The Last Of Us Remastered
By rights The Last Of Us should not be as good as it is. On the face of it the game is a simple linear stealth action game with a fixed narrative. Nothing ground-breaking there right?
What makes The Last Of Us so special though is what Naughty Dog does with that industry-standard template to create one of the most compelling storytelling experience in gaming.
In almost every endeavour you can think of, there's an emphasis on getting the basics right. Do that and everything falls into place be it professional sports or a career in advertising. The same emphasis works double for game design.
The backbone of The Last Of Us is a fairly simple stealth-action game mechanic supported by some rudimentary crafting to help flesh out the games survival themes.
Sneaking around and taking out enemies whether they be blood-thirsty gangs of cannibal bandits or the ever-present infected which come in three increasingly-terrifying stages – Runner, Clicker and Bloater – is by far the best way to play The Last Of Us.
It's simple case of crouching to move quietly and take cover behind obstacles and using Listen Mode, which presents a limited-range sonar overlay that shows you where nearby enemies are and what they're doing.
It plays into the need to spread your resources by offering a way to take out enemies with minimal ammunition expenditure allowing you to save it for more dangerous encounters or when the stealth approach goes south.
Crafting is simple too. All usable items from nail bombs to health kits are made with a combination of two of seven items which can be scrounged up by scouring The Last of Us's richly detailed environments.
Like Uncharted before it there is some platforming elements as well and the odd, simplistic, quick-time event just to keep players on their toes.
Over the years of Naughty Dog building the Uncharted series they have slowly improved their ability to balance most of the elements that make up The Last Of Us's gameplay and it really shows.
The Last Of Us, on a mechanical level is a joy to play despite the comparative simplicity of each element. Most of what The Last Of Us requires you to do can be learned fairly early on and it just stops introducing new mechanics fairly quickly.
This is not a problem though as The Last Of Us is more than just another stealth-action survival game.
Where The Last Of Us really excels though is in its storytelling and pacing. Again, it does it by getting the basics right rather than innovating. It's not a branching narrative like Mass Effect or The Walking Dead: Season One. It's a straight run from start to finish with the player's only effect on the gameplay being to make sure Joel and Ellie get to where they need to be.
There's plenty of reward for this. Naughty Dog has managed to create story arcs for both Joel and Ellie that show the deepest character development that any story-driven game has ever produced short of Telltale's take on The Walking Dead.
What is so miraculous is that they manage to get the player invested in the characters without giving them any control over how the story turns out. Each emotional moment in the game – and there are many tough moments – is pitched perfectly without over-blowing the drama of the scene.
The Last Of Us Remastered manages to take everything to the next level. The game still plays as perfectly as it does on the PS3 but Naughty Dog has waste nothing in squeezing as much additional detail on the PS4.
Vegetation is thicker and more lush. It sways gently in the breeze. Textures are more detailed and the lip-synching and facial animations are terrifyingly close to the real thing. This sort of detail really helps to draw you into the story even more especially during the game's many deeply emotional moments.
Raising the experience from the PS3's 720p at 30fps to 1080p at 60fps on the PS4 just gently amplifies everything about the experience without damaging the experience in any way.
The Last Of Us is an emotional roller-coaster story that, with the upgrades offered by the PS4, is now about as close to gaming perfection as a simple linear adventure game can be. Naughty Dog's decision to enschew innovation in favour of perfecting their chosen method of storytelling has paid off in spades. Other developers on linear-narrative action games might as well just give up because it doesn't get any better than this.
The Last Of Us Remastered is available now on the PS4 and includes all of the DLC currently released for the PS3 version. The PS3 version is still also available for those folks that don't have a PS4 yet.
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