You almost have to admire the hedonism of looking at The Last of Us Remastered, which is still visually impressive eight years later, and saying, “Yeah, that looks pretty good, but we can do better.” There’s very little left to be said about the original The Last of Us, a potent, post-apocalyptic cocktail of stealth, survival, and slaughter that’s revered for its haunting storytelling in an amazingly well-crafted world. You almost certainly knew that. It’s widely lauded as one of the best games of all time and one of the few to get a 10 from IGN, but I reckon you knew that, too. In fact, it’s a game so nice they built it thrice, which is where we find ourselves with The Last of Us Part I – now the third version of Naughty Dog’s 2013 masterpiece to arrive inside a decade.
Unsurprisingly, this remake takes full advantage of the added grunt afforded to it by the PS5 by delivering astonishing new levels of detail and fluidity in its fully rebuilt world, characters, and animations. It's also equipped with some subtle but well-considered use of the haptic feedback in the DualSense controller, and a simply remarkable array of accessibility options. It’s missing the original’s multiplayer mode, but the result is undoubtedly the definitive way for solo players to experience this modern classic. Even so, there is something inherently inessential about it that it can’t quite shake, as a remake of an already fabulous remaster that remains a must-play on hardware only a single generation old.
Make no mistake: the story here in both the main game and the short prequel, Left Behind (which is included in Part I, still as a separate story), remains as strong, as captivating, and as shocking as it ever was. If you’ve yet to play it, The Last of Us is a tangled bramble of themes, but Naughty Dog weaves them together expertly. It may trade in despair, selfishness, and misery, but it’s also quick to lightly breathe on the embers of hope, redemption, and love that glow within its darkness. The upshot is an unforgettable journey that I still can’t recommend highly enough.
Of course, if you’re familiar with the story already, know that I really enjoyed watching it unfold all over again – from its harrowing opening chapter to its bruising final moments. Playing again actually confirmed to me a suspicion I’ve held since playing The Last of Us Part II: that the original remains superior over its sequel in terms of its story. The Last of Us Part II is a technically outstanding follow-up with a fascinating tale of its own that completely immersed me, but it’s an almost exclusively grim one, and the heavy spotlight on revenge, hate, and self-destruction is exhausting and disillusioning in a way the original is not. At least, not all the time.
A Joel New World
For clarity, The Last of Us Part I has been positioned as a complete rebuild for PS5 – a remake, and not a remaster. Despite some hand-wringing to the contrary, this does feel mostly true. While The Last of Us Part I features two display modes – one that achieves native 4K at a targeted 30 frames per second, and another that presents dynamic 4K at a targeted 60 frames per second – Naughty Dog has done much more here than simply dial up the resolution and crank out an increased framerate. Our full performance review of The Last of Us Part I goes into much more technical detail, but broadly speaking all the characters and environments have been remade entirely, and it does show.
While I’d agree that it’s been tough to see a vast gulf between 2014’s The Last of Us Remastered and The Last of Us Part I in the video comparisons Sony has been rationing out, I will caution that watching two cutscenes smooshed together on a smartphone screen probably isn’t the best way to appraise the meaningful differences here. In-game there’s definitely an overt leap in fidelity and quality. I opted for the dynamic 4K/60FPS performance mode and toggled off the film grain, as the higher frame rate makes for far, far smoother camera panning and the default grain effect honestly does little but obscure how good everything actually looks on the PS5.
Among the most noticeable changes are the facts that foliage is denser, destructible objects are more abundant, and reflections are a standout. The soft lighting is also absolutely stunning, and it’s brimming with details so granular you’ll miss them if you don’t look closely enough. The way rain drizzles down Joel’s rifle and snakes down his wet shirt before dripping realistically off the bunched parts of his sleeves had me stopped in my tracks, as did how the light picks up airborne dust and spores in the dankest levels. It’s an absolutely top-shelf visual showcase of what the PlayStation 5 is capable of.
There have been some moderate redesigns for a couple of key characters, too – most notably Joel’s smuggling partner, Tess. I’ve seen some resistance to the updated Tess, but I think it’s a minor but smart change. Crafting a Tess that more authentically appears to be a woman in her 40s rather than her 20s paints her more as a generational peer of Joel’s, rather than a woman younger than his own daughter would have been 20 years after the outbreak. The faint hint of a relationship between the two that perhaps hasn’t always been entirely platonic makes way more sense in this context, and the later bond between Joel and Ellie is made all the more special when it’s clearer it’s not the kind of connection Joel could’ve made with Tess previously.
