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When you want a greener post-apocalypse than Fallout

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    The Last of Us Remastered

    Rating: 4.0 – Great

    When you want a greener post-apocalypse than Fallout

    Sometimes, a game pops up that tends to be a defining point for that year, the console or entire generation in gaming. Games that transcend beyond the normal and gets so well-known, loved and talked about that they’ll stay with gamers long after the credits have rolled. Usually they’re groundbreaking and exclusive to their systems – Final Fantasy VII did it for the Playstation and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time did it for the Nintendo 64. So while the PS3 generation of gaming did cloud things up a bit with many previously exclusive series turning multiformat the probably most acclaimed game was a non-series game released by Naughty Dog towards the end of the PS3’s lifetime – The Last of Us.

    Naughty Dog surely has a reputation of being good developers, and one not afraid to scrap old ideas and do something new; they begun with Crash Bandicoot who got three main games and some spinoffs, and then followed that pattern with Jak and Daxter on the PS2 and then it felt like they’d do it again with Uncharted but there a fourth numbered installment was released 5 years after the third. Between that they didn’t only release The Last of Us for the PS3 in 2013, but also had the time to remaster it for the PS4 just a year after the initial release. While it surely acted to contribute to the pretty bad reputation as the "remasters and sequels" console the PS4 had in its early days, it’s still a neat compilation where they’ve included all DLC, and for the few of us (like the writer of this review) who didn’t bother to play it on the PS3 it’s always nice to have a game available on a current format. But was the hype just temporary mass hysteria, or can the game really be as good as it’s said to be? Let’s go in-depth!

    Graphics

    The Last of Us is a good-looking game, definitely no doubt about it. However it always becomes a bit hard to judge a remaster of an old game on a new system; it pretty much never utilizes the full power of the current hardware (it’d take a remake for that, like Resident Evil on the GameCube) but instead only a few tricks has been added to make it look little to much better. The Last of Us was already a great looking game on PS3 so it’s almost that you’d like to say that "this kind of visuals couldn’t be pulled off on old hardware" and with added stuff like better lighting it’s probably true, but there’s no denial that there are and will be PS4 games that are much more impressive, that’s built ground-up for the console.

    The areas you explore look really really nice and detailed; in case you didn’t know it the game takes place after a plague has affected a majority of the population in the world so everything feels very post-apocalyptic. However unlike other media like Fallout or Max Max that present the post-apocalyptic world as a barren wasteland, this feels both nicer to look at and more realistic – if you look up photos of Pripyat you’ll see how one of the cities closest to Chernobyl has become in the 30 years that’s happened since the reactor incident and people had to leave. It isn’t a wasteland, even though in this particular case it WAS a nuclear accident, but instead what has happened is that nature has started to reclaim the area. Grass has started growing from cracks in the roads, and birds and other animals has found ways to claim various spaces in buildings as their own. This is pretty much the same style The Last of Us has pursued; when society fell and things couldn’t get maintenance anymore people had to cling together in smaller safe zones or live outside of it all, but still not enough to keep cities running meaning that everything is going back to nature. Overall it’s both powerful and beautiful to look at, and really manages to keep the areas of the game looking interesting. While there are a few things that get reused from time to time – like particular kinds of crates or stuff like toilets – the game still manages to make each area feel pretty fresh and it’s always interesting to see what the next part will look like. However, since the game isn’t open-world it often feels like areas might be a bit cramped, and while they’ve made the blocked-off areas feel natural (like with crashed trucks) it’s not always it works. Also for being a game with smaller areas it doesn’t look that impressive; games like Beyond: Two Souls has also managed to pull off similar graphics since they also deal with a similar type of limited environments, and the only thing to make this really feel like a PS4 game with great graphics are the added light effects.

