Platforms: PS5 (reviewed), PC
Release Date: September 2, 2022 (PS5), TBD (PC)
The Last of Us Part I is actually the third version of developer Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed action game in less than 10 years. The game debuted for PS3 in 2013, and Sony followed it up with a well-received PS4 remaster just a year later. Now, the company has fully remade the title for the PS5.
The fact that The Last of Us appears on each new generation of PlayStation hardware is a testament to its enduring popularity. However, this from-the-ground-up remake for Sony’s latest console has become surprisingly controversial. Fans have questioned the necessity of a remake less than a decade after the original release, and its full $70/£70 price tag has also raised eyebrows.
Nevertheless, The Last of Us Part I manages to more than justify its own existence. This remake improves upon an already masterful game in just about every department. The Last of Us has never looked or played better than it does here on PS5. For newcomers especially, this remake is utterly essential. Read on for our full The Last of Us Part I review.
The Last of Us Part I review: Story
If you're not familiar with the setup of The Last of Us, the game takes place in a post-apocalyptic United States, where a mutated cordyceps infection that has destroyed society as we know it. The last remaining humans are spread across small camps and quarantine zones. These survivors live in fear of not just the infected, but also hostile groups of raiders, who are willing to resort to extreme measures in order to survive.
You play a gruff smuggler named Joel, who strikes a deal with a militant group to escort a young girl, Ellie, across the country. What starts out as just another job quickly becomes more personal as the two characters bond, and Joel learns exactly why Ellie’s survival and safe delivery is so important.
While the initial setup is fairly simple, the subsequent journey sees Joel and Ellie encounter all manner of obstacles, from hideously mutated infected to cannibalistic bandits, alongside a few slightly more friendly survivors. Even almost a decade later, The Last of Us offers one of the strongest narratives in modern gaming, with a compelling core cast of characters, memorable set pieces and story twists that keep you hooked. No wonder it’s being turned into a HBO show next year.
Players should note that Part I doesn’t rework the game’s original story in any way. Final Fantasy 7 Remake, this is not. The Last of Us Part I is a remake in the purest sense of the word. Beat for beat, Part I offers The Last of Us tale that Naughty Dog first told nine years ago. If you’re a returning player, don’t expect any new plot details or additional scenes to flesh out events that happen offscreen.
The game’s single-player DLC chapter, Left Behind, is also included, and you can play it from the very start. However, it’s clearly marked as only suitable for players who have already completed the base game. This DLC adds a welcome extra dimension to Ellie’s character, with flashback sequences to her time in a military boarding school. Plus, Left Behind includes some of the game’s very best combat encounters.
The Last of Us Part I review: Gameplay
The original game is almost a decade old, but The Last of Us Part I still feels every bit like a modern release in terms of gameplay.
While you do have the option to go into an encounter guns blazing, the game incentivizes a more considered approach. Stealth should be your preferred method of engagement, and sometimes the best course of action is to avoid combat altogether. The feeling of slowly sneaking through a bandit encampment or a nest of infected clickers without being spotted is as thrilling now as it was in 2013.
Of course, your best attempts to be sneaky won’t always work out. But the game also shines during hectic firefights. You have a vast arsenal of upgradable weapons at your disposal, from pistols and rifles, to melee weapons, to crafted goods, such as Molotov cocktails and nail bombs. Popping off a devastatingly brutal headshot is highly satisfying, and luring enemies into a well-placed trap feels similarly rewarding.
On easier difficulties, the game showers you with ammo and crafting materials, but on harder settings resources are extremely limited. This makes landing every shot vitally important, and leads to some genuinely tough crafting decisions. If you have the nerves, playing on a higher difficulty is something I’d strongly encourage, as it’s where the gameplay truly shines.
Unfortunately, none of the additional combat abilities found in The Last of Us Part II have made their way into The Last of Us Part I. That means there's no dedicated dodge button, and Joel still lacks the ability to go fully prone. However, players should note that the original Last of Us levels weren’t designed with these features in mind, so their exclusion is understandable.
Outside of combat, The Last of Us Part I offers a range of simple navigation puzzles and opportunities to scavenge for resources. Enemy encounters can be extremely intense, so these sections offer a pleasant respite and allow you to catch your breath. However, by the end of the 12-15 hour main campaign, you will have had your fill of repositioning ladders and moving dumpsters to get to higher ground.
Disappointingly, the Factions multiplayer mode from the original game hasn’t made the jump to PS5. While Naughty Dog confirmed earlier this year that it's working on a standalone follow-up, The Last of Us’ engaging multiplayer was a rare gem in an era of needlessly tacked on online modes. Its omission doesn’t come as a great surprise — The Uncharted Legacy of Thieves Collection also nixed its online component — but it’s disappointing all the same.
The Last of Us Part I review: Visuals and sound
The Last of Us Part I looks downright jaw-dropping. It’s a night-and-day difference, even compared to 2014’s The Last of Us Remastered, and it brings the first game up to the same graphical level as its visually impressive sequel.
You’ll immediately notice vast improvements to the game's character models, which make the entire cast even more emotive. But Naughty Dog has enhanced just about every aspect of the original game’s look. Small touches, such as increased levels of foliage and additional set dressing, help to make the post-apocalyptic world feel more believable and lived in.
The level of brutality has also increased. The original was already a violent game, but The Last of Us Part I made me genuinely wince on multiple occasions. Rather than feeling gratuitous, such a high level of violence adds to the hostility of the setting, and underlines the game’s core theme of survival at any costs.
The game's visual upgrade comes into focus when you look at a side-by-side comparison between the game on PS5 and its previous iterations. In fact, after completing Part I for the first time, I attempted to go back to the PS4 remaster, and the downgrade was staggering. It’s fair to say that once you’ve played The Last of Us on PS5, you’ll never want to play this beloved game any other way.
The game’s original audio has remained mostly intact. The same legendary soundtrack from Gustavo Santaolalla scores each emotional moment, and the same unnerving clicks and moans of the infected can still send cold shivers down your spine. The voice cast's original performances are also untouched. This is not a bad thing, considering that Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson both give award-winning performances as Joel and Ellie, respectively.
The Last of Us Part I review: Verdict
The Last of Us Part I gives one of the greatest PlayStation games ever a stunning visual facelift. Any lingering questions about the necessity of this remake may become moot once you see it in action. Even the biggest skeptic will be hard-pressed to deny the substantial graphical improvements that Naughty Dog has made across the board.
As the definitive version of what was already a landmark game, The Last of Us Part I is as essential on PS5, just as the original game was on PS3. Returning players won’t find any wholly new content, save for a few unlockable cosmetic outfits. Even so, this remake is an easy sell for anybody with even a slight appreciation for what is arguably PlayStation’s magnum opus. For newcomers, it’s the definition of a must-buy.