I’ve never been one to replay games after I finish them. Restart? Yes. The Witcher 3 and Divinity: Original Sin are just a few victims of my ADHD-confused brain, abandoned and returned to. My pile of shame is practically the entirety of my game library. That’s why it’s bordering on a miracle that I’ve seen the credits roll for every Naughty Dog title I’ve played.
Whether it’s Uncharted or The Last of Us, the cinematic story is perfectly paced to keep my attention. These are games for people who like 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 its post-apocalyptic backdrop, on the other hand, is home to tragedy, despair and sadness.
And while I loved The Last of Us Part 1 when I replayed it PS3, that book was closed as soon as I put down my controller. Revisiting old games – even for a quick, new hobby – always leaves those rose-colored glasses with a few cracks in them. If you are lucky. Sometimes the lenses fall out completely. The last of us’ PS4 remaster did nothing to change that belief. Even avid game replayers would have had a hard time picking out significant improvements that would justify buying it a second time. As for me, been there, done that, got the spore-sprinkled t-shirt.
So it just lives on in the damp caverns of my memory, in the midst of a pile of games labeled with a torn post-it that reads ‘GOAT’.
You can then understand why I was indifferent when The Last of Us Part 1’s PS5 remake has been announced. “It’s not for me,” was my immediate response. It’s for the obsessives who buy GTA 5 every time it gets a new release. You know, people are already thinking about their PS6 and Xone Box X pre-orders (Microsoft’s naming system remains a mystery).
If a classic game isn’t tarnished because the nostalgic sheen has been peeled off by a new pair of eyes, a remake could go the other way – outraging its fans with misplaced concepts and ideas. But somehow Naughty Dog has deftly made his way through those waters, charting a narrow and careful course, and docking in the harbor with an intact masterpiece.
It’s been almost ten years since I played the original. And when I re-watched this shiny and expensive remake, it felt like absolutely nothing had changed. That’s not an indictment; it is the highest praise I can hope for.
Sony has reeling (opens in new tab) a list of the improvements and improvements intended to bring this remake in line with the developer’s original vision – while taking advantage of new technology. Naturally, DualSense features are included, using the PS5 haptic feedback and trigger effects from the controller. And there are two performance modes to choose from, since we’re not animals: native 4K targeting 30 fps and dynamic 4K targeting 60 fps.
Deeper than that are the fully rebuilt character models and animations, plus improved AI. And the PS5 brings in in-game physics that will make things a little more difficult now that bullets can rip through the environment. But for me it’s how I remember the game always was, like a perfect restoration of an old painting – not so smeared jesus meme (opens in new tab) we all know.
Main film animator Eric Baldwin summed up (opens in new tab) the riddle Naughty Dog faced perfectly: “Whatever we were making, it would be compared – not to the original. It would be compared to the memory of the original.” And the developer has fixed it. Everything is as I remember it was the first time. Which is clearly not the case. There is sorcery going on that has improved everything, preserving the essentials to the point that those improvements are almost invisible. It’s like a video game remake developed by the friendly 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 turned it down. There are four levels of difficulty in the PS5 remake, not counting Survivor mode which is unlocked upon completion. Easy, Normal and Difficult have given way to Very Light, Light, Moderate and Difficult. In other words, there’s a new low and I happily wallowed in it. On Very Light, there’s plenty of ammunition, human enemies are practically blind, and the infected are still terrifying – but the terror was turned down a notch, knowing I could almost support them without being mauled to death.
The Last of Us Part 1 is full of memorable moments, both in combat and off, but as a verified secret softy, it’s the heartbreaking moments that have left their mark on my heart. And how come, does the renewed intro qualify for that and then some.
I know, I know – I was just hitting the shot this week on the The Last of Us remake launch trailer for dropping 10-year spoilers. But the death of Joel’s daughter in the beginning gets a pass, I think. Right? It’s a zombie apocalypse – or damn close. People died en masse. Joel has a mourning beard that didn’t come out of nowhere. And a teenage daughter-shaped hole in his heart that helps Ellie heal.
Suffice to say, I was left roaring and snotty, just like I was in 2013. Possibly even snottier, no doubt due to the subtleties offered by the PS5 hardware, new development tools, and the fact that everything has been rebuilt from the ground up.
There are a few moments when we look helplessly at Joel in his panic and despair, cradling his daughter Sarah in his arms. You see the shock of a gunshot on her face, and the pain in her little body as she lies bleeding, 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 were added in the remake; it doesn’t matter in the end. Every stroke, every moment — whether tragic, hopeful, frightening, or adrenaline-fueled panic — is exactly as I remember it.
Our minds tend to absorb our memories, smoothing the edges and brushing away impurities, without distorting the core 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 befitting even that romantic and unrealistic bar. It really honors the original game and the fans. And it’s done in such a way that you don’t even notice.