The ‘Game of a Generation’, that’s how Sony describes Naughty Dog’s PlayStation 3 magnum opus but just a year later the title is back on PlayStation 4 and as beautiful as it was then, it’s even more stunning now.
The Last of Us Remastered is the same game it was a year ago. It opens with the same heartrending death and ends with the same selfish act of redemption. It’s not an embellishment to suggest that the story of protagonists Joel and Ellie will determine the faith of the entire human race, or at least what’s left of it.
Cordyceps, a real-life viral infection, has turned much of humanity into mindless infected – creatures which depend on sound to hunt and bite their foes to spread the disease – and in the 20 years since the outbreak, humanity has been reduced to a few enclaves. The military outpost in Boston, the dam where Joel’s brother, Tommy, has taken up residence, and the country town which has fallen under control of Nathan who, despite living a world where crops can still grow and animals can still be reared, have turned to cannibalism.
On the surface, The Last of Us seems to be akin to any zombie story; a tale of loss and the stuggle to survive against odds which seem impossible. Yet there’s so much more to this game that feels like the best show on TV at the moment especially given its longer-than-usual story.
And the extra time is entirely needed. There’s almost nothing about the game that feels unnecessary, no scene or story which doesn’t add to the tale being weaved or reveal more about the characters. Another 2013 zombie game, Dead Rising 3, was filled to the brim with extravagant characters and preposterous situations forced into silly, senseless violence but The Last of Us feels like a world in which you could conceivably imagine the infected walking the streets of major cities either deserted or turned over to hunters, the main human enemies you face.
It’s not only the big moments, saving Ellie from a horrible fate or watching helpless as Henry and Sam are taken away, but the small moments as well. It’s finding the grave and teddy bear of a child by the river and watching Ellie’s delight as she sees giraffes for the first time that makes the story of the game so special and forges such a strong connection.
Yet it’s the characters which also prove to be the most notable flaw in the game. They move in your way, NPCs and enemies don’t see Ellie or Marlene when they should, and your companions block doorways as though they’re trying to win a competition with Skyrim companions. These flaws in the game’s AI break the experience, if only for a moment one might have hoped that these issues would have been resolved for Remastered but they’re still very much there and just as grating as they ever were.
It’s also difficult at times to know where you need to go and this makes you wish Naughty Dog had added some sort of feature which would at least hint at the route you’re supposed to take. The hotel basement level is one particular moment when you feel this would be useful.
The fight for survival is a challenging one, regardless of your difficulty level, and this is especially so given the limited supplies available in the devastated world. In the town of Lincoln, near the start of the game, we’re forced to fight our way through streets and houses of infected before being introduced to a bloater for the first time – someone who’s been infected for a very long time. They claw at you, from all sides, and even the weaker ones take more than one bullet to down. There are few things as tense in gaming as fending off an infected with a shiv. Dead Island sees you mow down hundreds of zombies as you race along the infested highways but two invested in The Last of Us are often enough to make you think about your strategy and curse yourself when stealth fails.
Yet for all that, it’s your human foes which prove to be the greatest threat. The fight against Nathan is quite likely the hardest in the game and those who finished it in 2013 will know that Joel’s decision in the Firefly hospital, and the lie he tells Ellie as they drive back to Tommy’s dam, may well make him the worst of them all, and the best. Very little is clear cut in The Last of Us and the game is about way more than zombies – it’s a game about people and a brave one at that.
The Last of Us Remastered is the same game it was a year ago but it is worth playing again and if you never have experienced it before, you’re in for something special. Perhaps it was the game of a generation, or perhaps that was merely marketing overhype, but either way, Naughty Dog created something mesmerising and brutal, amazing and grim, personal and grand in scope.
9 out of 10
The Last of Us Remastered was developed by Naughty Dog and was published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It was released on July 29th, 2014 and is available on PlayStation 4 for $49.99. A copy of the game was purchased by the reviewer.