systematically upgraded and improved across the board. Do not expect anything different over the old version aside from visual quality and performance increases, as you will be disappointed if you go in looking for additional storytelling. That, though, is the beauty of a new version like this: many will have never played this game before, and now the PS5 houses the absolute best way to enjoy it for the first – or fifth – time.

Source: https://www.ign.com/articles/the-last-of-us-part-1-performance-review

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