The Last of Us Remastered Developer: Naughty Dog Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Release Date: July 29, 2014
Single Player Campaign Review
By Rahat Haque
Every console generation, a title emerges as the defining experience for the era. For the Playstation 3, that title for many was considered to be the Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s swan song that reinvigorated fans’ expectations of what interactive media could represent. Naughty Dog came off the success of the Uncharted franchise, which became a flagship brand for the Playstation 3, and brought out a new experience with a much more serious tone with Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley at the helm. While post apocalyptic, zombie infested settings isn’t a new trope in gaming by any stretch, Naughty Dog’s spin truly set The Last of Us aside as the champion of this subgenre in storytelling.
When The Last of Us originally released in 2013 for the PlayStation 3, the industry was preparing for the imminent transition in console generation to PlayStation 4. At the time, it seemed developers had already exhausted the capabilities of the current console hardware. Yet, Naughty Dog found ways to push the system to exert quality that was to date unmatched. The game’s success garnered attention, rightfully so, from gaming fans regardless of brand allegiance. It was evident that it was an experience that had to be sought after in the moment despite the possibility of its rerelease on Playstation 4. An undeniable industry defining moment had unfolded with deserved praise attached. Nonetheless, The Last of Us Remastered brought the seminal PS3 experience to a broader audience, and for the better.
Revisiting The Last of Us in 2020 is a harrowing experience. Given the current medical climate, it becomes swiftly apparent that Naughty Dog created a truly plausible situation, and due diligent research had justifiably gone into representing this alternate reality. The story opens up with main protagonist Joel (Troy Baker) and his daughter Sarah (Hana Haynes) just prior to the onset of the outbreak of a deadly fungal disease. As the consequences of this infection manifest themselves, players are hurled into a world that is quickly deteriorating right in front of their eyes. With panic setting in, the inkling that the society these characters live in is about to collapse and devolve is a conclusion that the player helplessly recognizes as inevitable. Troy Baker immediately brings life to the character of Joel, and his performance from the advent of this story has an emotional impact. Players receive a taste of the cinematic quality that this experience will be and the engaging nature of the dialogue, unrivaled in most contemporary games.
The technical aspects of the game still hold to present day, and are comparable to the best triple A titles throughout this generation, which is an achievement given the initial release on previous hardware. Naughty Dog showcases exactly how they take advantage of the assets at their disposal as a Sony first party developer. It is indisputable that they are in the upper echelon of game development studios and have the proven track record for display. The PS4 version of the game is a much smoother playing experience, as the framerate is upped to 60 frames per second, and is a tangible difference that warrants the Remastered moniker. The graphical fidelity appropriately contrasts the destroyed modern architecture and overgrowing foliage that has resulted with the fall of society. The character design is incredibly detailed, with each individual being fleshed out with personality simply from their appearance. The facial expressions and demeanour of these characters can be felt through their animations, and tells a story without words of what they have experienced. Not to be outdone by the surviving characters of this story’s world, the infected are also distressingly brought to life with their design. Between stalkers, clickers, or bloaters, the physiological transformations these enemies have endured are painfully detailed. The clicker is arguably still one of the most terrifying antagonists found in any game. When these creatures prey on the player’s character, it is a disturbing scene that will leave behind an uneasy feeling.
To match the unprecedented quality script writing in this game, the voice acting had to deliver. The Last of Us is a triumphant example of the richness that high quality acting can bring to a videogame experience. These performances rival film and television, earning respect in their own right. Ashley Johnson is a standout as titular character Ellie, and compliments Troy Baker throughout the entirety of the story. Their evolving dynamic is one that encourages the player to relentlessly continue through the narrative. Baker and Johnson embody their characters tremendously via both voice acting and motion capture, creating a level of empathy that the player can relate to. The true testament to Naughty Dog’s effort to make The Last of Us a cinematic experience is also conveyed through the performances of the supporting cast. Jeffrey Pierce (Tommy), Annie Wersching (Tess), Merle Dandridge (Marlene), W. Earl Brown (Bill), Brandon Scott (Henry), Nadji Jeter (Sam) and Nolan North (David) all deserve recognition for their outstanding performances. The other major aspect of the audio production that highlights The Last of Us as a seminal triple A experience is the orchestral score. The dichotomy between the moments of character dialogue and music dispersed in cinematics, as well as gameplay segments, provides the ambiance that engrosses the player into the emotional nature of each sequence. Composer Gustavo Santaolalla expresses an unforgettable atmosphere with his music, and the soundtrack is an iconic achievement that will not be forgotten in gaming lore.
The Last of Us is undisputedly a technical marvel that will stand the test of time, and its story will resonate well into future generations. However, the most debatable element of the game is its gameplay. Whether it is an enjoyable gaming experience on the merits of its gameplay mechanics alone is arguable. The title is a stark difference to the fast-paced action of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise. The Last of Us is much more methodical in its approach, with the scarcity of resources (a detail in itself reflective of the game’s world) encouraging players to use stealth and plan out encounters prior to engagement. The majority of gamers will play this title for the revelation of the story, with the gameplay sequences feeling secondary and sluggish. The mechanics simply are not tight enough by modern gaming standards, and at its own detriment feels like an impediment to the next story beat the player is intrigued to come across. The game plays much more gracefully on PS4 than its PS3 counterpart, though it will not be enough to place it on the same pedestal as its story. The most enjoyable gameplay sequences of The Last of Us arise from narrative driven roots. The quieter moments wherein the characters partake in conversation that flesh out their history or their commentary on the world around them are what will be carved into the player’s memory. The prequel Left Behind story DLC taps into this strength, as its highlights are primarily from the gameplay sequences that exclusively involve character interaction.
In spite of its gameplay shortcomings, The Last of Us is a landmark moment for the videogaming industry. It is a reckoning for proving this medium’s storytelling capability. Not only has Naughty Dog crafted an artistic vision that brings validity to the worth of triple A budgets, the game transcends all barriers in terms of its appeal. The Last of Us will be a story that you’ll want all your friends, family, and loved ones to experience, even if they do not consider themselves gamers. That is the groundbreaking nature of its story, one that will haunt and resonate in your mind long after the credits roll. Perhaps the greatest compliment that can be levied in The Last of Us’ direction is that it will always stand on its own merit through generations to come, regardless of its sequels and potential spin offs. The Last of Us is the epitome of a creative masterpiece.