The Last of Us: Part I feels like how you remember Naughty Dog’s critically acclaimed 2013 survival horror, which is both a blessing and a bit of a curse. In many ways, this PS5 re-release blurs the lines between remake and remaster, overhauling the original in almost all areas, without tinkering with what made it so great. It means that not all of the improvements will be immediately obvious to the casual observer, but compared side-by-side with the PS3 edition and its PS4 remaster, this is undoubtedly the best version of a contemporary classic.

The Californian studio says the 15-hour campaign and its heart-warming Left Behind expansion have been rebuilt from the ground-up, but it’s important to contextualise what this means. The level design, save for a few minor alterations, is identical. Some interiors have been redesigned and collectibles repositioned to add more logic to the world building, but by-and-large this is an indistinguishable adventure – even down to the placement of enemies and the numbers in their ranks.

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This doesn’t mean Naughty Dog is lying, however. The gameplay is vastly superior to the original release, with much of the motion-matching technology introduced in The Last of Us 2 integrated here. It means that there’s more freedom overall, as protagonist Joel will seamlessly transition between animations rather than stopping-and-starting like he did in the original: throwing a bottle, sprinting forward for a melee attack, and then popping off a shot looks flawless now.

Despite this, the combat does not hit the same heights as its successor. Rather than redesign gauntlets, the developer has decided to keep combat encounters the same, meaning the dodge and prone mechanics that made the skirmishes so pulsating in the sequel are missing. Fights also feel much “smaller” in scope, owing to the limitations enforced by the original PS3 design, and therefore The Last of Us 2 is still very much the pinnacle of third-person shooters as far as we’re concerned.

These same constraints apply to the level design, which feels restricted a decade later. While the game certainly has its moments of freedom, the sequel was a much larger endeavour overall, allowing you to explore off the beaten path. The Last of Us: Part I’s reduced scope feels dated in comparison, with piles of debris and conveniently placed fences inexplicably locking you to a set path. It’s clear this is not how the game would be designed today.

But the artificial intelligence is much smarter at least. You’ll no longer brush against immersion breaking scenarios, like Ellie running directly in front of the line of sight of enemies, as everyone is much brighter overall. Aggressors will collaborate and communicate, calling out your position and working to find flanking positions – even on lower difficulties. It makes the combat that much more gratifying, and comparing it to the original is eye-opening to say the least.

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The same is true of the extraordinary art direction overhauls. Naughty Dog has made the game less grim than its muddy and macabre predecessor, and some locations like The Capitol Building are unrecognisable in a good way. The sheer amount of detail invested into every single frame is phenomenal, comfortably putting the remake among the best-looking PS5 titles to date. All of the locations feel lived in; there’s clear thought been put into how assets are organised, meaning the environments themselves have their own stories to tell.

Special mention must also be attributed to the sound, which leverages the PS5’s nifty Tempest chip to create some of the best 3D audio to date. Sony’s first-party releases tend to have tremendous mixing across the board, but The Last of Us 2 was a watershed moment for the platform holder in terms of sound design, and this remake matches up. With a quality pair of cans, you can pinpoint the position of enemies purely from their footsteps, and we actually found we didn’t need to rely on the title’s detective vision-style Listen mode anywhere near as much as in previous versions.

And that’s without even speaking of the animations, which have been dramatically reworked. Cutscenes now run in realtime on the PS5, and are not pre-rendered like they were originally. This means that the transitions between gameplay and cinematics are less abrupt, and more importantly there’s a consistency to the character models throughout. Many of the most important scenes, like the heart-breaking prologue, have an intensity that simply didn’t exist in the original.

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Naughty Dog’s efforts with the DualSense should not go unnoticed either. The developer has created unique textures for almost every scenario in the game, meaning you’ll feel the rattle of shrapnel as you craft a Nail Bomb or the pitter-patter of rain as you work your way through the drizzly outskirts of Boston. It’s some of the best use of the pad’s innovative features since Astro’s Playroom, and it adds to the overall immersion of both sedate and high-intensity moments.

In fact, the developer’s also found ways to innovate on its award-winning accessibility with the pad’s unique features. One specific addition allows you to “feel” speech through haptic feedback, which in conjunction with the subtitles will allow deaf players to physically appreciate the way lines are delivered. There’s also full audio commentary for every cinematic in the game, taking the outfit’s commitment to accessibility to an unprecedented level.

And for returning players, there’s a lot of bonus content to unlock and explore. There are artwork galleries for both the original release and its remake, and a wealth of new skins for Joel and Ellie have been added, many of which are inspired by popular PlayStation properties. For those looking for some replay value, there’s a new speedrun mode, which has been integrated into the PS5’s Activity Cards, and you can even sort through your records and best times on a chapter-by-chapter basis.

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That said, the original’s unexpectedly popular multiplayer mode has been cut, and this isn’t a cheap proposition overall. Even with all of the improvements outlined above, £69.99/$69.99 is a tough to pill to swallow at launch, and while it’s clear an impressive amount of work has been invested into this remake, we’re yet to be convinced it justifies its eye-watering release day price point. Make no mistake, though, the campaign stands up to modern scrutiny.

Conclusion

Without reference to the original, it’s not always easy to appreciate The Last of Us: Part I’s impressive improvements. This is a much better game than the original, though, with stronger art direction, smoother gameplay, and much more emotional cinematics. Naughty Dog has done justice to the original by improving on it in almost every regard, but it remains the game you remember from 2013. At a more competitive price point, it’d be essential – as it is, it’s a pricey upgrade on a bona fide classic.