The Last of Us Part I Review

Four things I like about this game, and one I don't

By Paul Hunter

How do you improve upon gaming perfection like The Last of Us? If you're Naughty Dog, the preeminent developer within Sony's PlayStation Studios, you remake it from the ground up on PS5. And make no mistake, The Last of Us Part I is the best version—by a long shot—of one of the greatest games to ever exist.

The Last of Us Part I applies the learnings Naughty Dog has acquired over the nine years since the original game's launch on PS3, including many of the advancements seen in 2020's The Last of Us Part II. The result is a stunning achievement that looks and plays exactly how your mind remembers the game, rose tinted glasses and all, even though in reality it's a massive improvement in so many ways. Let's get into it: Here are four things I liked about the game...and one I didn't.

Liked: Rebuilt Character Models

Leveraging PS5's powerful hardware, The Last of Us Part I pushes the boundary of visual fidelity and manages to equal, and in some ways surpass, the graphical benchmark set by The Last of Us Part II. The shiny new coat of paint adds incredibly to the game's immersion, and considering TLOU left an indelible mark exactly because we all got so immersed in the characters, this upgrade is huge.

The rebuilt character models bring everyone from Joel and Ellie to Tess and Tommy to life like never before. They look stellar, especially their facial details down to every last hair strand or pore, and it's great to see the redone animations now more accurately reflect the original motion capture.

The Last of Us has always been about tension—the high moments along with the lows—and with the upgraded character models, each scene delivers even more realism and impact. You can tangibly feel the terror in Joel and Ellie's faces when they get ambushed by Clickers, or the utter sadness whenever Ellie tries to dig into Joel's past. But it's not just that these characters graphically look so much better, it's also because of the subtle eye and facial movements that heightens the emotional tension. There are so many new emotional touches, like cheeky new winces, nuanced gazes, deadpan looks and somber introspective fades that elevates every scene. If the original narrative gave you a few gut punches or watery eyes, the sheer realism of this remake is sure to hit you like a Mack truck.

It's not just the human characters that have been given a full makeover—the infected have too. Their improved models not only look impressive but add to the combat's tension and terror. You get to see the mangled flesh of the Runners and Stalkers in crystal clear detail, but it's the Clickers that are most impressive with all the extra detail put into their fungal faces and bodies. The remade Bloaters are awesome, too, as you can see all their fungus armour in striking detail, and their splitting heads are more gruesome than ever.

Seeing the rebuilt characters and the terrifying new infected is impressive enough, but it's great that Naughty Dog also added a model viewer where you can collect each character and zoom in to soak up all the finer details. There are several variations of each character, as well, including Joel and Ellie in unique costumes, plus male and female versions of the infected wearing different outfits. A cool new addition, indeed!

Liked: Mind-Blowing Environment Upgrades

Immediately from the get-go with Joel, Sarah and Tommy in Austin, Texas, the environmental visual upgrades are massive. The moonlight that creeps into Joel's home is much more natural and realistic, but it's when all hell breaks loose in the city where the incredible visual fidelity smacks you across the face. The car crashes look so deadly and so phenomenal, and then later when Joel, Sarah and Tommy drive by the burning house my eyes were nearly popping out of my head. It might sound silly but that was the best damn burning house I've ever seen in a video game, it look absolutely like real footage. Just incredible to see.

This same level of mind-blowing environmental graphics permeates the entire experience. Bill's Town looks utterly ravaged by time, and the sheer volume of nature reclaiming the town is most impressive. The Pittsburgh skyline is spectacular—you can see for miles and buildings way off in the distance are crystal clear and just pop. The completely redone flowing water of Tommy' Dam is breathtaking, as it all the rebuilt dam machinery that is more realistic than ever. The University and the Firefly Lab, two areas with a heavy focus on inside exploration, are creepier and more immersive with the stellar lighting and higher textures the breathes even more life into each dilapidated room. Quite honestly, this remake in the conversation for best-looking game of all time, it's that huge.

What I also find impressive is that Naughty Dog didn't just apply high-res textures, they completely rebuilt every area in the game. You'll see boats in new locations while at the Lakeshore Resort, you'll find greater density of buildings in Pittsburgh, and you'll see most areas remixed with scenery items shifted around or completely replaced with other objects. Most impressive, way off in the background you'll see remade mountains with the same level of visual fidelity as seen in graphical showcases like 2018's God of War. I absolutely cannot wait for a YouTuber to post a side-by-side video walkthrough of The Last of Us and TLOU Part 1 just so I can appreciate the dramatic scenery changes in every single area.

