The Last of Us Part I Review: Redefining Gaming in a Groundbreaking Way

Introduction: A Personal Journey with The Last of Us

In 2014, I made a comeback to gaming by purchasing a PS4. Little did I know, it came bundled with a copy of The Last of Us Remastered, a game that had garnered high praise from critics. Within a week, I found myself glued to my TV, completely engrossed in the game’s breathtaking final hour. It was a transformative experience that shattered my narrow perception of video games as mere escapist entertainment. Instead, The Last of Us opened my eyes to the incredible artistic potential of the medium.

Over the years, video games have evolved significantly since the release of The Last of Us Part I. While this game was a revelation in 2014, its impact can be seen in subsequent titles such as God of War and Tomb Raider. Returning to the game’s enhanced version on the PS5, eight years after its original release, feels like stepping back in time to the heyday of 1985’s Super Mario Bros. Although many modern games draw inspiration from The Last of Us, it will always remain the pioneer.

Still the Best: The Timeless Appeal of The Last of Us Part I

Critiquing The Last of Us Part I is a challenging task due to its multifaceted nature. Despite any philosophical reservations I may have about the remake’s purpose, I still consider it the definitive version of one of the finest video games of the 2010s. Focusing solely on the game itself, it continues to provide an extraordinary experience that few other games have been able to replicate, including its own sequel.

The game follows the story of Joel, a father navigating a post-apocalyptic world plagued by zombie-like creatures after losing his daughter. Years later, he embarks on a mission to transport a young girl named Ellie across the country. Ellie possesses an immunity to the infection that turns humans into “clickers,” grotesque fungus-infested beings. Challenging the archetype of the heroic protagonist, The Last of Us urges players to question their assumptions through the use of an unreliable narrator. This unique narrative approach is made possible by the player’s interactive involvement, which poses a challenge for the upcoming TV adaptation of the series.

The lasting impact of The Last of Us lies in its ability to make players confront the consequences of their actions. It seduces players with thrilling stealth kills and intense gunfights, only to deliver a horrifying finale that reframes the entire game. Some may dismiss it as a cheap trick, while others mistakenly rally behind Joel as a lovable hero. Regardless, it remains a rare high-budget video game that acknowledges how gameplay itself can convey a powerful message.

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Ellie and Joel driving
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Furthermore, revisiting the game after playing The Last of Us Part II in 2020 provides valuable insights. The sequel, although ambitious, pales in comparison to the sleek storytelling of its predecessor. While The Last of Us retains its focused narrative, punctuated with tense stealth, zombie horror, and cinematic action, the true revelation lies in the exceptional quality of the Left Behind DLC. This two-hour story, which accompanies the main game in the remake, stands as one of Naughty Dog’s finest achievements. Balancing tender and tragic moments, it captures the essence of the main game in a concise and memorable package.

Whether you’re a newcomer to The Last of Us or a returning player, Part I preserves its power while adding a fresh shine. However, if you’ve already experienced the game, a different conversation awaits.

Pretty for a Price: A Dubious Remake

It’s hard to avoid cynicism when considering The Last of Us Part I beyond its core content. Marketed as a ground-up remake and priced as a new PS5 release, it struggles to justify its existence in various aspects. Calling it a remake feels disingenuous, as its improvements are largely superficial compared to the 2014 remastered version. It’s akin to watching a 4K restoration of a film—it enhances visual fidelity without altering the viewer’s relationship to the work.

Undeniably, The Last of Us Part I is visually superior to its 2014 iteration. The game’s opening sequence captivates with billowing flames and stunning landscapes that emphasize the beauty amidst the world’s desolation. Enhanced facial expressions intensify emotional moments, such as Ellie’s heart-wrenching final confrontation with Joel. The gameplay also benefits from the cleaner 60 frames per second, heightening the action’s speed and fluidity.

Yet, despite these visual enhancements, my experience remained unchanged. Shortly after playing the remake’s iconic intro, I switched to the remastered version streamed through PS Plus. Initially, I noticed the differences—the more digital faces and occasional frame rate drops. However, as I took control, my mind swiftly adapted, filling in the gaps. My reaction to the unfolding scene remained identical, regardless of the visual discrepancies.

