It’s been a little over a year since Naughty Dog’s latest creation, The Last of Us, graced the PlayStation 3, and the highly acclaimed title has already been revamped for a new generation. The Last of Us was a hot seller on the PS3, pushing over seven million copies, but that means seven million players have been exposed to the game already. The trick with a re-release is to sweeten the pot without putting too many hands in it.
The best part about what Naughty Dog has created can be felt in the very first chapter of The Last of Us. As the world comes crumbling down around Joel, his daughter Sara, and his brother Tommy, I know what’s coming—I’ve played this game through plenty of times on my way to the PS3 platinum trophy—but I still choke up. To be fair, I’m a sucker for characterization and I enjoy analyzing story development, so when it’s good, I remember why. A year may seem too soon to go through a game a second time, but it really depends on the player’s attachment to the original content.
The new framerate settings have been a hot topic for many players. Even before reading this, a lot of gamers will know what they already like and stick to it, but I went in with a preference for high frames per second and came out with an altered perspective.
To be clear, there is a distinct difference between 60 and 30 frames per second; that difference is immediate but not necessarily unidirectional. After switching from 60 to 30, the video feels choppy to the point of mimicking an old film. However, 30 fps gives the game a weight that 60 fps does not; the wonderful part about the human eye, too, is that it can adapt to almost anything quite rapidly. The 30 frames setting is visually felt more in the dark opposed to daylight, where the illuminated day scenes have a clear presentation. Meanwhile, the dark night scenes feel constricted and ominous. In terms of performance, only moving shadows make a graphical difference. Player shadows look somewhat jagged at 60 fps while they look very defined and smooth at 30 fps. But when the action’s going—when Runners are flying all over the place and Bloaters are throwing their explosive spores—the minute differences are lost to more colorful details.
What really struck me was how old Joel looks in Remastered. On the PS3, Joel did look a bit dated, but he neither had such visualized wrinkles nor had such a sharp dusting of gray in his hair; it's the difference between early 40s and 50s. To complement this detail, all facial expressions on all characters have benefited from enhanced detail and range. Pain exhumes from strained faces. Sarcasm leaks from sneered mouths. Sincerity ebbs from the eyes. Altogether, Naughty Dog has placed as much realism in a revitalized product as, I believe, could be implemented without starting the development process all over again.
Aside from the visual changes, The Last of Us Remastered compiles all downloadable content that was released for the PS3 version into one package. There aren’t any specific numbers out there, but not every player bought all the DLC Naughty Dog generated last generation. In truth, I didn’t buy any of them—which, in hindsight, was an unfortunate decision. First, the die-hard fans will dig into the Grounded difficulty, which takes away the game’s HUD, including the health bar, and Listen Mode, making for a very rough challenge. Also, Ellie’s side story Left Behind, as our review highlights, brings a great deal of insight into her character development and why she is the way she is; it’s a great addition to a game that already brings so much to the table. Anyone who stopped playing The Last of Us after the credits missed out on a lot, making Remastered the perfect fit for them.
Multiplayer is also hit with thorough polishing in a major way. The established framerate makes the multiplayer very responsive and much easier to handle than it was before. Included in the Remastered edition are all of the downloadable maps, and all of them—except the camp-heavy Library map—require as much strategy and knowhow as the default maps. To top it all off, the stronger internet connection of the PS4 allows for cleaner connections to the servers, so latency issues aren’t nearly as rampant as they were before.
The one other major addition to Remastered is the Photo Mode. Much like what was featured in Infamous: Second Son, players can take artistic screenshots of the action or scenery at any time during player-controlled gameplay. Photo Mode allows players to freeze the shot in order to change the camera angle, brightness, graininess, and color. Borders are also available, so players can cap their achievements (or impending deaths) in a cinematic box or other, more varied borders. There’s even a frame pulled right from the photography booth of Left Behind, so I certainly took a shot of Joel about to be eaten alive and then framed it with “sharesnap” and a bunch of hearts. Photo Mode can be turned on and off in the Options menu; this setting actually turns on and off the ability to access Photo Mode by pressing L3. Unfortunately, this option can become an accidental frustration. Many times, while in the thick of Runners and Clickers, I found myself frantically trying to escape and avoid these mindless creatures, only to accidentally activate Photo Mode. The principle behind using L3 for opening Photo Mode isn’t foolish, but the result can become almost throttling. I want to think this design choice indicates that the developers at Naughty Dog have a sense of humor: what better way to know that you’ve been slain than making it a Kodak moment? Regardless, this issue is subsequent to the feature itself--which is quite intuitive and accessible--but it may result in a few “what the ****” moments.
Another glaring negative is the blood. When a character is wounded, the blood trails rendered on the model look embodied and real, but once the blood leaves the character, it becomes almost acrylic. Sprayed blood looks like splattered paint, and defined pools of blood are comparable to stained glass. This issue is at its worst in daylight, as darker scenes do the blood's appearance some favors. Luckily—and surprisingly—there isn’t much standing blood throughout the game, so this point is easily forgotten, but I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated out of realism, considering the overall package is gratifying in that department.
One other big issue is more prominent and affects those who will play the harder difficulties. MMO players and fighting game fans will be familiar with the concept of effective range, the area of and around a target in which attacks are able to be registered. The effective ranges in Remastered, on all fronts, feel much larger than in the original release. That means both enemies and players can land their attacks and grapples from greater distances, resulting in characters and creatures sliding into their animations. I can’t say that it happened all the time, but my time spent with the Grounded difficulty brought me to bloaters that could grab me from almost ten feet away (by my conjecture) as opposed to at arm’s reach. More often than not, I was moving forward when it worked for me, and the same can be said for my enemies, but the animations didn’t reflect the momentum put into the action, resulting in a ghostly slide rather than a lunge.
I can’t say that it’s hard to justify buying The Last of Us again, because I know that I enjoyed the original game and the Remastered edition has all the DLC that I missed the first time around. The multiplayer is even better, too, delivering an experience that’s as intense as it was before but with a fresh coat of smooth paint and stronger internet connections. The odd-looking blood, sliding animations, and Photo Mode on L3 all detract a bit from the experience, but any negative impression is constantly overshadowed by the enhancements that Naughty Dog has etched into a wonderful core concept.
-The Final Word-
Naughty Dog gives PlayStation gamers a second, definitive chance to experience one of the greatest video game stories. The Last of Us Remastered's additional content, visual enhancements, and improved performance leave very little standing in the way of a perfect encore.