Note: As this game is nigh on identical to the PS3 release we have recycled sections of Mike Allison's original review. Major additions and changes to the PS4 version have been noted accordingly.
The Last of Us begins with a prologue that gives you a snapshot of real life, that is, a father dealing with issues such as a mortgage, job hassles and raising a daughter all by himself. After a brief scene you take control of the daughter who receives a frantic phone call from her uncle asking to speak to her dad just as the phone cuts out. As you search around the house for your dad you'll see a newspaper article that states there has been a 300% increase in hospital admissions due to a mysterious infection.
Your dad isn't in his room but the TV is on and it's showing live footage of major trouble not far from your house. An explosion roars, ending the broadcast abruptly, and at the same time you see the explosion out of the bedroom window. If you weren't already panicking you definitely are now! You find your dad soon after, but he's as frantic as you are and he tells you it's time to get the heck out of town. Your dad throws you into the car and as you drive to the highway you see all kinds of carnage – a barn on fire, people fleeing their homes and a massive logjam of vehicles on the road to the highway.
While attempting to find a way around the logjam you're involved in a car crash. As you try to gather your senses you see infected people running rampant, ripping people to shreds. The world's gone to hell in a hurry, and it's all you can do to escape with your dad. Welcome, to The Last of Us.
Life is certainly different now, with pockets of humanity carving out lives in dilapidated quarantine zones managed by remnants of the military. Joel makes a living by smuggling items in and out of the quarantine zone, and it's a ruthless life. Joel (the dad in the prologue), has certainly changed to adapt to his current circumstances – in the opening scenes the idea of hurting someone is foreign to him, but nowadays he's desensitized to violence, so much so that breaking someone's arm during an interrogation seems normal. Choking people unconscious, using them as human shields or shooting them in the face – these are the tools Joel now employs.
The Last of Us is a survival horror/action-adventure game played from the third-person perspective. Joel has no shortage of enemies in the game, both human and infected, so combat and stealth make up the bulk of the gameplay. You have guns at your disposal, but ammunition is scarce enough that you can't always rely on your guns.
As such you have to use stealth and melee skills just as much as your guns. If you've played Hitman Absolution then a lot of the concepts in The Last of Us will be familiar. Bricks and bottles can be picked up and thrown to get a nearby enemies attention and lure them to a certain spot. This gives you the opportunity to sneak up behind them and choke them out. Or, if you prefer the pacific approach you can simply sneak past.
Joel is a crafty fella, so he can turn the supplies he finds on his travels into deadly weapons like Molotovs and nail bombs among other things. He can also spruce up the wooden planks and metal pipes he finds by turning them into one-shot killing weapons with careful application of tape and blades. The supplies for all of these weapons are almost as rare as ammunition though, so you'll have to search every environment thoroughly if you want to have a well-stacked inventory.
If stealth is more your cup of tea then you'll find Joel's ‘listen mode' to be an invaluable tool. By focusing his hearing (by holding R2) Joel can pinpoint any nearby enemies that are moving or talking, even through walls. A completely stationery enemy won't show up, but most enemies in the story are either moving or talking (unlike online opponents) so you'll be able to spot them. ‘Listen mode' is definitely helpful, but after a while it does feel a bit like cheating. That probably explains why it is disabled on the toughest difficulty setting.
As you make your way through the game it's possible to level up Joel's skills, but doing so doesn't occur naturally. To enhance Joel's skills you have to find skill pills, and then use them to level up the skill(s) of your choice. The skills you can enhance include your maximum health, the range of your listen mode, the speed at which you craft items and apply health kits, and the amount of sway when aiming your weapons.
There aren't enough skill pills in the game to fully upgrade all of Joel's skills, but there is new game+ for that. Interestingly new game+ unlocks only for the level of difficulty you complete (and those below it), so if you play on Normal you'll unlock Normal+, and won't be able to tackle Survival mode with enhanced gear. At least not until you complete the game on Survival difficulty first.
Somewhat surprisingly there isn't huge variety in enemies throughout the game. There are plenty of different human factions to fight over the course of the game, but as far as infected enemies go there are only four types, based on how long they have been infected for. There are enemies known as Runners, who still have their sight and will charge straight at you once they see you. Stalkers are much the same as Runners, but are even more deadly.
Enemy intelligence is quite variable, but most enemies are alert enough to respond to movements and sounds, even something as quiet at reloading your gun if you're close to them. Once an enemy spots you it is possible to lose them by sprinting away and breaking the line of sight, but for the most part if you're spotted it's going to result in a fight.
While most of the game involves sneaking past enemies, or engaging them in combat, Naughty Dog does a credible job breaking up the action. At one stage later in the game you get access to a horse and areas that are much more open than what you've seen before in which to ride it. There's also a lengthy section where you have to escape a town full of enemies during a blizzard that reduces everyone's vision significantly. Although these sections are rare in the grand scheme of things, they do keep the game fresher than it might otherwise have been.
So the other big addition to this Remastered release is the inclusion of the Left behind. We never played this on PS3 so went in fresh and can see why people raved about it so much. The DLC covers two time periods, one before Joel meets Ellie in the main story, and one set in the middle of the main story and covers a pivital event. We won't spoil it but needless to say, take Sony's advice and don't play this before the main campaign.
