Review: The Last of Us Remastered (PS4)

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Title: The Last of Us Remastered
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (40.6 GB)
Release Date: July 29, 2014
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Price: $49.99
ESRB Rating: M
The Last of Us is also available on PlayStation 3.
The PlayStation 4 disc version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy.

Golden Minecart Award Winner 2014:
– Best HD Remake/Remaster (PS4)

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 382 of the podcast.

Editor’s Note:
Portions of this review also appear in our PS3 coverage of The Last of Us and The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC.

** This will be a completely spoiler-free review. All screen shots have been carefully selected so as not to give anything away. **

Another important note is the Day 1 Patch which adds in the Photo Mode, the “Making Of” documentary, a few bug fixes and increases the install speed from the disc among other things. Make sure you get that before playing the game.

So, here we are again a year later. The Last of Us has already earned over 200 Game of the Year awards and other accolades across the world including Best Newcomer (New IP: PS3), Most Unique Experience (PS3/PSN), and Game of the Year (PS3/PSN) honors in our own 2013 Golden Minecart Awards. Clearly this is a fantastic game and an amazing experience that everyone should at least try. How has this experience been enhanced with the remastering on the PlayStation 4? Let’s find out together.

Gameplay:
The Last of Us is set twenty years after a fungal pandemic has wiped out most of the population leaving governments and cities in ruins. Joel and Ellie are cast together on a quest that can’t be explained without spoiling major plot points. You’ll just need to play the game to find out about it yourself.

I understand a lot of people want to compare this to other games, the Uncharted series in particular, to get an idea of where this game stands but none of those would be fair comparisons. This is a unique experience and a brutally real story. You’ll be surprised, a lot, along the way at the things you see and the choices the characters make. You control their actions as they move through the world but, for the most part, the choices are pre-determined. Critical moments will come along and you either go along with them or you die. They may not be the choices you would make, but that ultimately makes the game that much more compelling. You hit these junctions and you really aren’t sure how the characters will react. In some ways it’s a refreshing change from the choice trees we’ve been given in recent games. This is a story with well defined characters, you’re just dropping in on their lives and helping them get through a bit.

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This experience definitely won’t be for everybody. It’s a slow paced game requiring a lot of patience. This is a dying world with scarce resources that will really make you approach each situation with an unusual degree of caution. That’s not to say it’s impossible to find ammo and such, (playing on Normal) there were stretches of the game where I was full up on everything, but you can’t always rely on that and there are times when instead of fighting, you’ll need to make a run for it and just hope you can actually get away.

When you do come across enemies, you’ll need to stop and assess the situation before proceeding. How much ammo do you have? What other kinds of weapons are at your disposal? Can you quickly craft something that will help? These are important questions that can mean the difference between life and death in any given encounter. You’ll be able to listen and you’ll get a sort of Batman sonar type view of any enemies in the immediate area (this can be turned off in the menu). It’s nothing super-human, you’ll only “see” them if they’re making noise and they’re within your range of hearing, but it can be a huge help in planning your next move.

Besides guns and such with their limited ammo, you can sneak up on enemies and choke them out or use them as human shields. You can also find blunt instruments to use as weapons along with bricks and bottles that can either be used as distractions or weapons. There’s a limited crafting system in the game as well where you can use all the stuff you’ve collected while searching each area to create various items which will be critical to your survival, so finding the right ingredients (and enough of them) is very, very important.

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You also have the ability to upgrade weapons with stuff found on your journey, as well as give permanent boosts to health and other things with pills found around the various levels. You won’t be able to upgrade everything in a single play through so it’s best to focus on what works for your style of play. After finishing the game, you have the opportunity to start a second play through with New Game Plus which will keep all of your upgrades in the new game.

The AI is pretty fantastic as they’ll change tactics depending on what weapon you’re using versus what weapon they have and even how many of them are still alive. It’s scary to see their flanking tactics in action and how they’ll methodically search for you if you happen to elude them for a moment by running away.

The controls have changed a bit from the original version. The devs at Naughty Dog have taken full advantage of the new DualShock 4, moving the aim and fire functions to the L2 and R2 triggers but don’t worry, you can change that back to the PS3 defaults if you want. The Light Bar starts off Green and signifies your health throughout the game while the Speaker will play the audio diaries you find and the flashlight sound effect. The Touch Pad is used to open and close Joel’s backpack. They all come across as natural changes and I felt comfortable with each of them right from the start.

