The Last Of Us: Remastered Review
The Last Of Us isn't perfect, and neither is the Remastered edition. Let's get that out of the way right now. However, it's important to clarify because there are those who believe a perfect 10 should be taken literally. It does not imply literal "perfection" in my eyes; it merely states that it's the best possible production given the current market conditions, technology and competition. As this is my definition, I can't in good conscience give this updated edition of an instant classic anything less than a 10. Nothing tops it, and that includes so-called next-gen offerings.
Many have made a big stink over the frames per second issue, and whether or not the game will look and play better with an enduring 60FPS. I'm not about to get caught up in such trivialities, though. Yes, trivialities. I'm sure the technophiles and uber-electronic geeks experience a rising pulse rate when discussing these matters, but they honestly bore me. The bottom line is that this remains one of the most visually accomplished titles in all of video game history, from each meticulously designed detail (such as the very human quirks of facial emotion) to the breathtaking, diverse world design and flawless animation. And that's that.
In experiencing this amazing game for the second time, I was once again struck by the quality and authenticity of the stellar voice acting. Troy Baker (Joel) and Ashley Johnson (Ellie) lead a fantastic cast, and this ensemble delivers what might be the best dramatic performance in all of interactive entertainment. Then we've got the stirring, wonderfully orchestrated score, and some of the best audio effects I've ever heard. The combination of these unbelievable technical elements results in an unparalleled technical and artistic presentation. I still say there's a very minor balancing issue between the soundtrack and effects but that's the only negative I can muster.
Despite all the controversy surrounding this Remastered version of The Last Of Us, it's really this simple: If you haven't played it, now's the time. Featuring the excellent Left Behind DLC, along with director and actor commentary and the spruced-up technical aspects, this is a true tour de force. You can argue all day about the 30FPS vs. 60FPS topic but as far as I'm concerned, this game thrives on its story, characters, atmosphere and tension. From the moment you begin, you feel that sense of growing urgency; you're always alert, sensing that danger is always lurking, which in turn demands vigilance.
When it comes to basic control and gameplay mechanics, it's hard to find fault. A standard third-person system with a great cover mechanic, TLoU blends action, stealth and adventure elements. While many will quickly claim it's "nothing new," I'm of the mindset that such a production is singular. Yes, strictly from a genre perspective, this game didn't break boundaries in terms of action, horror or stealth. I get it. At the same time, can you name another production that fuses such elements so perfectly? Is there another game that so accurately balances a linear construct with appreciated gameplay freedom?
The best part is that regardless of how you approach each section - be it quiet and stealthy or loud and in-your-face - you never lose that aforementioned tension. You never forget that you're outnumbered and in some ways, outmatched. You don't lose sight of the fact that you've got a young girl with you who, while all sorts of capable and spunky, is still a little girl. You feel that bond between Joel and Ellie throughout. Those who aren't familiar with scriptwriting and storytelling in the interactive realm don't understand how difficult this is to accomplish. I can't name another video game where I felt so closely attached to the main characters.
That's a testament to the plot and pacing of the story, and how each scene unfolds. One could argue that some scenes are overdone, brimming with unnecessary bad language and horrid visceral displays of gore and death. I won't dispute that point because it's a legitimate one. This is indeed a brutal experience and although such brutality enhances the immersion, it too often takes center-stage. I didn't really notice it quite as much the first time, but the second time around, the extreme violence did start to get to me. Perhaps it was due to the enhanced visual quality, or maybe it was because I'm now more interested in the artistic angles of the game.
The addition of the Left Behind expansion makes a big difference because that isn't just a bunch of multiplayer maps. If you didn't know, it's a full single-player experience that focuses on Ellie's back story and her relationship with an old friend, Riley. It's extremely well presented and expands upon the intriguing lore of the game, and it also encourages players to adopt a more tactful, stealthy approach. Remember, Ellie isn't as strong as Joel, so avoiding direct encounters with enemies is a darn good idea. I will also add that the inclusion of director and actor commentary sheds even more light on a remarkable production.
Your enemies remain as frightening as ever, and that includes the human foes you must face. The reason they're so fearsome is because the developers do such an amazing job of implementing a believable post-apocalyptic atmosphere. Everything you encounter, from clickers to human brigands, poses a very real and very dire threat, which is why just about anything that moves makes you suspicious. It's the cultivation and growth of this creeping sensation that makes this game what it is: An endlessly thrilling, immensely polished adventure that never skips a beat. Nothing about it is average, let alone mediocre.
Why did this game receive the accolades it did? Why does it say "Winner of Over 200 Game of the Year Awards" on the cover? I honestly believe it's because of the solidarity and consistency of the package. When everything seems excellent, and it all gels into this impressively riveting quest, it's exceedingly difficult to locate any drawbacks. Of course, as I said at the start, no game is perfect. The AI remains questionable in some respects; I didn't run across this too much the first time, but I caught a few more examples of it the second time. Even so, when compared to the competition, it's hardly a glaring flaw.
Saying The Last Of Us: Remastered is an absolute triumph seems redundant. I said it when the original released last year, after all. And yeah, it's basically the same game with a glossier coating and a few additions. But consider: What have we seen in the last 15 months or so that even comes close? Seriously? If the next-gen consoles produced some unbelievably memorable titles, and they represented large strides forward, then the competition would be stiffer right now. But that hasn't really happened yet and as such, I can only compare Remastered to what is currently available, not what's coming. When I do, and as I said above, how can it be anything but a 10?
The Good: Updated graphics make the game even more visually stunning. Still some of the best audio - from the acting to the soundtrack - this industry has ever heard. Stellar level and character design. Fantastic sense of immersion and attachment. Great story with memorable, sympathetic characters. Solid, responsive control. The entire package is just immensely polished.
The Bad: The AI isn't perfect.
The Ugly: "Lots of gore...perhaps too much?"
8/1/2014 Ben Dutka