Republished on Tuesday 24th September 2019: We're bringing this review back from the archives following the announcement of October's PlayStation Plus lineup. The original text follows.
Success comes with scepticism. From the second that first-party outfit Naughty Dog’s survival horror experiment The Last of Us was compared favourably to cinematic masterpiece Citizen Kane, the release was always going to have to convince a jaded jury of cynics that it was worthy of such watershed acclaim. Its legacy will probably rest a couple of rungs lower than the above example of exaggerated approval, but that it largely eschewed the customary tidal wave of consumer dissatisfaction speaks highly to the quality of the game. Indeed, for some, Joel and Ellie’s platonic romance prompted the revered release to define an entire console generation – a commendable feat considering that it deployed on a format that for seven years refused to be replaced.
It was inevitable, then, that platform holder Sony would mask the PlayStation 4’s sparsely populated exclusives offering with an upgraded iteration of the cross country excursion – after all, this is a property that suddenly finds itself in the esteemed company of Gran Turismo and God of War from a core commercial perspective. In truth, this is a clever case of cunning corporate wit: the Japanese giant knows that it’s managed to strong arm fans of other hardware brands into its ecosystem, and so it’s capitalising on that by giving one of its biggest ever critical success stories a second shot at sales stardom. Alas, away from the evident financial incentives, there’s also an opportunity for this next-gen port to improve upon the accomplishments of its PlayStation 3 predecessor. So, the question is: how has it handled the transition?
Well, if you’re eager to usurp this particular author’s wordy workout, we suppose that the simplest answer to that enquiry is very well. This is not a native PlayStation 4 title, and so it lacks some of the razzmatazz of its more immediate contemporaries; it’s certainly missing the glossy in-game sheen of open world opus inFAMOUS: Second Son and first-person shooter Killzone: Shadow Fall. Still, this dank adventure was no visual slouch on a device that was severely outdated half a decade ago, and so you’re not necessarily going to find yourself bemoaning the odd awkward object or clipping hiccup. In fact, the attention to detail – an attribute which underlined all of the original’s achievements – is amplified here, as texture quality has been improved, and the resolution has been increased to 1080p.
For the layman, that means that you’re going to see every collapsed corridor in much greater clarity than ever before. Don’t think that the polished up presentation is going to take away from the diseased dystopia at the centre of this harrowing plot, however, as enhanced particle effects give the game the dusty sense of decay that makes exploring its residential districts all the more distressing. It’s the perked up framerate that’s the icing on the decomposing cake, though, proving yet again that 60 frames-per-second is vastly superior whenever possible; the performance may not be perfect 100 per cent of the time, but the impact that it has on controller response is quite staggering. In fact, you can toggle to the original’s more filmic 30 frames-per-second if you prefer, but it feels like a stuttering mess in direct comparison.
And this game deserves to be enjoyed in the best conditions possible. While many of the package’s plaudits have stemmed from its heartrending plot, returning to it a year later serves as a reminder of how well it plays. A fusion of clandestine infiltration and outright action, you’ll spend much of the game propped behind knee-high objects scavenging for utensils that will give you the upper hand. Everyday items such as scissors, sugar, and alcohol can be combined to concoct makeshift explosives and medication kits, with many of the same products required to craft offensive and defensive instruments. As such, you’ll need to plan your approach carefully – especially on the more challenging settings, which reduce your resources to depressing degrees. Speaking of which, if you’re already well versed in the art of thriftiness, then you’ll discover all of the difficulties unlocked from the offset here.
Alas, however you decide to test your levels of endurance, you’ll find that it’s the outstanding pacing that keeps you engaged. Despite offering a substantial single player campaign – some 15 to 20 hours in length – there’s a definite deftness to the way that encounters are designed. Infected enemies at a more mature state of mutilation will have lost the ability to use their eyes, meaning that you’re free to meander among them as long as you remain as muted as possible. Elsewhere, fellow survivors will try to fight you for supplies, completely changing your approach. The game’s at its absolute award-winning best when these elements are combined, but there’s an effortless quality to the way in which disparate segments segue that will lure you into running through the narrative in as few sittings as your lifestyle will allow.
And the Californian company maintains this competence in multiplayer, where the experience also surprisingly shines. Adopting the survival aspects of the main storyline, this sees you work through 12 weeks of resistance as either a Hunter or a Firefly – opposing factions struggling for superiority in a post-apocalyptic world. Each round that you play here represents a full day, with your earnings employed to sustain an evolving crew. It’s a quirky progression system that pulls in data from Facebook to enjoyable effect, and it’s married to a competitive combat mechanic that encourages a pack-like mentality irrespective of the mode. On that note, there are three primary options here, spanning the straightforward Supply Raid to the SOCOM inspired Survivors, but it’s the newly added Interrogation that may well be the highlight.
Of course, all of the downloadable maps from the PS3 version are present and correct, as is the Left Behind expansion from earlier in the year. This acts as a prologue of sorts, pointing its shattered lens more prominently at the potty mouthed Ellie and her quarantine companion Riley. Compared to the core campaign, this four hour added extra is distinguished by its light hearted approach, which adopts a more exploration focused format – even if it does conclude with a combat encounter that’s likely to define the direction of the series’ inevitable successor. Elsewhere, other original additions include an entertainingly deep photography toolkit, allowing you to capture characters and environments in realtime, as well as cut-scene commentary from key cast members Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson.
The Last of Us Remastered was unlikely to be anything less than sublime, and that’s the expected outcome that we’ve arrived at here. While its PS3 precursor prevents it from possessing the level of next-gen gloss that its native PS4 contemporaries contain, this is still a mighty fine looking title, and its framerate and resolution improvements only serve to solidify that. Of course, the onboard add-on packs and smattering of superfluous extras ensure that this is the definitive edition of an already outstanding affair – but, unsurprisingly, it’s the touching tale at the heart of the package that once again sets it apart from its peers.