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Another great inclusion is the Left Behind DLC which was released last February on the PSN. While it isn’t absolutely necessary to complete the single player portion of The Last of Us before playing this DLC, it’s extremely helpful if you do, giving the story here better context and more meaning (plus, you know, the spoilers). While Ellie told a small part of her story during the course of the original game, the DLC gives players a look at the most important event in her young life through her own eyes.

This is Ellie’s story, her pivotal moment which will put her relationship with Joel into perspective. The importance of the story and the effect that these events will have on Ellie’s life are foreshadowed by the opening scene, as our view of Ellie sleeping mirrors our first look at Sarah in The Last of Us quite nicely.

American_Dreams_CoverYou’ll spend much of the game with Riley, Ellie’s best friend during her time in the Boston Quarantine Zone. At this point, I’d highly recommend reading the fantastic graphic novel set, The Last of Us: American Dreams which essentially serves as a straight-up prequel to the events depicted in this DLC. It’s available as a paperback or Kindle download and while it’s not required reading, you’ll absolutely get a lot more out of the story since a number of the characters and locations are explored in this game.

The beautiful thing about this story is that it fills in a critical point in the main campaign of The Last of Us while flashbacks provide the look into Ellie’s past. It’s an excellent narrative choice and works so well that this entire piece could be dropped seamlessly into the main story at the relevant point and it would fit perfectly. Sadly, my hopes for this DLC being incorporated directly into the main story in the Remastered Edition have been dashed. Instead, it’s just another Menu option (with a warning for anyone who hasn’t played the campaign yet). Of course, you can stop in the main game and then pick this up but you’d have to know how and where it all fits together beforehand.

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You’ll move back and forth between the flashbacks and present day, which is somewhere in the middle of the campaign. The tension and trouble of the present is offset by the relatively carefree days of the past. You’ll see a new side of Ellie and you’ll get to understand what it’s like for a young girl growing up in post-pandemic America.

Because the flashbacks tend to be more easy going, much more exposition and character development is packed into those sequences. I’d even go so far as to say that you learn more about Ellie and who she is as a person in these two hours than you do about Joel in the entire main game. Between this and the perfect pacing while moving back and forth between the past and present, it’s quite a storytelling feat.

The tension and terror of The Last of Us is present and Naughty Dog has even upped the ante here. You’ll be facing the Infected of course but you’ll also be up against people hunting for you, trying to kill you… and you’ll be facing them at the same time. It can make for horrifying chaos but it also adds a layer of strategy. Ellie isn’t as skilled or as strong as Joel, she’s not going to be able to take the kind of damage he does. With that in mind, every encounter ratchets up the tension. You have a number of options in dealing with these situations that I’ll let you figure out on your own.

Crafting is even more critical here than in the main game. Weapons are incredibly scarce so make use of everything at your disposal and avoid confrontation whenever possible. There will be times where combat is unavoidable though so make sure you’ve taken the time to craft everything you can, you’re going to need it.

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It’s really remarkable that even going in knowing where this story will end it’ll still feel like a punch to the gut when you get there. It’s a testament to the level of storytelling here, some of the finest in video games. Also, once you’ve completed the game and this DLC at least one time, be sure to check out the documentary in the Cinematic Gallery called “Grounded: The Making of the Last of Us”. It’s well worth it.

One final note for Trophy hunters, you’ve got your work cut out for you. You won’t get Trophies for completing a level, instead most of the Trophies are centered on collecting every item in the game and completing it on every Difficulty Level and every Difficulty Level again on New Game Plus. The Levels do stack however, so if you complete the game on Normal, you’ll still get the Trophy for Easy as well. To put things in perspective, I spent about eighteen and a half hours slowly completing the original game once and I came away with four Trophies total, two of them for completing the game on Normal and Easy. Fortunately in this new version of the game the hardest Difficulty Level, Grounded is available on the disc right from the start. Good luck everyone.

Visuals:
Total immersion is important in a game like this. You need to feel completely wrapped up in the story and the plight of your protagonists in a way that makes you really empathize with them. Naughty Dog has shown over the course of three Uncharted games that they can pull this off. In The Last of Us Remastered, they’ve taken an already beautiful game, possibly the best on the PS3 and made it look even better.