    However, one thing where the game really shines are the character movement and facial expressions. These are truly among the best ever seen in a videogame so far, and this becomes pretty important as the relationship that forms between the protagonists is one of the main points of the entire game, and it’s really nice to see some of the more subtle things in their interactions. Another plus is that full-body animations look great too; not only the main characters but also enemies and others have a really smooth movement pattern that looks very realistic, and when noticing you they nicely switch between lookout and fighting mode. Overall, the environment graphics look really good even if they’re not that advanced for the hardware, but the area where the game really manages to shine is when it comes to the characters.

    Sound effects and music

    It isn’t only in the graphics department The Last of Us gets a chance to shine; it also manages to have some extremely good audio, and not only in parts of it but instead the whole package just screams quality. The voice acting features common household names who are in pretty much every videogame like Nolan North and Troy Baker along with some people that has had previous voice acting jobs but might not be as famous such as Merle Dandridge and Ashley Johnson, the latter being the voice of Ellie which is pretty impressive since she just sounds SO much like a fourteen year old girl despite being much older. What’s interesting is how everyone really manages to make a really good script work well as interactions between the characters; a lot of times a good script has been mangled by one or more actors not doing a good job, or good actors has had to work with a supbar script, but here it just works so perfectly together. A special mention should go to W. Earl Brown who is the voice behind Bill, who is pretty much a comic relief character in the game; that’d make it really easy to fall into the trap of becoming to blunt or overacting, but it just works since he manages to keep the balance just fine so Bill manages to work as a funny character while still feeling believable. Really impressive.

    The music also feels very fitting for the game, and they’ve gone in an interesting direction with it; unlike many other games where the score is bombastic and gets more and more intense as you get into firefights and whatnot, The Last of Us instead goes in a reverse direction. Most of the music you’ll notice are during quieter and safe scenes, during moments when you’ve just reached a protected area or when you’re trekking through the woods. Most of the score consists of very subtle strings and the sounds of a nylon-string guitar that almost evokes a western or Mexican feeling. It just fits well with the emptiness and the nature environments of the game, and there’s no doubt that Naughty Dog hit it right home when they got Gustavo Santaollalla as the composer.

    Sealing the trifecta of the sounds in the game are the sound effects. While this is a category that’ll never be as directly noticeable as the two previous ones it’ll still feel like something is a bit off if it doesn’t deliver, but here they’ve managed to get these to sound great too. The squishiness of a metal pipe to an enemy, the sound of gunfire, everything just sounds so perfect. It’s also interesting to hear how they’ve worked with surround sound since a huge part of the game is actually audio; on lower difficulties you can "see" enemies through walls by using a feature to "listen" to locate them and certain enemies rely solely on a bat-like echolocation technique to notice you. This translates well when playing with a surround sound set since it’ll give you the opportunity to pinpoint where an enemy is depending on where the sound is coming from, and it just works really well. So everything about the audio, be it music, effects or voice acting, is really great in The Last of Us.

    Story

    As mentioned earlier, the vast majority of the game take place 20 years after a plague started that wiped out a majority of earth’s population. The introduction of the game however takes place in Texas in September 2013, a few months after the game was initially released IRL, and here we’re introduced to player character Joel through a cutscene where he comes home late after working overtime and is greeted by his daughter Sarah who has gotten him a new wristwatch as a birthday present. She falls asleep on the sofa, and he carries her upstairs to put her to bed and then the game suddenly let you play as her for a while; in the middle of the night she’s awakened by a phone call from Joel’s brother Tommy who tells her that he needs to talk to Joel and then the line cuts out. While the game is filled with creepy scenes, this one actually ranks among creepiest since not only do you play it as a 12-year-old girl, but it also feels very real; the pandemic that’s begun without anyone knowing what’s up, the news reports that just seems to go on. But still the home we’re going through looking for Joel is a very normal home, it feels like it could be real. The whole situation feels like how in real life the aftermath of a terrorist attack, natural disaster or similar event is reported in media along with the overall public uneasiness, which is why it feels pretty scary. Joel is eventually found as he have to kill one of his neighbours who’s trying to kill him, and then Tommy appears in a car to take them to the safety of the quarantine zone. It doesn’t go according to plan however, and after some very sad events which goes down we’re treated to the intro credits and are then transported 20 years into the future.

