Gaming

Is The Last of Us PS5 Rebuild Worth It?

There are some incredible graphic improvements in The Last of Us Part I
There are some incredible graphic improvements in The Last of Us Part I Screenshot of The Last of Us Part I
Developer Naughty Dog and Publisher Sony are releasing a PlayStation 5 rebuild of their seminal gaming classic The Last of Us, which first came out in 2013. The new version takes advantage of everything the latest consoles have to offer, essentially turbocharging one of the greatest games of all time. The question is: is it worth buying, possibly for the third time, at $70?

I’ve played The Last of Us at least 20 times on both the PS3 and PS4, and I took the new release for a spin up to the Capitol Building level. It was plenty of time to get to know what’s changed.

The most obvious improvements come in the accessibility area. The Last of Us Part II had one of the most comprehensive set of disability aids I’d ever seen in a game, with options to improve the experience for people with sight, hearing, and manual dexterity issues. Those changes have been included in the rebuild, which is a triumph of inclusive play. Some mechanical aids have also been added. Chucking a brick into a zombie’s face to stun it before attacking has never been easier.

Chucking a brick into a zombie’s face to stun it before attacking has never been easier.

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On the other hand, the more the game alludes to the sequel, right down to rebranding it as The Last of Us Part I, the more it feels like trying to better the sequel by closer association. Part II wasn’t a bad game by any stretch, but its bloated runtime and almost nonsensical storyline made it a pale shadow of its predecessor. Inexplicably, some of the things that gamers complained the most about, such as enemies begging for their lives with no opportunity to show mercy, have been grafted into this new version.

Graphically, the game is definitely more impressive. Joel’s face in particular is a moving sculpture that can emote in ways the PS3 was not capable of handling. I caught things on his face that I’ve never really seen before, such as the hint of tears when Sarah gives him the watch, or the full range of his nightmares when he is asleep in the North Tunnel. Every line, wrinkle, and gray hair is its own masterpiece of art and engineering.

Everyone else, especially the female characters, though? They look aggressively shiny and plastic. We’re starting to get diminishing returns on photorealism, and stark proof that it is ultimately a pipe dream. In some ways, Tess and Ellie looked better back on the PS3 when less graphic fidelity added to the grit and grime of the post apocalypse. The game does a weathered or fungus-riddled face marvelously, but when it tries for pretty, it ends up with dolls.

The settings, though, have benefited greatly. The Goldstone Building level blew me away. Subtle things like watching the rainwater run across the tilted floor, or seeing the sky, light and shadows slowly change with the incredible ray tracing technology brought the blasted landscape to life in a way that outshined the game's usually murky color palette. It’s way easier to find beauty in the world of The Last of Us than it ever was before.

Still, the game does come off as a bit desperate. The PS5 and Xbox X/S are trying to justify their existences two years later. There remain queues to buy the damn things thanks to ongoing supply problems from COVID-19, and very few games have been built for the current consoles for this far into their life cycle. Sony clearly is hoping to entice buyers by dangling a fan favorite with a new coat of paint and almost no load times.

However, it’s one more bit of proof that modern console gaming is looking backward, not ahead. Almost everything that has been built with the new hardware in mind is either a remake, sequel, or spiritual follow up to a previous title, with only Returnal truly standing out as a new leap forward. Even then, there’s not much about Returnal that couldn’t have been done competently on the PS4.

So, back to the first question: is this game worth buying? For the average gamer who still has a version on a previous machine and just wants a survival horror game with an excellent story, not really. For newcomers, the disabled, or people who still really want to put the PS5 through its paces, absolutely.

However, here’s a word of caution. The Last of Us in 2013 served as the acme of the seventh generation consoles and the prestige third-person shooter. The remake might very well be the high water mark on a certain kind of game development philosophy, that making photorealistic action titles is doable or even desirable. This is likely as good as that mindset is ever going to get, and considering how much it costs to do, maybe this is where it should be buried to make way for other styles.

The Last of Us Part I releases on PS5 on Friday, September 2. $70.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.
Contact: Jef Rouner