A final note on the graphics: holy hell do the giraffes and monkeys look amazing. Those scenes impacted me huge because they look so damn real. The level of detail in the animals, and every aspect of the game for that matter, is simply stunning. The talent within Naughty Dog is something special in our industry.

Liked: Vast Accessibility Features

For years now, Sony has been pushing the boundary for greater accessibility in their games, and The Last of Us Part I takes their ambition one step further. The marque new accessibility feature are the audio descriptions for cinematics, which describes what's happening in every scene. The first time I played TLOU Part I I played with this feature turned off (as I wanted to replicate the original game's experience) but I've already started my second run with this feature turned on. This feature is very cool and obviously it took at lot of effort, so kudos to Naughty Dog. You can also flip on cutscene narration from the developers, including Neil Druckman, so I'm already planning my third run with that feature turned on.

Another incredible accessibility feature is the ability to turn on PS5 DualSense haptic feedback to feel the impact of spoken conversations. So if a character sternly delivers a line you'll feel the tension in your controller, and conversely if dialogue is spoken softly you can feel the gentle subtleties of their words. Seriously, this is impressive stuff.

In addition to these massive innovations, TLOU Part I includes dozens of accessibility features previously seen in other Sony Interactive games. These include increasing the HUD scale, applying a screen reader, flicking on high contrast for better visibility, awareness audio indicators, camera assists, lock-on aim, hold to complete QTEs, skip puzzles, and literally dozens more. We absolutely need to applaud Naughty Dog and Sony more for all these efforts: The Last of Us Part I will be accessible to many more players because of these features, and that's the right direction we need to move in.

Liked: DualSense and 3D Audio

The DualSense integrations in The Last of Us Part I are a game changer. There's haptic feedback to feel the pitter patter of rain, you can feel the gentle movements of the giraffes through your controller and you can sense the tension of the bow string as you draw arrows back. All the guns in the game also have a varying amount of resistance on the triggers, including being able to feel a shotgun blast and the pump that follows it. These DualSense features help to elevate the realism and tension of combat to the same degree that Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection did earlier in the year.

The Last of Us Part I also introduces 3D audio and that too helps to bring more immersion into each and every scene. It's so intense when sneaking around the spore-infested sewers and hearing Clickers shrieking from all around you. You can pinpoint the exact location of the infected without even seeing them thanks to the 3D audio. As cool as the 3D audio in combat is, I was actually even more impressed during the quiet moments with Joel and Ellie. Thanks to the 3D audio you can hear the conversations all around you as Ellie's relative position to Joel changes in real time. It's just so cool to hear Ellie's voice from behind you, when you're ahead of her, and then hearing the muffled sound of her voice through a wall when you turn a corner. It absolutely elevates lowkey moments and completely immerses you in the moment—exactly what you want from this award-winning narrative adventure.

Didn't Like: Some of the Pre-release Marketing

I'll just be blunt here: There's literally nothing wrong with this game. It's the raw definition of perfection. But I have to admit, the way this game was revealed and presented brought about expectations that simply did not make its way into the game. For example, we were told The Last of Us Part I featured "modern gameplay" and yes, I can attest that the gameplay is improved. Surely though I'm not the only one that originally interpreted "modern gameplay" to mean more like the gameplay of The Last of Us Part II. And that's not the case at all. They didn't introduce dodging, laying prone or the same degree of combat fluidity seen in the sequel.

There are gameplay improvements, but it's more nuanced and subdued. For instance, animations have been redone and there's a greater degree of fluidity with your movements. Naughty Dog has also revamped the calculations that determine which animations Joel or Ellie perform depending on your movements and their environment, and the result is tighter controls and move believable animations.

There are also numerous AI upgrades, including enemies interacting with their partners and environments in more authentic and realistic ways. Your AI allies, including Ellie and Tess, can now better anticipate enemies' future movements, allowing them to sneak to new cover without being seen. All these improvements make combat feel more realistic and they're great additions.

So the bottom line, really, is that The Last of Us Part I includes plenty of welcome gameplay enhancements, but these features should have been communicated better before expectations were set. If the graphics, 3D audio and haptic upgrades are full steps up from the original PS3 version, the gameplay improvements are only a half step. Honestly it just sucks to be expecting a larger degree of upgrades in this area only to be let down.

The Verdict

The Last of Us is arguably the best video game ever created, and this PS5 remake is better in every single way. So if the original game was a groundbreaking 10/10 experience, there's absolutely no way this game could be scored worse. Naughty Dog is in a league of its own, and this remake just reaffirms that.

Final Score: 10/10 - Masterpiece

The Last of Us Part I details

Platform: PS5
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Action-Adventure
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.