I’ve never been one for replaying games once I’ve finished them. Restarting? Yes. The Witcher 3 and Divinity: Original Sin are just a couple of victims of my ADHD-addled brain, abandoned and returned to. My pile of shame is practically the entirety of my gaming library. Which is why it’s bordering on a miracle that I’ve watched the credits roll on every Naughty Dog title I’ve played.
Whether it’s Uncharted or The Last of Us, the cinematic storytelling is perfectly paced to hold my attention. These are games for people who love movies. Uncharted is your action-adventure summer blockbuster with a charismatic lead and ensemble cast of memorable characters. The Last of Us has its fair share of action, but by contrast, its post-apocalyptic backdrop is home to tragedy, desperation, and sadness.
And while I loved The Last of Us Part 1 back when I played it back on PS3, that book was closed as soon as I put my controller down. Revisiting old games – even for a quick, novelty dabble – always leaves those rose-tinted glasses with a few cracks in them. If you’re lucky. Sometimes, the lenses fall out altogether. The Last of Us’ PS4 remaster did nothing to change that conviction. Even ardent replayers of games would have been hard-pushed to pick out any significant improvements that warranted buying it a second time. As for me: been there, done that, got the spore-sprinkled t-shirt.
So it’s simply lived on in the dank recesses of my memory, amidst a small pile of games, labelled with a tattered post-it that reads ‘GOAT’.
You can understand, then, why I was indifferent when The Last of Us Part 1’s PS5 remake was announced. ‘It’s not for me,’ was my immediate reaction. It’s for the obsessives who are out there buying GTA 5 each time it gets a new release. You know, the people already thinking about their PS6 and Xone Box X pre-orders (Microsoft’s naming system remains a mystery).
If a classic game’s not being sullied because the nostalgic sheen has been peeled away by a fresh pair of eyes, a remake can veer the other way – stirring up outrage in its fanbase with misplaced concepts and ideas. But somehow, Naughty Dog has deftly navigated its way through those waters, plotting a narrow and careful course and docking at port with a masterpiece intact.
It’s been almost a decade since I played the original. And as I revisited this shiny and expensive remake, it felt like absolutely nothing had changed. That’s not an indictment; it’s the highest praise I can possibly heap on it.
Sony has reeled off (opens in new tab) a list of the enhancements and improvements intended to bring this remake in-line with the developer’s original vision – while taking advantage of new tech. Of course, DualSense features have been incorporated, using the PS5 controller’s haptic feedback and trigger effects. And there are two performance modes to choose from, because we’re not animals: native 4K targeting 30 fps, and dynamic 4K targeting 60 fps.
Deeper than that are the completely rebuilt character models and animations, plus upgraded AI. And the PS5 allows for in-game physics which are going to make things slightly tougher, now that bullets can tear through the environment. But to me, it’s how I remember the game always being, like a perfect restoration of an old painting – not that smeared Jesus meme (opens in new tab) we all know.
Lead cinematic animator Eric Baldwin summed up (opens in new tab) the conundrum Naughty Dog faced perfectly: “No matter what we were making, it was gonna be compared – not to the original. It was gonna be compared to the memory of the original.” And the developer nailed it. Everything is as I recall it being the first time around. Which obviously isn’t the case. There’s wizardry afoot that has improved everything, while preserving the essence to the point that those improvements are almost invisible. It’s as if a video game remake were developed by the kindly restoration specialists of The Repair Shop (opens in new tab).
The only discernible difference in my experience between the original and the remake is the combat. And that’s only because I cranked it waaay down. There are four difficulty options in the PS5 remake, not counting the Survivor Mode unlocked after completion. Easy, Normal, and Hard have given way to Very Light, Light, Moderate, and Hard. In other words, there’s a new low and I gleefully wallowed in it. On Very Light, ammo is plentiful, human enemies are practically blind, and the infected are still scary as heck – but the terror was dialled down a notch, knowing I could almost rub shoulders with them without being mauled to death.
The Last of Us Part 1 is full of memorable moments, in combat and out – but as a verified secret softy, it’s the heart-wrenching ones that have scored their marks in my heart. And boy howdy, does the revamped intro qualify for that and then some.
I know, I know – I was just this week taking a shot at the The Last of Us remake’s launch trailer for dropping 10-year-old spoilers. But the death of Joel‘s daughter at the outset gets a pass, I think. Right? It’s a zombie apocalypse – or near as damn it. People died in droves. Joel has a grief beard that didn’t come from nowhere. And a teenage daughter-shaped hole in his heart that Ellie helps heal.
Suffice to say, I was left bawling and snotty, just as I was back in 2013. Possibly even snottier, and it’s undoubtedly because of the subtleties afforded by the PS5 hardware, new development tools, and the fact that everything has been rebuilt from the ground up.
There are a few moments where we helplessly watch Joel in his panic and despair, cradling his daughter, Sarah, in his arms. You see the shock of being shot sketch across her face, and the pain in her tiny little body as she lies bleeding out, unable to comprehend. As Joel holds her close, their faces touching, the life drains from her eyes, and a tear trickles down the side of her face. He realizes she’s gone. I was fully prepared for this scene. And it still got me.
I couldn’t tell you which of those details were present in the original game and which have been added in the remake; it doesn’t matter, ultimately. Every beat, every moment – whether it was tragic, hopeful, frightening, or adrenaline-fuelled panic – is exactly as I remember it.
Our minds tend to take our memories, smooth down the edges, and buff out impurities, without warping the kernel of whatever it is we hold dear. Naughty Dog has taken The Last of Us Part 1 apart, and rebuilt it with a finesse and subtlety that matches even that romantic and unrealistic bar. It truly honors the original game and the fans. And it’s done in such a way you won’t even notice.