    Somehow not explained, Joel has now relocated to Boston and is a smuggle runner along with his business partner Tess. The game picks up pretty slowly and your first objective is to track down an arms dealer who cheated Joel and Tess out of a load of weapons. This early chapter acts to teach you both how the controls and game mechanics work and it’s also an introduction to the post-apocalyptic world of The Last of Us. After encountering the arms dealer they find out that a politic group known as the Fireflies has the weapons, and they’re only willing to give them back if Joel and Tess agree to go on a smuggling mission to a building on the other side of town. What’s supposed to be smuggled is Ellie, the 14-year-old girl and secondary main character of the game. So with that starts a long journey that’ll go a lot further than initially planned, and that’s pretty much all that should be said in order to not spoil it.

    Overall, the plot of the game isn’t that big. The enjoyment of it is more along the lines of interaction between people and especially seeing how the relationship between Joel and Ellie develops as they spend more time together. Considering this is a post-apocalyptic world and a lot of the time is spent outside of the inhabited quarantine zones there aren’t too many characters you meet, but those that feature in cutscenes and have names and speaking roles also feel like they’ve got a personality and it’s interesting to see how the post-apocalypse have affected people and especially when it’s so close to it that there’s a generation that was alive when it happened (Joel) and those born afterwards having not experienced anything else (Ellie). Other than that the story isn’t too impressive, though this whole plague is pretty fascinating; it’s a bit both gross and interesting to read up on how there actually IS a fungal infection that can take over the hosts brain to make them aggressive – though only found in ants in real life – it feels a bit strange that it’s a sickness that’ll take over hosts, make them aggressive, and they spread the disease by taking a bite off of their victims. The overall feeling is zombie, zombie, zombie but the game just flat-out refuses to call them that and instead goes with the term "infected". Trying to rebrand a zombie game into something else while still keeping the core mechanic of it makes it feel very pompous, and like it takes itself too seriously. So when the game seems to check every trope of the zombie-media checklist it’s hard to not think "damn couldn’t you just have went all-in and called it zombies?" a few times. But it’s still outweighed by the good human characters in the game, and as said thankfully they went with the green and more realistic way of postapocalypse than most games in the genre does. So the realistic characters and the road trip-type story and environments work really well in conjunction together.

    But as said the big story isn’t that important, but rather it’s about the interaction between characters. Since everybody from voice actors to graphics artists doing a great job it’s really possible to feel it. While the gruff old man like Joel has been done many times before it gets more acceptable than the zombie tropes since it’s done really really good here. But especially Ellie is impressive too because not only is she much more than an escort mission McGuffin in gameplay – she helps out by warning you for enemies behind you and distracts them by throwing bottles and bricks – it’s also surprising how much she acts and feels like a real teenager, and how they’ve even managed to twist it so that she isn’t just annoying; when she is it’s more played for laughs since it annoys Joel but the chemistry between the two make it funny for the player to watch. It’s just so interesting how they managed to make a character so good of something that could’ve easily become an irritating trainwreck.

    Controls

    While there are a lot of things you can do in The Last of Us, if you’ve played any other third person action game in the last few years you’ll probably pretty easily get the hang of the controls. With the left and rights analogue sticks you’ll control the character and camera respectively, and you’ve got a good amount of options to customize both the sensitivity and inversions of the stick movements. By pressing down on R3 you’ll light on or off your flashlight, and L3 is used both to look at an objective or path you need to take, which you’re notified by a big L3 mark appearing in the bottom left of the screen, and at all other times you can use it to start the newly-added photo mode.

