The last console generation was a tremendous success for Naughty Dog. The gorgeous visuals and natural dialogue of the Uncharted series proved the team was capable of much more than cartoonish character platformers. The developer then escalated its storytelling to a dramatic new chapter with the unprecedented, visceral journey of a broken man seeking redemption. The Last of Us is the defining PlayStation 3 game, and Naughty Dog has refined its visuals and packed in meaningful DLC content for the new generation.
The Last of Us treads familiar ground for video games, with a post-apocalyptic world filled with infected humans hungry for flesh. Naughty Dog uses this grim backdrop to tell a dramatic tale about a man and the girl he must protect. Similar to the stories told in The Walking Dead and The Road, the narrative impact is found less in the moment-to-moment action and more about what Joel and Ellie say or don't say as they scrape by with one another. It's a powerful story of moral grays and unlikely bonds that I won't risk spoiling for those who will be experiencing it for the first time on PS4.
Also included in the Remastered package is the single-player DLC, Left Behind, which fills in a gap in the main story while offering insight into Ellie's life before meeting Joel. Ellie and a close friend explore their complicated friendship with each other while exploring a mall that packs an unexpected development. Naughty Dog does a terrific job of shifting between the grim tone of Ellie's adventure with Joel and a more lighthearted encounter with her friend. If you haven't played the brief-but-powerful Left Behind yet, the Remastered edition is the perfect opportunity.
Speaking of perfect opportunities, Remastered is the definitive way to play The Last of Us. Plenty of HD remakes have hit consoles in recent years, but Naughty Dog's PS4 update is among the most striking I've seen. The PS3 version of The Last of Us was no graphical slouch, but Remastered's improvements to the detailed character models, lighting system, and framerate dramatically elevate it above the original. Looking at the two versions side by side, it's remarkable how much smoother and crisper this new version is. Scanning the environment for clues or lining up crucial headshots feels silky smooth compared to the original (though you can still lock in Remastered's framerate at 30 frames-per-second if you're a crazy person).
For all the visual enhancements, the solid, visceral gameplay remains the same. Sneaking past or stealthily taking out violent Clickers and marauders is still the order of the day. Ammo is scarce, so eliminating enemies with spiked 2x4s and shivs is key. Ellie's A.I. pathfinding still suffers from occasional immersion-breaking hiccups, but thankfully she's invisible to foes. Merely surviving in The Last of Us can be a punishing task, but with that challenge comes the satisfaction of living to see the next turn in the unforgettable story.
The Last of Us made a profound impact on how I view storytelling in games when I originally played it on the PlayStation 3. I didn't review the game then, but my thoughts on its myriad strengths line up well with what Matt Helgeson conveys in his original review. My personal feelings on Naughty Dog's masterpiece place it a hair higher on our review scale compared to Matt's original glowing review, PS4 bonuses aside.
All the graphical improvements are wonderful, but you may be wondering if The Last of Us Remastered is for you. Like the best visual updates, Remastered plays like you remember it. If you played 2013's Game of the Year near release and have been dying to return to the dark tale, then this is a great opportunity. If you never played The Last of Us at all, this is absolutely the way to do it. But be careful - you'll never want to go back to the PS3 original again after reveling in all the improvements.
Note: We were unable to test The Last of Us Remastered's multiplayer prior to release, which includes all previously released DLC. These competitive online modes were fun in the original, but weighed little on our overall impression of the game. When the servers are live, we will spend time with these modes in Remastered and update the review accordingly.