Joel dodges a bloater attack in The Last of Us Part I
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Discussing my experience with a colleague, I questioned why the radically improved particle effects failed to impress me. His response struck a chord: “The Last of Us was never good because of particle effects.” And he was right. The game’s technical prowess is not what lingers in my memory. It’s the atmospheric world, the immersive dystopia, and the emotional connection to Joel’s misguided journey. Any critiques I had about the AI at the time have long been forgotten. When The Last of Us Part I is discussed in another decade, particle count will hardly be remembered or praised.

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The remake often feels like a marketing endeavor by Sony, capitalizing on the game’s upcoming TV adaptation with a hefty price tag. Yet, it fails to deliver meaningful changes that could reshape players’ relationship with the work, as exemplified by remarkable remakes like Shadow of the Colossus or Demon’s Souls. While new features such as improved companion awareness may be intriguing for game developers, they do not justify the cost for players who have already experienced the original version.

Joel and Ellie look at a bridge in The Last of Us Part I
Image used with permission by copyright holder

By no means do I intend to undermine the passionate effort put into rebuilding The Last of Us Part I. Naughty Dog has transformed a game from two generations ago into a modern marvel. The remake introduces new features, such as permadeath and speedrun modes, offering fans fresh reasons to revisit the game. However, the best remakes retain the essence of the original release, maintaining the visual impact it had at the time. The Last of Us Part I feels the same as it did in 2014 because it is the same.

Accessibility in Hindsight: Bridging the Gap

One aspect that has changed for me between playing the remastered version and the remake is my deteriorating eyesight. In 2014, I could comfortably play the game on a 42-inch 1080p screen from ten feet away. However, when playing The Last of Us Part I on a 55-inch 4K display, I found myself leaning forward at a distance of five feet to clearly see the details.

This is where the true improvement of the remake comes into play. The Last of Us Part I includes an extensive range of accessibility options, allowing players to tailor the experience to their specific needs. These options range from simple adjustments, such as increasing caption sizes, to groundbreaking features like spoken audio descriptions for cutscenes. The remake offers physically challenged players the opportunity to experience the game for the first time. Undoubtedly, this inclusivity is far more significant than any graphical upgrade.

While I cannot accurately gauge the effectiveness of these accessibility features for all players, I can share my own experience. Before starting the game, I delved into the menus and customized various options to suit my needs. I began by increasing the size of HUD elements, a fundamental option that is often overlooked in many games. However, what impressed me the most were the audio cues. For instance, an audio cue replaced the visual prompt for lootable items, alerting me with a distinct sound when I was near something I could pick up.

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An accessibility menu in The Last of Us Part I shows vibration options
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Additionally, thanks to the DualSense controller, I could make certain cues tactile. A gentle vibration let me know when my aim was aligned with an enemy, making targeting more accessible for someone with visual challenges. The innovations extended even further, with an option that translated all dialogue into haptic vibrations, allowing players to feel the emotional nuances of the characters’ delivery. Although my eyesight condition is relatively minor, and I can easily compensate with glasses (unlike visually impaired players), with just a handful of options, I could play The Last of Us Part I as effectively as the remastered version.

Accessibility goes beyond menu settings—it requires thoughtful integration into a game’s design from the outset. Naturally, achieving this level of inclusivity was not feasible for a 1:1 remake of a decade-old game. Some missteps are evident, such as treating game speed reduction (an essential accessibility feature) as an unlockable bonus. It is also disheartening to consider that players who require these upgrades must pay $70, while others can experience the comparable remaster for $20. Nevertheless, Naughty Dog’s efforts are commendable. By enhancing the accessibility of this canonical classic, the game becomes more accessible to a wider audience, enriching the conversation surrounding it for years to come.

In conclusion, while my critiques of The Last of Us Part I may be philosophical in nature, they pale in comparison to the game’s remarkable achievements in the realm of accessibility. If you have already experienced The Last of Us and harbor reservations about what the remake offers, remember that it doesn’t have to cater to everyone.

The Last of Us Part I was tested on a PS5 connected to a TCL 6-Series R635 TV.

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