    The X button is used to climb objects or jump in certain cases, with Circle you toggle on or off the crouching mode, with Triangle you can pick up items that you find or interact with objects or people and finally with Square you can do a melee attack. What’s impressive is how fast and smooth everything feels; even if the melee attack has a bit of a swing before it can connect it still feels like it’s executed very fast after the button press no matter what you were doing at that moment. The quickest and smartest solution to the controls, however, has got to be the weapon selection. Each type of weapon or item has got its own direction assigned to it on the D-pad (like big guns to the left and small firearms to the right) and with just a touch of the button you’ll open the selector and can then navigate it to just mark the weapon you need, and it’ll be ready to use as soon as you’ve marked it. The guns are locked so that you can only have one (or two after an upgrade) of each type accessible in this menu at a time even though you’ll pick up several different ones, but changing it won’t take that much longer as you only need to hold down X over a weapon to open a second reel selector that lets you swap it. Sure in a firefight all time is precious, but it really feels like they’ve found the balance here between sluggish paused menu navigation and easy access to what you’ve picked up.

    Something you’ll need to stop for a while and find a secluded spot to do, however, is the crafting. This is actually done through a menu, but still while the game is "live", but this menu is accessed by pressing on the touchpad and then you navigate it with the D-pad and craft things by holding down X. With the Options button you can access the pause menu where you can look up the different in-game achievements, access some of the options, skip movie scenes, load and save data, reload a checkpoint or exit to main menu.

    The shoulder buttons are a bit customizable, but the default is to use L1 to sprint, holding down L2 to aim, R1 to fire when aiming or reload your weapon when not, and then R2 is used to activate the listening mode – more on that later. Overall, while there are a lot you can do with the controls they’re still pretty easy to learn and really feels like they work well pretty much every time you want to do something. Considering some of the fights can get pretty hectic it’s important that the controls won’t let you down, feel sluggish or too confusing, and The Last of Us delivers in that regard.

    Gameplay

    So the graphics are gorgeous, the story has great characters and the controls work well, how is the gameplay? Actually, it’s here the game feels like it’s got a bit of a problem. For anyone who has played other third-person linear games the formula will feel very familiar; it’s pretty easy to tell when you come to an area where enemies will appear whom you’ll have to fight since there will be cover everywhere. Boxes, cars, shelves, overturned tables – sure the items themselves are natural, but often it feels like the positions they’re in are not. This is pretty immersion-breaking, and makes the gameplay parts feel very game’ey. But basically much of the game consists of three different types of areas – "arenas" where you fight off enemies, smaller puzzles and finally some breather levels where you just go around and explore and look at the views. The balance between them are pretty well-adjusted, but as said it never really surprises you when the enemies show up.

    As mentioned in the story section the game is kind of a road movie story, which means that it’ll take place over multiple areas and seasons leading to a pretty good variety in locations and environments. One thing that’s pretty strange however is the pacing of it all; the first few chapters in the game takes place in Boston, and then another few in Pittsburgh. The thing is when you’re finished with them you’ve completed a good 50 or 60 percent of the gameplay in the game, but the story feels like it’s still just beginning, with maybe its progression being only 30 percent. It leads to a pretty slow start for the game, and then the later parts almost feels a bit rushed compared to the gameplay, but overall the slow beginning is probably the part to suffer most from it.

    Many people tend to think of this game as a survival horror game, and while it’s pretty easy to see where they’re coming from it doesn’t always have the mark of one. There are five difficulty levels in the game, and even up to Hard (the third) it’ll be pretty easy to find the ammo and supplies you need, at least if you don’t try to go into every fight guns blazing. The difficulty levels will mostly affect enemy health, your health and available ammo and supplies; the amount of enemies and their intelligence seems to be at pretty much the same level throughout. The hardest difficulty, Grounded, also does away with the HUD so you can’t see how much ammo or health you’ve got left, and together with the just lower Survivor it also removes the listening ability. Listening is otherwise a pretty neat ability to have where you can "see" the outline of enemies through walls by "listening" for them, however that means that they must make some form of noise – like moving around. It’s pretty good for keeping track of where enemies are when you can’t see them, however there are also some forms of enemies that can use a similar trick towards you.

