The Last of Us Part 1 Review (PS5) – ‘Shroom for Improvement

I’ve struggled for a long time with survivin’. That said, I can vividly recall reviewing The Last of Us in 2013, and knowing that 10 minutes in I was playing something special. When it was reissued a year later as a PS4 remaster, the improved multi, bundled DLC and elevated framerate deepened that love. Clearly, it was a magnum opus fresh from the workbench, greased to handle faster and polished to a lethal sheen.

Today, nine years after initial exposure, I ventured into this PS5 remake with a healthy amount of scepticism. I mean, how good could Naughty Dog’s visual upgrade of The Last of Us Part I be? I also assumed I could absorb the impact of its bleakest scenes. Surely, I’d somehow evolved into the emotional equivalent of a Bloater by now—hardened by years of growth and a diet of gore.

Apparently not.

The Last of Us Part I

The Last of Us Part I still hits harder than a weaponised bus “rambush”. It got under my skin effortlessly, quicker than a cordyceps spore. Even though Part I may technically be ‘The Last of the Last of the Last of Us,’ I’ll be damned if it didn’t woo me like the first time.

That is the timeless power of a tightly written story with magnetic performances. That is the irresistibility of edge-of-your-seat combat where behaviours change and every shot, shiv and limb-shredding IED counts. Couple that with Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting soundtrack, and the meat of this post-pandemic pie is delicious, even before you try to upgrade the pastry.

In the interest of not spoiling the lucky few who are biting into this fresh, I’ve quarantined all spoiler content. When it comes to a brief plot synopsis, The Last of Us is best described as a road trip across a ruined America that’s gone to the dogs and then some. In 20 years, the skeleton of this world is still overrun with cannibalistic mutants, though it’s the human survivors who often prove to be more monstrous

You’ll be slipping into the flannel/jeans combo of Joel, a grizzled, gun-running smuggler who’s done terrible things to eke out an existence. Fate soon brings him into the path of some resistance fighters called the Fireflies, who subsequently contract him and his equally ruthless partner, Tess, for a delivery gig. Curiously, the cargo is a plucky yet inexperienced 14-year-old named Ellie.

What follows is a roughly 11-hour caravan of courage across increasingly hostile territory. Now that the world is effectively Mad Max meets mushroom-people, resources are scarcer than any action-adventure game you’ve played. Using stealth and desperately clobbering people with two-by-fours hold equal importance with nailing headshots from cover with what little ammo you’ve sniffed out.

To make matters worse, this isn’t some low-ammo Uncharted where you can kick back and cover pop ’til everybody drops. Human foes are adept at suppressing you in place, then working together to flank your camping arse. I played the two iterations of The Last of Us on their apex Grounded difficulties and remember their AI having intelligence matched by a few games in the genre. I clocked Part I on Grounded and found these murderous bastards are an extra degree cluier.

Part of their potency relates to how the new motion-matching animation system erases their tells. In layman’s terms: the tech removes those stilted moments when the game tries to transition from one complex animation moveset to another—like shifting running directions, locking into cover to mantling it, for example. Those barely perceptible telegraphs of what an enemy is doing are hidden in this lovely, life-like fluidity.

Also, in a direct comparison with Remastered, I spotted some new behavioural differences that made the stealth sections extra difficult. Unaware foes in the original will dutifully patrol a straight line route, back and forth, like clockwork. In the same section in Part I, that patrol route might have more ‘stops’ and an animation wrinkle that screwed me up many a time in The Last of Us Part II.

Essentially, your target will do a half twist around to make a quick spot check behind them as they pace to their nav point. It turns a guaranteed shank kill into blown cover and, probably, a blowhole installed in your head.

While we’re on the topic of gameplay changes, my fellow veterans can expect to be tripped up a bunch. 80% of the old strategies I used for clearing enemy areas could be reused as I’d expect. That said, Naughty Dog has clearly binge-watched a bunch of speed-run videos and untied a number of loopholes.

I’ve little doubt that this incredibly resourceful community will simply find more. But yeah, be warned: a lot of the sneaky old trails have been mined. If you think you’re gonna rock up with your outdated, Remastered knowledge and blitz the new speedrun or permadeath modes, think again.