The Last of Us Part I does, however, lean on the exact same performance capture, voice acting, and cutscene direction that was used for the original PS3 version, Tess included. Admittedly, they have been touched up, and I do appreciate how the ultra-high level of facial detail has allowed Naughty Dog to extract even more subtle microexpressions from the cast’s performances. Even the small addition of flecks of spit shooting from a character’s mouth as they shout adds a new layer of intensity to the drama that I admire. It’s a testament to just how high-quality and future proof it all was in the 2013 original that there was simply no need to redo these story sequences wholesale, but it does mean I wouldn’t necessarily group The Last of Us Part I in quite the same category as rescripted, wall-to-wall do-overs like 2019’s Resident Evil 2 remake or 2020’s Mafia: Definitive Edition.
Endure and Survive
I did grow to miss the larger and regularly more vertical levels of Part II; with a few exceptions Part I’s levels are generally more intimate and compartmentalised, no doubt thanks to their origins of being designed to run on hardware that first debuted when Beyoncé was still 33% of Destiny’s Child and Netflix was still only renting DVDs via the post. I also missed the improved melee combat of Part II; Part I doesn’t feature the useful dodge move implemented in the sequel, nor the ability to go prone and crawl. The latter doesn’t feel like a huge loss considering the levels weren’t designed to ever require it in the first place, but the lack of a dodge feels odd considering bringing Part I’s gameplay more in line with Part II’s was a stated aim.
Naughty Dog has succeeded in a lot of other areas, though – especially with movement, which is a lot smoother than it was in the original and the 2014 remaster. Animations that seamlessly blend character movements from one direction to another make them appear less skatey and more connected to the ground. Joel and Ellie feel a little weightier as a result, which makes them feel more like they’re always really interacting with the world.
There have also been tweaks to the enemy AI, who skulk around the environments in unpredictable patterns and who are now far more effective at flanking and working in small teams to flush us out – just as they were in Part II. Part I has unfortunately stopped short of copying Part II’s brilliant trick of naming its unfortunate grunts for their buddies to call out in dismay as they stumble across their bodies, though. I thought that was quite a clever way of adding even more gravity to the bloodshed, and it’s a shame it didn’t make the cut. It also reduces, but doesn’t completely eliminate, instances where your AI buddy characters shuffle out into the open during stealth sequences and yet remain unseen, making it crystal clear that this is, in fact, a video game.
The Last of Us Part I also features some of the best use of the DualSense’s haptics that I’ve felt to date. All manner of subtle feedback is mapped, from the sharp crunch of racking a shotgun shell to the rhythmic beat of a galloping horse. The triggers for weapons can sometimes feel a fraction too firm by default, but overall feeling what’s happening on screen in your hands adds a lot to the experience. The avalanche of haptics do appear to wreak hell on my controller battery, though – I haven’t finished a session yet with more than a single bar of charge left on it.
Finishing the story still takes about 20 hours, factoring in Left Behind’s two-and-a-half-hour campaign, and when you do it unlocks a pretty extensive set of outfits, visual modes, and gameplay modifiers. Messing around with costumes isn’t something I particularly value, although if you find adding a bit of individuality to your second playthrough attractive you may feel differently. I guess even I was temporarily distracted at the idea of making Ellie a Gran Turismo fan. I wouldn’t expect to get much mileage out of the visual modes, either. The comic-style filter, which flattens out the detail and throws a black outline on characters and key objects, is perhaps worth a look – but the bulk of them are simply coloured filters I can’t imagine playing through. The Last of Us but green! The Last of Us but red! The Last of Us but… dark red!
The gameplay modifiers, though, are easily the most appealing as far as I’m concerned, as they’re good old-fashioned cheats (a concept that is sadly virtually extinct in the modern games industry). Infinite ammo and crafting ingredients, slow motion, one-hit kills – all very neat to experiment with. Blasting infected and bandits to bits with unlimited exploding arrows may seem a bit off-brand in The Last of Us, but it’s bloody fun and more than a little cathartic after being on the run from those bastards for so long.