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Don’t get too excited though. This isn’t a game that was built from the ground up for the PlayStation 4 like inFAMOUS Second Son and “remastered” is the perfect description here. Think of it in terms of a DVD being remastered and re-released on Blu-ray. It’s never looked better, that’s a fact, but it also doesn’t look as good as it would if it had been built from the ground up for the PlayStation 4 in the first place.

Rendering at a full 1080p and 60 FPS (with the option to lock it at 30), things are noticeably smoother throughout the game. Draw distances are further out and the detail is even sharper than before, but I did still (very rarely) see some things pop in. If you decide to lock it down at 30 FPS, you’ll get a little bump in the graphics, most noticeably in the shadowing. Either way, the game looks better than ever and makes going back to the PS3 version very unlikely.

Every last little corner of the world you inhabit is pixel perfect. This is a game that not only encourages exploration (yay for me) but with scarce resources actually requires it. The last thing you want is muddy textures or some such nonsense taking you out of the experience and there’s nothing like that to be found here.

Add in a healthy dose of Easter Eggs and you’d be hard pressed to not want to explore every area you enter. Of course, that can, at times, come with a price in the form of Infected lurking behind that tantalizing door, but the risk is often worth the reward.

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Lighting, shadows and every last discarded toy or scrap of paper pulls you in to this world in a much more complete way than anything I’ve experienced in a game before this and the bump in visuals this time around actually makes a difference. Anything that looked remotely blurry on the PS3 is now razor sharp here. The surfaces, fabrics, posters on the walls, everything. It’s straight up beautiful.

The Photo Mode previously seen in inFAMOUS Second Son makes its return here allowing players to adjust the camera and rendering effects to get that perfect screenshot. You can either access it in the Pause Menu or map the button directly to L3. It’s a nice little addition and I hope that more games take advantage of these options in the future.

Audio:
Music cues throughout the game tend to be subtle but you’ll really need to pay attention to them to get a handle on your current situation. Surround sound is used to wonderfully creepy effect as you’ll often hear the Infected long before you see them. Throughout most of the game, you’ll simply hear the ambient noises of nature reasserting itself in the world. It makes for a unique and somewhat foreboding experience.

Joel’s “bat-sense” like hearing also has a big impact on how you approach different situations. Listening in on enemies as they discuss their plans and then keeping a close watch (and ear) on their movements can mean the difference between life with a series of stealthy take-downs or a quick death in an all out gun battle with flanking enemies.

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The Voice Actors do an amazing job in making all the dramatic exposition and witty banter feel natural and real. Troy Baker as Joel (who also happens to play Booker DeWitt in BioShock Infinite) and Ashley Johnson as Ellie do outstanding jobs with the bulk of the work but Brandon Scott, W. Earl Brown and Annie Wersching as Tess in particular all give stellar performances critical to the flow of the story.

In the Left Behind DLC, the addition of Yaani King as Riley really steps things up a notch. The acting here is some of the best I’ve ever experienced in a game. The interplay between these two characters is so well done that it makes you feel like you’re watching two close friends hanging out. They talk about life, share jokes, have arguments, everything you’d see in a real friendship. You thought Joel and Ellie had an interesting relationship, try Ellie and her best friend.

A new Director’s commentary track is a welcome addition. Added to the cutscenes, you’ll get to hear Creative Director/Writer Neil Druckmann along with Voice Actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson discussing the game. This is well worth listening to if it’s your second time through the game.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Multiplayer is just as good as before, perhaps even better considering the nicer visuals and higher framerate. For better or worse (better I think), your stats won’t carry over from the PS3 version, meaning everyone starts out again on a level playing field. The Abandoned and Reclaimed Territories Map Packs are included on the disc and you’ll get a supply bonus to give you a bit of a head start in your progression. Any DLC purchased through the PS3 version (weapons, survival skills, etc.) will be available to you in this version for free.

You begin by choosing your faction, Hunters or Fireflies. These two groups are seen throughout the single player campaign but to discuss who they are and how they fit in to the world would spoil some things so I’ll just leave you with the names. You’ll be locked in to your choice until you either complete the multiplayer story mode or your faction gets completely wiped out. This automatically builds in loyalty to the faction you choose and keeps things interesting.

As for game modes, you’ll have the choice of Supply Raid, Survivors, and Interrogation. Supply Raid will allow you to respawn a limited number of times while Survivors is one and done with both playing out as a Team Deathmatch type of game. Interrogation on the other hand has you interrogating enemy players to find their lockbox which you’ll then have to unlock to win the round.

