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‘The Last of Us Part 1’ review: What merits a remake?

Tristan Zinampan
‘The Last of Us Part 1’ review: What merits a remake?

THE LAST OF US PART I

In-game images/Sony/The Last of Us Part 1

Does 'The Last of Us' merit a 'ground-up remake' that's justified mainly by PS5 graphics? It depends on who you’re asking.

Let’s address this right off the bat, I love The Last of Us – yes, both franchise entries. (Here’s proof: ‘The Last of Us Part 2’ was never meant to satisfy.) So, I hope, with this expression of fealty to the material, I am afforded a modicum of leeway to articulate my thoughts beyond the seemingly cynical headline.

Onto the show, then.

So, what merits a remake? In this current generation of gaming, many beloved titles have come back to the fore, introducing themselves to a whole new set of gamers, via “remasters” and “remakes” of their strongest franchise entries. Often, calling oneself a “remaster” only constitutes a digital “paint job” – porting or patching the game so that the visuals and mechanics are optimized for the current-gen. Think Mass Effect: Legendary Edition or Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection. 

“Remakes,” on the other hand, are ground-up rebuilds, usually of the classics. And when I say “classics,” think ‘90s-era games like Resident Evil 2 or Final Fantasy VII. Now, a game doesn’t have to be 20 years old to be remade, but it ties into the common rationale that these games from way back deserve rebuilding so they could achieve their visions, now unhindered by technological limitations. This often entails updating character models, adding entirely new elements, integrating gameplay mechanics from their more recent franchise entries, etc. 

So why does this delineation between “remaster” and “remake” matter in this review of The Last of Us Part 1? Maybe because, while the original The Last of Us is universally beloved – in both critical acclaim and overall sales – it is a game that was just released 9 years ago on PS3 and was subsequently remastered for the PS4, not that long ago.

So, the question is, does The Last of Us Part 1 – which is clearly still part of our cultural consciousness, to the point that we have The Mandalorian and Lyanna Mormont playing the lead roles in an HBO show next year – merit a supposed “ground-up remake” justified mainly by its PS5 graphics? Well, to be honest, it depends on who you’re asking.

Infectious immersion

To get it out of the way, yes, The Last of Us Part 1 has a storyline worthy of being in the pantheon of video gaming. It is sublime in how it goes from high to low, capturing the devastation of a world-killing pandemic (zombie fungi virus!) and juxtaposing it with intimate character-driven drama and moments emanating hope. However, there’s no need to dwell any longer on the merits of this narrative; we already gave them multiple awards (and an HBO show) for that.  And, don’t get me wrong, the story does hold up – especially after the past 2 years. The room for discussion lies in whether the remake takes advantage of the PS5’s hardware upgrades in bringing new depth to the vision.

Visuals-wise, I’m glad to report that if you’re immersing yourself in the world of The Last of Us for the first time, this remake is the definitive way to experience its story.

The game offers two main graphics modes: Fidelity and Performance. Fidelity Mode offers native 4k resolution and targets 30fps – unless you have a 120hz screen, which, in that case, it targets 40fps. On the other hand, Performance Mode lowers the resolution to dynamic 4k while increasing the framerate to 60fps. If your screen supports VRR, you have a third mode, which uncaps the frame rate for both rendering levels.

I frequently found myself shuffling between Fidelity and Performance in the middle of my gameplay. Fidelity heightens the cinematic experience, while Performance gives me buttery-smooth action.

Honestly, regardless of which mode you choose, you’re still good. Overall, characters now look their age, while facial expressions and voice acting are better reflected in the highly-detailed and nuanced animation. Environments stand out with thicker foliage, particles like dust and debris sprinkle through the air, and, my personal favorite, the contrast of light and shadow in darker scenes creates a truly immersive atmosphere even without ray-tracing.

Playing basement and sewer levels keep you at the edge of your seat as you try to parse your surroundings. 3D audio is the cherry on top of this immersive experience, as the sound of Stalkers scurrying by your side and Clickers subtly letting their presence be known from behind you can give you jump scares you’ve never felt before.

To be honest, after the fright of encountering my first Clicker, I was ready to psyche myself into thinking that this alone was worth the price of admission. However, after almost 20 hours into the game and having just replayed the PS4’s The Last of Us Remastered at the start of the pandemic in preparation for its sequel, I found myself saying, “yes, this is cool, but what else?”

If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

In remaking The Last of Us, I postulate that developers treated the source material as a holy text. But, in this attempt to elude sacrilege, the effort to truly “remake” was much safer than what it ought to be.

The result: a Last of Us Part 1 that straddles the line between “remaster” and “remake.” While the changes at front and center – the recreated character and environment models – were done outstandingly well, gameplay-wise, aside from the accessibility options that make the experience more inclusive, the general rebuilds are much more subtle. More quality of life, rather than groundbreaking.

Using the DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers and haptic feedback system adds weight to your arsenal, most evident in my go-to’s: the bow (which you can feel tighten) and the shotgun (which has distinct vibrations for shooting and pumping). Environments are also more responsive to the action; gunfire and bomb blasts can cause debris and other breakaway objects to fly in the air. Although, these recreated environments may still need some fixing. From time to time, I would notice glitches like shimmering, texture pop-ins, and, on one occasion, the ladder I was carrying went through a ceiling. 

Supposedly, character AI is also more intelligent this time around. This is complemented by smoother movement animations, redone with all-new mocap for this remake. However, these are fixes you don’t really notice unless pointed out. Also, I’m not sure how much of a leap we got in character intelligence since I found myself having to change routes on more than one occasion because Ellie blocked my passage. There was also a time she just stood there, receiving a ton of gunfire.

Honestly, I do not want to fault The Last of Us Part 1 too much for sticking to the source material. But, when you market this game as “The Last of Us but with The Last of Us Part 2 graphics, naturally, I will ask, “with Part 2 mechanics too?”  I am not asking for possibly drastic game-distorting additions like Ellie’s capability to go prone or adding verticality to the levels. (Some might, but not this writer!) Those might require overall level redesigns. 

However, seeing innocuous carry-overs from Part 2, like the ability to dodge or break the glass of vending machines to create a distraction, would have been a nice touch to create gameplay continuity between the two games. I would have even appreciated hearing enemies scream the names of their fallen comrades for the added drama.

Parting thoughts

So, going back to the question of whether The Last of Us Part 1 merits this remake, my answer remains: It depends on who you’re asking. If you’re looking for a way to introduce new gamers to the world of The Last of Us, or you’re the type to make a sport of replaying The Last of Us ever so often, this is the definitive version for you.

But if you’re a fan who is still pretty familiar with the story and has played the original game in the last 3 years or so, there are parts to love in the remake, but there’s really nothing much new except for the graphics. Maybe give it a few more years. Unless, of course, you have P3,490 to spare. (did we mention that it costs P3,490???) – Rappler.com

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Tristan Zinampan

Tristan is Rappler’s resident pop culture vulture. He leads Rappler’s youth culture section, Hustle.