The Last Of Us Part 1 Review: "A Definitive Remake With A Hefty Price Tag"
Did The Last of Us need to be remade? That question doesn't have a definitive, objective answer. Any response would be totally subjective. While some games arguably deserve a remake or remaster more than others, regardless, it all comes down to what the audience wants. The Last of Us is one of the most popular and successful games of the last decade, and it certainly isn't the only game in that time to receive costly rereleases across multiple generations of consoles. The Last of Us Part 1 is here, bringing the PlayStation 3 classic up to PS5 standards, so let's take a look at it.
Same Streets, Different Faces
It's hard to know where to start when reviewing a remake of one of the most popular games of all time. Chances are high that you have already played it, and are only here to read about what has changed. While it is certainly accurate to call this a remake, for reasons we will get into, this feels more like a remaster. That is to say, TLOU Part 1 is the same game again in many ways. It feels the same, it looks the same. This is not a fundamental remake like Resident Evil 2 or Final Fantasy VII. At face value, the changes here seem pretty minimal. This is not an all-new way to experience a game that desperately needed an overhaul, this is the game you played in 2013 with a facelift and some quality improvements elsewhere.
Much of the game is exactly as it was because there was no need to alter it. All dialogue, voice lines, characters and scenarios are present and accounted for. Nothing has been shifted around, this isn't a director's cut where the flow or pace of the game has been changed. Any deviation from the original version of the game is minimal, almost purely cosmetic. While there are aspects of the sequel's DNA that have found their way into this remake, new gameplay features like the ability to go prone or dodge have not been added to this game. This remake is very clearly intended as a replacement for the original, the new intended experience for the original story. Much like with the PS4 remaster in 2014, we are to disregard earlier versions for this one.
Like The Ship of Theseus
So far, this sounds like little more than a coat of paint. Beyond the obvious visual difference, there is more to The Last of Us Part 1. As said, this is a remake and it very much is a game remade. While locations are the same, almost every aspect of most of them has been rebuilt. New assets, new lighting, new sound effects. Character models are brand new. For the main cast, this is a massive change that warrants the remake treatment. It is only when seen side by side that you come to realise how much we have moved passed the technology of 2013. What was then cutting edge is now quite outdated, and the new facial models look far more like natural, realistic human faces.
Beyond the visual overhaul, there have been improvements made to the AI. When it was released, the original The Last of Us had one major sticking point, and that was the AI of the non-player characters. For a game that made big claims about having advanced enemy AI that would try to out-think and out-flank the player, that really wasn't the case in the original game. In fact, the enemy AI turned out quite inept, often spending much of the game's combat scenarios running back and forth like chickens sans heads.
Thankfully, this has been massively improved. Even with several years since I played the original version, I noticed the improvements to enemy behaviour pretty quickly. I found myself in situations where I assumed the enemies wouldn't cope based on previous experience, and was surprised when they did. That said, there are times when it feels like perhaps they overcorrected, as enemies can be a little too aggressive sometimes, but overall the enemy AI is a drastic improvement. Companion AI is a little less impressive. Ellie still occasionally runs out in front of guards during stealth sequences. Still, at least you don't get caught for that. A bit of immersion lost, but no real harm done.
A Lot Of Work, And A Lot Of Money
A regressive statement would be to say that this is TLOU remade in TLOU2's engine. This is a rhetoric that has done the rounds, and while there is obviously some truth to it, it really is not a fair statement. In many ways, The Last of Us Part 1 is a much more graphically advanced game than the sequel. Bear in mind, TLOU2 was a PS4 game, and we are on to a new generation of hardware which is what this remake was built for. In other ways, the sequel is still the more advanced game.
TLOU2 iterated and improved on much of the gameplay and level design elements of the first game. Many of those improvements are not present in the remake, it is simply too faithful a remake for any of that. As amazing as it looks, at its core this is still a game from 2013. The dialogue can be a tad clunky. AI companions often act strangely. You still walk into a room and find it conspicuously filled with waist-high walls and crates. There are, however, a lot of improvements in the remake that bring it in step with the sequel, in a way which makes them a more complete pair. This is not simply an old game slapped into a new engine and called a day, this took some serious work.
Was all that work worth it? We know that games like The Last of Us are extremely expensive to make and require the staff at Naughty Dog to work very hard. Too hard, even, as conditions at the studio are reportedly very intense. Developers were forced to crunch hard, working far too many hours and far too many days on each of The Last of Us games. This game is a remake, and while that might not have meant as much work for the writers or the directors, it was undoubtedly a full game's worth of development work for artists, programmers, and everyone who works on the tech side of Naughty Dog. Some people were likely overworked just so The Last of Us could get the PS5 coat of varnish.
So who benefits from this remake? Sony for the most part. Contrary to many other remakes and remasters, The Last of Us Part 1 costs the full price of a newly released Sony exclusive. That is to say, £69.99/$69.99/€79.99 on the PS5 digital store. That is the same price that God of War Ragnarok is currently available to pre-order for. Often times when a game is remastered or even remade, it launches below triple-A prices, because who wants to pay full price for a remake of something they already own? For all intents and purposes, the remakes of Resident Evil 2 and 3 are brand new games, and even those games launched at a price lower than what you would expect to pay for a brand new Resident Evil game.
A Question Of Value
This isn't the first time Sony has done this, as the Demon's Souls remake that launched with the PS5 was also quite expensive. However, that was a much more extensive remake of a game that had not been available since the PS3. Sony presents many of its original titles as more premium products than most games, and this seems to be another instance of that. Still, it feels a bit galling to pay out for this TLOU remake that doesn't reinvent the original game like the Resident Evil or Final Fantasy VII remakes did, and pay more money than you would for just about any other new release. The remake isn't any cheaper if you own the previous version or The Last of Us Part 2, and it isn't included in or discounted for being part of any tier of the new PlayStation Plus subscriptions. Even if you are paying up to £100 a year for a Game Pass-like subscription, Sony still expects you to hand out full price for The Last of Us Part 1.
Any way you shake it, you are paying more than you would for a brand new game to play a remake of a game that is less than ten years old, and arguably did not need to be remade. Is The Last of Us Part 1 the best way to play one of the most critically acclaimed games of all time? Undoubtedly. Does that warrant a higher price tag than the original game had? Debatable. It is clear that Naughty Dog and Sony see this as the new definitive way to experience The Last of Us, but evidently, they do not think that experience is for everyone.
The only people I can wholeheartedly recommend this version of the game to are those who have never played it before, and then I would still be apprehensive about the price tag. With the world going from one economic crisis to the next and people worrying about paying their bills, this overly expensive, third release of a nine-year-old game feels a little bit like Sony looking at hungry masses and saying let them eat cake. Wait for a sale.
Reviewed on PlayStation 5. Code provided by publisher.