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This is not Call of Duty, this isn’t even Uncharted. If you go into this with that freewheeling, run around and kill everything kind of attitude, you’ll find yourself dead and frustrated pretty quick. Teamwork and communication become critical as you face off against another small group of players.

The caution and patience you learned in the single player campaign proves invaluable here. You need to take your time, sneak around, listen for enemies, scrounge parts and craft better weapons, it’s the only way you’ll survive. There will usually be objectives given during matches which will force you to alter you play style a bit but caution is always the key.

A number of preset loadouts are available along with the option to create a few custom sets. Loadout points are used to select weapons before your match so you need to think carefully about how you want to approach things. It’s really unlike most multiplayer scenarios in the way it all plays out and people are either going to love it or hate it because of that.

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Conclusion:
The easiest way to sum up The Last of Us would be to say that it’s a slow moving, somewhat depressing experience punctuated by moments of sheer terror, but that would be selling the game short. Naughty Dog, as expected, has shown once again that masterful storytelling will truly enhance the game experience and make you care, really care, what happens to the protagonists throughout the game.

This world feels real, depressingly real when you understand how badly society has come off its hinges, but it’s in the interactions, between Joel and Ellie, between them and other characters in the game, both enemies and friends, that you really get a feel for the situation everyone is facing and how they’re coping with it.

I said earlier in this review that “Total immersion is important in a game like this” and you’ll feel it from the very first frame to the roll of the credits. What’s most important to a lot of people is whether this is worth the double dip. If you’re a fan of the game I’d say yes IF you want to play through it again. The experience is even better than it was the first time. If you’re into the multiplayer I’d say that it’s a definite yes. The better framerate and just better overall online experience on the PS4 makes it very worthwhile.

I know a lot of people may be wondering, why Remaster a game that just came out last year? Tomb Raider notwithstanding, going back and creating The Last of Us Remastered allows everyone who skipped the PlayStation 3 for maybe a Wii and/or Xbox 360 (I know, right?) to experience one of the best games of the previous generation. It also allows Naughty Dog to go back in and craft the finest possible version of the game for everyone to enjoy.

This update to your 2013 Golden Minecart PS3 Game of the Year winner is an incredible experience. I gave the original version of the game a 10 and I stand by that when compared to the rest of the PlayStation 3 library at the time the review was published. If I had to compare it directly to this new version I’d have given it a 9 while this Remastered Edition would get the 10. Either way, the inclusion of the multiplayer Map Packs, the Left Behind DLC, the documentaries and all the other tweaks to the game truly make The Last of Us Remastered the definitive version of the game and an experience that can’t be missed.

Score:
10

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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  • Keith Dunn

    TEN?! *faints*

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  • Scubafinch

    Great review Josh. Already downloading my “double-dip” remastered version of this wonderful game.

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  • IceSamurai Dono

    I want to read this but i have to play it first, im stupid i know..

    • You don’t have to play it first. I didn’t spoil anything in the game or the DLC. I try to be very careful about that.

      • IceSamurai Dono

        Well i dont typically read them to have a unbias opinion about my personal judgement of a game i javent played. Ive just read it which makes it my second review iv read all in 2014. It seems to be with the general opinions i’ve heard before. I cant say i enjoyed reading a long review about a game i havent played but it seem well thought out and spoiler free (i guess, i dont know i havent played it). In short, thank you for taking your time to review this game, i look forward to more detailed reviews in the future’ama. Im looking forward to this game but i think it will be some time before i play it.

  • Stellaking

    Sunning title, sublimely defined here. A wonderful read, and a very helpful review sir.

    Not required – by any means – but, I must admit, I played the PS3 version on every difficulty from start to finish. Absolute pleasure of game. Reading up on it’s remaster certainly helps me navigate choice titles in transition to the PS4.

    Brilliant stuff mate.

    • Jahonius

      Why, such eloquently woven tapestry of words..

      Wish I could write / talk like you

      • Stellaking

        8 beers & 4 edits, easy done 😉

    • Wow, thanks so much. I worked hard on this, effectively doubling the length of the original review.

  • Jahonius

    God, I feel guilty for playing the PS3 version only once last year. I’ll fill the guilt void with TLOU: Remastered this summer!

  • Joshua Simpkins

    I completely agree with Josh’s review. This game is definitely a 10 on both PS3 and PS4. Naughty Dog knows their stuff in my opinion. I can’t wait for the inevitable sequel to the game.

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