An upscaled remake of a late-period console game for the next generation of that console would ordinarily be derided as a pointless exercise. But Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us was anything but ordinary, garnering such acclaim and so many awards that it is often cited as one of the best games ever. And The Last Of Us Remastered – the revamped PS4 version – has a surprisingly large amount to offer, even to those who played the PS3 original.
If you belong to a hitherto undiscovered South American tribe or have recently been living in a cave, then you might still be unaware that The Last Of Us is a post-apocalyptic zombie-action-survival game set in a US which has endured 20 years of a population-devastating fungal outbreak. It resembles a road-movie split into four parts corresponding with the seasons, and involves two main protagonists: the grizzled, cynical survivor Joel and 14-year-old Ellie, the only person in the country (and presumably the world) who is immune to the outbreak. If you never played it, yet now own a PS4, don’t read on – just buy a copy and put your social life on hold.
Given that it was developed by Naughty Dog (of Uncharted fame), The Last Of Us Remastered is, unsurprisingly, uncommonly filmic for a videogame. The PS3 original was particularly lauded for approximating the narrative ebb and flow that the best films have, along with its stunningly convincing performance-capture. The good news is that the Remastered version, which brings a higher level of graphical fidelity and extra animation smoothness (it runs at 60fps) lets you appreciate those attributes more. It’s a happy – and rare – example of technological advancement allowing previously unnoticed elements to come to the fore, rather than adding extra unwelcome and confusing details.
As far as the core gameplay is concerned, there’s one clear instance of the PS4’s design bringing a useful new element to the party: the all-important crafting menu, previously somewhat hidden, can now be raised , amid the mayhem, by a mere tap on the Dual-Shock 4’s touch-pad. That helps enormously, when you’re besieged by Infected and bandits, but doesn’t really alter the gameplay in any meaningful way.
However, previously peripheral elements come to the fore, such as Ellie’s growing usefulness as the game progresses (she will tell you what direction enemies are approaching from, or launch melee attacks when you and she are beset by a horde of Infected). Greater responsiveness also opens up a more aggressive approach – without any change in the AI, judicious runs from cover to cover, with sight-lines in mind, in Remastered seem less likely to result in death. Meanwhile, some of the more impressionistic sequences – where, for example, you might be trapped in an all-but-monochrome, spore-filled area populated by the sinister Clickers that must be taken down separately and silently – can be approached in a more methodical and precise manner than in the PS3 version, with its slightly muddier (although far from shabby) visuals. All of which adds to the tactical diversity which the game supports, in turn bringing replay value.
The Remastered edition adds all the downloadable content which came out for the original game, most notably the back-story-establishing Left Behind (which also references a previously unexplored episode in the main game) and two intriguing four-versus-four multiplayer modes that are essentially Team Deathmatch with clever twists.
But even if you played the original game, you’ll be surprised by how much you derive from taking a different approach to the areas that you originally found challenging, or exploring when previously you contented yourself with merely escaping. On paper, The Last Of Us Remastered is one of the least essential games releases you’ll ever encounter. But in reality, you’ll find that by making one of the best games ever slightly better than it originally was, Naughty Dog has crafted something that will once again hold your attention in an iron grip, even when it’s at its most familiar.