Oh, if that wasn't enough too Naughty Dog have created a Photo Mode. When you turn this on you can hit L3 during the game and take a photo of the current scene. Brilliantly however you have total control over the camera location, the lens, film grain, colour tone, brightness, borders and much more. It's a brilliant addition which we would love to see in more games.
The Factions multiplayer includes the two original modes Supply Raid (death-match with re-spawns) and Survivors (death-match without respawns) as well as a third called Interrogation which sees you having to interrogate enemies to find the position of a Lockbox. With gameplay taken from and including the ability to craft and use items and superbly crafted maps this is an experience with very few issues (even matchmaking issues are improved with the games 1.02 update).
There are all the usual customization options here – you can store up to four default loadouts or use one of the eight default classes (which is double that of the original PS3 release and includes classes such as Assault, Sniper, Support, Stealth, Onslaught, Infiltrator, Rainmaker or Striker), there are tons of clothes to unlock and equip, as well as gestures and stacks of survival skills that do things like boost reduce crafting time, give weapons auto-zoom or allow you to sprint further.
One neat twist to the multiplayer is that every player is growing their own faction outside of games. Initially your faction has just a few people (five from memory), but that will grow or decline based on your online efforts. At the end of each match your performance is broken down into a net gain or loss of supplies. If you performed well you should earn lots of supplies, but a poor performance might leave you with no supplies at all.
Maintaining your faction takes a certain amount of supplies – earn more than that amount and more people will join you, but earn less than this amount and your faction members get hungry, sick or even die. The size of your faction isn't especially important, but it does give you a reason to keep fighting, and can be a source of pride when you grow a larger faction than your friends.
As far as issues go, there really aren't many to mention. The two most glaring have to do with enemy AI and concessions Naughty Dog have had to make to reality in order to make a better game. For most of the game you'll be walking around with at least one companion, and in a wise move Naughty Dog has made it so that your companions can't be spotted by the enemy. Unfortunately this shatters the illusion of stealth when your companion stands out in the open, or right in front of an enemy (or even bumps into them) without alerting the enemy to their presence.
A similar issue is that enemies are frequently (always?) oblivious to the light from your torch. In one instance we stood behind a human enemy turning the flashlight on and off and they didn't notice our presence. As far as the game goes it's good that you can have the flashlight on to see where to go in dark sections, but on the other hand it ruins the atmosphere to a certain degree, especially considering how alert enemies are to sounds. Two much smaller issues are that your companions often block your way and can be stubborn about moving, and enemies with guns that are shooting at you rarely drop bullets – they just disappear. On balance though all of these issues are minor. The only other thing worth mentioning is that the PS4 version has an install size of 48GB - a phenomenally large install compared to Naughty Dog's PS3 titles that streamed off Blu-Ray with minimal installs.
As with the PS3 title The Last of Us is a gorgeous game, truly stunning. The environments are immaculately crafted, and thoroughly believable. Inside the quarantine zone garbage fills the streets and grass is sneaking through now large cracks in the pavement. Buildings are run down, with ceilings collapsing and floors rotting.
The world outside the walls of the quarantine zone is lush, with nature reclaiming the world as we know it. Vines grow up the sides of buildings, and in some cases trees grow through them. All metal is rusting so you'll see a lot of rusted out cars around the place, while the pavements and roads are more cracked than solid. Small touches, like the realism of your reflection in glass or the sheen of your clothes after they get wet work a treat.
The motion capture is as precise as you'd expect from Naughty Dog, building on their fine work from Uncharted, and the lip-synching is spot on – something that really adds to the immersion during the already gripping cut-scenes. It's worth mentioning the game is also extremely violent - stomping an infected's head to pulp, or shooting enemies with shotguns at close range are both gory enough to justify the R-rating alone, and there are a lot more gruesome things in the game that we won't mention here.
As with the PS3 version this game does contain the occasional graphical glitch. When we started the game two of the early cut-scenes saw characters jumping and dialogue missed - we suspect though it was as the game was installing as it didn't happen again. There were still, however, occasional minor clipping issues.
The sound effects are excellent, and the audio cues to let you know when significant things like enemies lurking nearby or when you wander into an enemy's line of sight are very helpful. Little touches like how much less noise you make while crouching compared to walking also work well. Silence is used well to build the tension too. Certainly the highlight though is the wonderful, often understated, music by composer Gustavo Santaolalla which responds to the on-screen action, reaching a crescendo when you engage in a fight, or staying quiet when you're trying to sneak past enemies. There are an abundance of poignant guitar solos, and they usually fit the mood of the game like a glove.
With Blu-Ray quality audio already being pushed through the PS3 we didn't expect much more from this PS4 version and indeed it's largely the same. There are though some enhancements with The Last Of Us Remastered allows you set the type of listening environment, the dynamic range and even select your audio configuration (2.0, 5.1 or 7.1) and the angle at which the speakers are positioned in the room for optimal listening. Naughty Dog have also made use of the Dual Shock 4's speaker so audio will occasionally come out from that which is a nice touch.
With masterful story telling, characters that will resonate, supremely engaging gameplay, and great multiplayer this release is hard to pass up. The Last of Us: Remastered is an essential purchase for those that never played the PS3 release, no doubt about it, but for those who payed the PS3 version the jump in visuals, and added DLC might be hard to justify given the price point. We said it in the original PS3 review, and we'll say it again, The Last of Us pushes characters and story to uncharted levels in a video game and is a game everyone (over 18 years of age) should play.
Review By: Dave Warner