Being one of the first games to support the PlayStation 4 Pro at launch – and including a native 4K setting with HDR, I might add – I started playing through The Last of Us Remastered to get a feel for the new tech. I'd intended just to have a quick look and see what HDR gaming looked like, but it didn't take long before I was absorbed in the game once more with nary a thought of graphics in mind. The title looks stunning on the PS4 Pro, by the way, but that's hardly the point anymore.
I was struck by a moment not far in where Joel stumbles across a diary upstairs in what looks like a young boy's bedroom. There's a bunkbed in the corner and some cheesy science-fiction movie posters on the wall. The room is full of colour and the late evening sun beams through the window highlighting the dust particles that float and shift as Joel rummages through the room looking for supplies – anything that might help him on his journey.
The diary lies there on top of the young boy's bookshelf, itself full of colourful looking books. Dust is clearly apparent on the shelves; it's been a while since anyone was here. Having already witnessed the events of the outbreak from Joel's perspective, and what it has cost him, we already have a sense of scale to the events. But we haven't heard it from the innocent perspective of a child before.
As I read the most recent few pages of the diary, the tone quickly changes from the positive to the negative. From the child's point-of-view, the outbreak means one thing: no more school. But the tone quickly changes and the confusion of the outbreak and how it affects the young boy comes through in the text. I don't even need to know exactly what is happening in his life to understand his plight.
Reading through this small section of the diary, I can empathise with his point of view. He's confused, and he's noticed that his parents are fighting while whispering at the same time. They don't want to scare the children, after all. But the things we pick up on as adults are so different to what we pick up on as children, and often the things adults do to protect them serve to highlight the issues even more.
Having grown angry at his son for listening to the radio the day before, the October 7th diary entry states, "I think Dad felt bad about yesterday. Gadget was asleep in my bed and Dad didn't say anything about it. He came in, petted him, sighed, and walked out. I've never seen him like this." Clearly the dog, Gadget, is not usually allowed in the bed, but given the circumstances, his father's perspective on the whole thing has shifted significantly.
It's these very moments that bring The Last of Us home to me. In a world with very few survivors, as we rummage around other peoples' dilapidated homes, it could quite easily be a desolate and dull place. But every single "level" or section of the game, every single home, garage, or dog kennel I come across holds memories of the world as it was before. They're not just props for us to play around in, the presence of the people that lived in these buildings are keenly felt.
These moments are by no means standard. In fact, they're moments that very rarely show up in other games. But it's these small details that elevate The Last of Us to the next level among its brethren. It's an aspect of gaming that is often sorely missing: soul. The Last of Us has soul in abundance. The aptly named Naughty Dog has tapped into something that very few other developers can equal, but which I sincerely hope to see more of in the future.
So as we move into a new era of console gaming with the new more powerful mid-cycle hardware, here's hoping that graphics will not be the sole focus moving forward. We still want games that are fun to play, and we still want games with soul. If the game is good enough, there won't be a pixel in sight regardless of resolution; we'll be swallowed up no matter what.
Are you a fan of The Last of Us Remastered's world building like Jacob? Do you believe that technology can help to power more immersive experiences – or is it the core of the game where most care and attention needs to be invested? Add some clarity to this conversation in the comments section below.