A few hours after The Last of Us Part 1 — the remake of Naughty Dog’s 2013 dystopian classic that became a hit PS5 in Friday — protagonist Joel gives surrogate daughter Ellie a gun to protect herself on their post-apocalyptic odyssey across the US. This comes after she proved herself by covering Joel with a shotgun while he killed a group of thugs.

“How about something a little bigger than your size?” he says. “For emergencies only.”

“Okay,” she replies.

It’s one of countless moments I’d forgotten since my 2013 playthrough of the original PS3 version of this survival horror adventure, and probably something I thought of at the time. After all, 14-year-old Ellie seems to know what she’s doing, and tired Joel could use some backup.

The scene begins differently once you understand the violence and death that will permeate Joel and Ellie’s story, both in this adventure and its heartbreaking 2020 sequel. Joel admits that Ellie can’t keep her innocence in the horror show this world has become. It is among the finer defining moments of their journey.

Despite the joy of incredible scenes like this, it’s hard to justify The Last of Us Part 1 as $70 PS5 game when you have several cheaper ways to play it.

Remake or remaster?

I thought I had a crystal clear memory of The Last of Us. Developed by Uncharted studio Naughty Dog, it is among the exclusive series of jewels in the PlayStation crown. How could the passage of time rob me of one of the greatest gaming experiences?

Turns out he did; I only really remembered the harrowing introduction and the emotional roller coaster at the end. I had forgotten most of the characters you meet (like the surviving siblings Henry and Sam), several of the places Joel and Ellie ventured to (including Pittsburgh and a hydroelectric dam), and many of the gruesome combat scenarios you have to overcome (like the tense boss fight in the high school gym). Playing through The Last of Us felt unexpectedly fresh.

Joel avoids a gas cloud in a bright high school gymnasium in The Last of Us Part 1

The first encounter with Bloater is beautifully lit and intense as hell.

Naughty dog

This is the second updated version of the original Last of Us — PS4 remaster landed a year after the PS3 original in 2014 – so it’s understandable to wonder if Part 1 is worth your time or money.

Naughty Dog was calling the PS5 release a remake instead of a remaster—frustratingly, the internet uses those terms interchangeably—and it’s certainly a big step up from a visual standpoint. In addition, the wealth of new accessibility options it opens up the experience to a much wider audience (which may justify the price for some players).

But it’s not a remake like 2019’s Resident Evil 2 or 2020 Final Fantasy 7. The gameplay is the same, and you shouldn’t expect any surprises in the narrative – unless you’ve forgotten as much as I had.

Still a masterpiece

The Last of Us takes place several decades later eerily realistic fungal brain infection turned much of the population into aggressive, cannibalistic mutants. (In-game news reports about millions dying, countries cutting off travel, and failure to find a vaccine land differently now.)

The survivors of this world have three options: move into totalitarian military quarantine zones, find a place among an independent settlement of questionable safety, or run with nomads who often do terrible things to stay alive.

Joel and Ellie (greatly played by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson) have unpleasant encounters with all three groups, as well as the many varieties of the infected. You often find yourself thrown into small sandboxes of the game where there are a bunch of enemies you need to dispatch (or sneak around, in some cases). It’s always tense, engaging and satisfying, even if the environment is less sprawling and ambitious than the second game.

The stealth approach will see you sneak around the area and stun, stun or shoot your enemies with a bow and arrow – people will often be begging for their lives, which is always worrying. You can also go for the guns blazing option, with a fun array of weapons available to take down your enemies. The best encounters are usually a combination of the two, so don’t reload your save if you make a mistake and get caught.

New skills are unlocked with collectible pills and screws that are used to upgrade weapons, so your approach can evolve as you play. Excellent backstory Left behindwhich reveals more of Ellie’s backstory, is also available here as a menu option separate from the main game (and best played after you’ve completed the main story).

Joel and Ellie observe a bridge in a rural area in The Last of Us Part 1

Joel and Ellie’s journey takes them through rural and urban America.

Naughty dog

It plays like a more grounded version of its sister series Uncharted. I’ll admit that I mentally labeled The Last of Us as “GrimUncharted” after finishing the original, but that was reductive and immature. Now older and wiser, I appreciate the realism of this series.

For those who have played Part 2, the original may seem rather lacking. With a roughly 15-hour running time, less intensely scary encounters with the infected, and a more focused narrative, it doesn’t offer as much bang for your buck.

A dark odyssey

If you’ve been able to avoid spoilers for this series (especially the bad faith argument about such an incredible sequel), you’re in for a treat here. The Last of Us is among the best-written, most mature games I’ve ever played, and the PS5 remake is by far the best way to experience it.

The characters look as realistic as anything I’ve seen on console, the environments are lush and everything runs extremely smoothly. I only encountered one or two minor graphical issues while playing. Using the game of DualSense controller it’s subtle, but the drag as I pulled the trigger on the gun or readied my bow added a nice layer of immersion.

So The Last of Us Part 1 rules, but it’s also a full-price edition of a game that’s available in numerous other forms and lacks the multiplayer mode seen in previous versions – probably because a standalone multiplayer game is coming.

Joel from The Last of Us seen in comparison shots of the PS4 remaster and PS5 remaster

Joel remade the PS5 for The Last of Us Part 1.

Naughty dog

You should consider the PS4 remaster (which is playable on PS5 and available at no extra cost for $18 per month PS Plus Premium subscription service) or even the PS3 original (however, this version is not playable on PS4 or PS5) are still easy to obtain. Non-gamers can wait too the HBO show next year.

One way or another, I urge everyone to experience (or re-experience) The Last of Us in some form — Part 1 is also coming to PC at some point. Some moments may fade with time, but you’ll be engaged for every excruciating minute of your gameplay, and it’ll make you feel like few other games can.


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