A small upside aside to those folks: precious seconds can be clawed back due to ND upgrading the clunky old UI to make weapon management, well, more manageable. If you whip out your backpack to fuss over gun holsters or cobble-together items, you’ll be presented with a streamlined menu that makes instant sense in the heat of battle. Basically, what’s here is what’s in line with Part II. A vast improvement.

Before we get too far away from the cost/benefits of those silky animations, let me state the obvious: Part I’s visuals upgrade is gorgeous across the board. At a character level, Naughty Dog has rebuilt all of their models in higher fidelity, lavishing them with the same cloth wrinkle, muscle deformation and chunkier gib tech enjoyed in Part II. Obviously, all of those subtle details come together to greatly enhance the emotionality in those cutscene performances.

At a more macro level, the environmental artists have had an absolute field day reimaging America gone to shit. Literally a field day—the vegetation tech has had some super dynamic lifter thrown on it. The derelict hulks of our former civilisation have been reclaimed by a lusher explosion of green that reacts to wind or your virtual body as you pass through it. Naughty Dog layers in its Part II snow tech tricks in the Winter section, too.

More important than all this, however, is how the lighting system in Part I is literal night and day to Remastered. These reimagined levels you’ll be skulking through are now about as pitch black as the story tone. Obviously, the old subway provides the same stygian gloom as it always did, but a comparison with Remastered’s medium-lit areas reveals a dramatic downshift in visibility.

Spotting threats can be mitigated by one’s torch or the X-rayesque Listen Mode in the lower difficulties. That said, expect a greater need to take a sec to squint out distant targets in Grounded mode. This is especially true if you’re standing in a sun patch, trying to draw a bead on somebody (or something) lurking in the shadows. This ratchets up the tension for a game that was, quite frankly, already nail-biting.

Has Part I delivered everything I was expecting from a full, ground-up remake? Sadly, no. In terms of content, I’m dirty about multiplayer not being included. I’m also slightly disappointed that while ND was bringing over great ideas from Part II, nobody thought to include the vastly improved battle chatter. These were simple, contextual soundbites that hugely humanised the people whose heads you were turning into a canoe. Surely it wouldn’t have taken much to implement?

Lastly, it’s disappointing that the one flaw that marred the 2013 original has been allowed to endure. For whatever reason—one remastering and one full remake later—our friendly AI companions still openly shift cover positions in full view of foes, only to be ignored like they’re ghost people. I feel like the instances of this have reduced. But these immersion breakers still crop up too often.

With that unpleasantness aside, the rest of this production is basically flawless in my mind. 2013’s The Last of Us elevated our medium to new heights in terms of storytelling and, unlike its controversial sequel, it enjoyed and deserved near-universal praise. That legacy material doesn’t so much tug at the heartstrings as it does yank at them in Part I now, thanks to considerable visual improvements.

Moreover, a host of meaningful UI, AI and lighting overhauls enhance the gameplay experience considerably. Lastly, Naughty Dog has added accessibility features out the wazoo and a bunch of cool unlockable skins that pay homage to the games of their sister studios without breaking the fourth wall too much.

I suppose two final questions remain here. The first: “should I pay $124.95 for this?” is, frankly, a private conversation involving you, your wallet and how long you’re willing to wait. I’m more interested in the second question: “Does ‘The Last of Us the Third’ justify its existence?”

Let me put it this way: Part I is like the in-game axe upgraded with a roll of tape and a pair of scissors. Obviously, the original item was massively bloody capable already—of near perfect design in form and function. Even still, this thing has now somehow become waaay sharper than any sane person could have imagined. Give it even half a chance to get a piece of you, and it’s gonna cut deep.


The Last of Us Part I was reviewed on PS5 using digital code provided by PlayStation Australia.

The Last of Us Part I
Reader Rating0 Votes
0
Pros
A towering achievement in interactive storytelling
Visuals and animations upgraded to the bleeding edge
DualSense enhancements improve already phenomenal combat
Sensible UI tweaks and comprehensive accessibility
Cons
Friendly AI still flit about in full view of foes
Some great ideas from Part II didn’t transpose
Multiplayer chopped out of the package
9.5
Overall

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Adam Mathew
Adam Mathew
I grew up knowing and loving a ludicrous amount of games, from dedicated Pong console onwards. Nowadays you'll find me covering and playing the next big things. Often on Stupid-Hard difficulty. Because I'm an idiot.

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