The Last of Us: Remastered

The Last of Us, was released by Naughty Dog (Crash Bandicoot, Unchartered) in June 2013 to unparalleled and unanimous praise. It was developed as a PS3 exclusive and served as the swan song for a system about to end a successful seven-year lifespan. Not only was it labeled as one of the best games for the console; it later topped many lists for representing the pinnacle of gaming in it’s generation. Having missed out on the original release, I finally got the chance to play it thanks to a Remastered version for PS4 which included the ‘Left Behind’ DLC, improved 60 fps frame rate and additional in-game features. Let see how this new version holds up 13 months later.

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 TLoU provides you with many options designed to extend the longevity of the game. For both the main campaign and the Left Behind storyline, you can chose from 10 difficulty settings. These tiers follow a sliding scale that decreases resources while increasing enemy damage. To get a good understanding of these settings I played the game thru on Normal, Normal+ and Survivor mode.

Generally speaking gameplay is extremely linear, occasionally you reach open areas that can be explored but you mostly follow a very structured path. I kept waiting for the game to open up but it never did, from the opening scene to the ending credits, you are guided by a series of visual cues and cut scenes. Occasionally your path will be blocked, causing you to search for objects, but unfortunately these objects are always in close proximity and never require much thought. A shame, because this is the only type of puzzle solving in the game and could have played a drastically more significant role.

Scattered throughout the environment are collectable items and resources available for crafting. There are also parts and supplements that you can use to upgrade weapons and Joel’s skills respectively. Crafting was a nice addition to the game, however it’s quite basic and is another area that could have easily been expanded upon. For my first play thru on Normal, I had a completion time of 18:44 and found only 87 of 141 collectibles. I spent a lot of that time exploring my surroundings but was occasionally distracted by the game itself. This is because there is so much triggered conversation, that if you want to double back or explore an area you will often miss key sections of dialogue.

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 While the gameplay provides some negative commentary, it’s the mechanics that really highlight the worst aspects of the Last of Us. Both Joel and Ellie are clunky to say the least. There is no cover system in the game so you are often forced to just crouch behind various pieces of rectangular cover then stand up to aim when your enemy does the same. As for combat, there are essentially two types of enemies and two ways to attack them. Non-infected humans are your standard militia forces that occupy areas in larger groups, while infected will vary in size and attack differently. Runners and Stalkers will charge on sight while Clickers only attack if they sense you close to them. The game promotes two ways to dispatch of these enemies, either by stealth or by force. Unfortunately the stealth option falls completely flat and it wasn’t until I found the bow that I even attempted anything that even resembled stealth. Sneaking up behind Clickers is a 50/50 outcome at best, even if you press the left stick to tread lightly they still sometimes hear you and it’s game over. As there are no silenced firearms in the game, tactical shooting from cover is often your best approach – shoot, move and repeat. This is fine but confrontations never really get that difficult, only on the higher difficulties does it become a challenge when ammunition is scarce. On Normal I got 740 kills, with a 64% gun accuracy while only crafting 20 health kits.

For the purposes of this game Naughty Dog really should have taken note of franchises like Splinter Cell, which have shaped the stealth genre. In general I feel as though the gameplay was extremely confused and never excelled in any area.

Lastly on the subject of mechanics is one of my least favorite acronyms (I hate them all)…Q…T…fucking…E’s. These things are quickly becoming one of the worst troupes of modern gaming – everyone hates them, yet they’re everywhere!! In TLoU they are prevalent and not only do they appear often, they aren’t even time based (generators aside). You can just go ahead and mash that button whenever you want with no skill involved. If your going to include them as a design choice that’s fine, but at least be smart enough to make them as organic as possible.

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 But where The Last of Us fails, the voice acting and story telling exists as a polar opposite. They quite literally couldn’t have been better if they tried and both elements reach unprecedented levels for the industry. Ironically, both are often sub par in modern games, but here they shine through with clarity and emotion from the entire cast. In addition the character models are exceptional and act as beautiful vehicles for the characters. Facial movements are seamless, expressions seem real, and the smallest of gestures have been animated to give you a full sense of immersion. No once have I ever seen a game achieve these heights and for this Naughty Dog deserves the highest of accolades.

Graphically I was also impressed and often stopped to view my surroundings. The 60fps held true and I noticed no drop in frame rate or clipping of any kind. Again the beauty here is in the details, footprints in the snow, rain running down a window, reflections in water. All of it was crafted to enhance the realism and it does so flawlessly.

One new feature for the Remastered version is Picture Mode. It allows you to freeze the game at any point and manipulate the scene in a multitude of ways – from camera angle, to depth of field, to color filters. I’ve spent hours doing this and still find myself stopping every few minutes to compose a new image and export it onto my hard drive. It’s is feature that I would absolutely love to see as standard across all games and kudos for Naughty Dog for implementing it so well.

The music is very much a complementary medium in the Last of Us. That is to say that it adds tonally but it is also guilty of becoming anonymous. The Foley work however was excellent and sound effects were key to the success of many scenes.

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 The Last of Us: Remastered is a complex animal. It lives up to the hype in many ways, but fundamentally it is flawed at the most basic of levels. Certainly it should, and will be remembered as a pivotal title for voice work, character design and story telling; but that alone should not grant it a place among the elite. The gameplay and mechanics just aren’t fully realized, and unfortunately that is where you want…no…NEED to be on point. Without those core characteristics, I don’t believe that a game can truly be considered great.

To me this game is more about how it will serve to evolve the industry. Naughty Dog not only raised the bar for story telling, it has ripped the bar off and smashed everyone else in the face with it. If other game designers can follow suit and develop titles with this level of narrative but pair it with high quality gameplay then the future of gaming will be extremely bright. If there is ever a Last of Us 2, and they address these flaws – it may well be a perfect game.

{Game} The Last of Us: Remastered

{Plus}  Character design – Voice acting – Storytelling – Graphical details – in-game features

{Minus} Linear gameplay – Clunky controls – Combat – Underdeveloped features

{Overall Rating} +3

{Player Comparison} Alexander Ovechkin (Washington Capitals). Ovechkin dominated the world of hockey when he was drafted first overall by Washington. But over time, his weaknesses became apparent and have detracted from his performance. While still certainly a powerhouse in the game, time has shown that even the greatest players have their faults.

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