    There aren’t THAT many enemy types in The Last of Us; there are the humans who seem to be pretty much deaf when you’re sneaking around them but they see you pretty quickly plus they use gear and tactics to their advantage. It’s not uncommon for a human in a group to try to flank you while dealing with the rest, so it’s good to just keep moving and try to shake them off. Then there are a few various kinds of zombi… eer, "infected" for you to deal with too. There are the runners, who are basically just running to attack you as soon as they see or hear you, then there are the clickers who rely entirely on echolocation to find their prey. This is a technique also used by some animals like bats or by some blind humans, in which they make a clicking sound and by hearing how it resonates in the room can find objects and obstacles. In-game, this means that as long as you don’t move too quickly close to a clicker, they won’t spot you. There are a few more enemy types, but those three are the most commonly ran into and what’s interesting is since they’re so different you really have to handle encounters with them in different ways. Overall it’s possible to sneak through a lot of the parts of the game as long as you know what you’re doing, and especially parts with only clickers can be easy to get past without raising any suspicion since it’s just to go sloowly. However this is a thing that only really works on harder difficulties, since on easier ones it’ll never feel suspenseful to risk getting discovered.

    If things go south you’ve hopefully got some weapons (with ammo!) and items to help you fend off your attackers. The weapons are pretty straightforward and works as expected, but many good strategies also comes from efficient use of items. One of the most common things you can find in the game are bottles and bricks, which can both act as a distraction noise when thrown and you can also throw them directly at enemies to make them stagger and if you haven’t got a melee weapon like a pipe they can be equipped to add a bit of extra oomph to your punch. The craftable items are things like bombs (which can be either thrown or set to proximity activation), smoke bombs, shivs (to do quick and silent kills – otherwise a stealth kill can take a while as Joel strangles the enemy) and also molotov cocktails – fire work really well against the fungus people! In order to craft you’ll need to find supplies like blades, explosives, rags, alcohol and similar, however there’s a part of planning needed here too, since some of the parts overlap – shivs use blades just like the bomb, and molotovs and healthkits both use the combination of a rag and some alcohol. Strategy overall is a very important part of the game; try to make up a strategy to stealth through first, if that doesn’t work, try to make a strategy that lets you off with as little supply and ammo loss as possible.

    Other than finding pickups of ammo and supplies, there are also other collectibles to be found in the game. The usefulness of these vary a bit; there are parts and toolboxes which are highly useful since they’re used to upgrade your weapons in various ways, then there are supplements which are used to upgrade Joel with health, listening distance and similar stats, and then there are Training Manuals which increases the effectiveness of your crafted items. But then there are also stuff like artifacts and firefly pendants which basically only exist to be collected, and in some cases they give a bit of an insight of how life has become in the world after the pandemic.

    So as mentioned, the gameplay isn’t overly complex, and it’s similar to very many other third-person action games that has been made; sneak or shoot through some scenes, solve simple puzzles, explore to find additional supplies. It’s just something that feels like it’s been done a lot, and while it’s at least great that they didn’t go with an open world it still feels like this is the second most common genre, and unlike with the storytelling The Last of Us doesn’t add anything new to the table here.

    Multiplayer

    As we need to remember, The Last of Us Remastered is a remaster of a PS3 game, and the time it initially was released in was when all games should have an online multiplayer mode, no matter which genre it was part of or how well it fit in. Unlike other remasters like Bioshock or the Ezio (Assassin’s Creed) collection Naughty Dog actually chose to keep the multiplayer for TLoU, and it’s a pretty interesting take on the whole thing.

    One of the most interesting things added to the table is the metagame; in the multiplayer you play as one of two rivalizing groups introduced in single player. Both are fighting for control over areas, but also to stay alive. So not only do you have to play for your own sake, you’ve also got a clan to run – if you do good and collect many supplies (mainly picked up from killed enemies) your clan will grow, but if you do badly people will start to die. The individual goal for people playing the multiplayer is to survive for 12 weeks (84 days = 84 games), and you can’t let your clan reach 0 people or you’ll have to start over. Basically the first run will let you unlock various abilities and weapons for the loadouts you can customize – there are a few preset ones to not put you at a big disadvantage as a beginner though – but other than that it’s just pure metagame since it won’t affect matches the slightest if you’re towards the end or just has begun a journey. At certain dates through this journey a challenge will appear where you’ll have to choose from a list of tasks; the challenge will lead to either increase or decrease the population of your clan (be careful of the 100% loss ones!) and the tasks you can choose from should fit all possible play styles since it ranges from downing or killing enemies to healing teammates or gifting them items. Overall this whole clan thing gives the multiplayer a wider purpose and it’s damn much more fun than to just look at your statistics at a leaderboard.

    The matches themselves are not too surprising; there are three different game modes, all based on 4 vs 4 teams and unsurprisingly it’s much more about sneaking and teamwork than just run and gun. Just like in the main game there are items scattered across levels that you can use to craft items or upgrade your current loadout. What’s interesting is that you can gather supplies for your clan by playing support roles and crafting items to give them away and heal your teammates, which surprisingly means that even though your 12-week journey is at stake the multiplayer is oddly rather relaxing for a game with guns. It doesn’t really matter if your team wins or loses. There aren’t any statistics kept for it. The important thing is the supplies, and depending on clan sizes (you can get by with a small clan as long as it doesn’t reach 0) all players during a match could end up going home with their stomachs full after they complete it. It’s an interesting take since it leads to both teamwork and individualism in a strange – but working – combination. However, with the focus and point of the main game, it’s still really hard to not think of the online component as somewhat tacked on.

    DLC

    In addition to the main game and multiplayer, this Remastered version also includes everything that was previously released as DLC. The Grounded difficulty is really nice to have and integrates well in the game, kinda surprising it wasn’t there from the beginning. Then there are two map packs for the multiplayer and it’s pretty nice that every player has them now, plus it certainly adds to the variety considering the amount of matches you have to play to get through the journey with both teams. But the biggest and most DLC’ey of the DLC’s is Left Behind; it’s a short chapter that’ll take roughly two hours or so to complete that’ll explain both what happened between two major plot points in the main game (so having played it first is a good idea) and also flesh out a bit on Ellie’s backstory. It’s a nice little mission but overall it feels pretty detached to the main game with you starting out with very little supplies and no weapons which feels a bit odd at that point in the main game. It would’ve been cooler if it was integrated more into the full game and appeared when you reached that part of the story, instead of it being just a separate main menu item, though that might would’ve been technically hard to pull off. But since it exists for the PS3, of course it’s given that it should be included here, not doing it would’ve been stupid.

    Also something that should be mentioned here is the photo mode. While not DLC per se but rather a new inclusion for the PS4 version that came with a day-1 patch it lets you pause the gameplay at any time when not in a cutscene, and lets you change various angles, filters and add frames or remove character models. Considering the PS4 has some great screenshot capabilities, this is certainly a feature that’d be great to have in more games, especially third person games where the environments often are really detailed but we never really can come that close to them to really watch and appreciate them, especially for more action-oriented games where you often also just rush through them.

    TOTAL

    So, what is there to say about The Last of Us Remastered? Is it a great game? No doubt about it. Is it overrated? Yeah, kinda actually. The game has some parts where it really manages to shine; the graphics has certainly been taken to a new level and even if it’s a PS3 game upgraded to PS4 it’s really looking good and everything else about the audiovisuals from voice acting to mocap to sound arrangement is really really impressive. The story has quite a few parts that feel cliche with the whole zombie-infected kind of thing, but that is pretty much weighed up by the character interactions and relations, and that’s the true high point of the game. The gameplay is fun but it doesn’t really feel unique in any way, and the multiplayer while surprisingly good is a distraction from the main game that isn’t really needed. So while the game is great, it still has a few flaws and gets an 8 out of 10.

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