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The Last of Us Remastered PlayStation 4 Review: Surrogates and Shotguns

This slightly tweaked remake of last year's hit embodies the best (and just a tiny bit of the worst) of zombie tales and action games.

Review by Jeremy Parish, .

Back when I was very young, before I had even begun school, my mother would take me and my siblings along when she went grocery shopping. I don't remember much from those long-ago shopping excursions, but labels of the canned food we bought are forever etched in my mind.

Money was a little tight for our family at the time, so she'd usually pass over the name brand products in favor of the store-brand vegetables bearing stark generic labels. There was no artistry to the labels, no attempt to make the products within look like anything besides the least expensive possible alternatives to normal fare. Bold black lettering announced the type of product within against a field of plain white. Those tins of low-cost vegetables were my first experience with the word "generic," and they forever shaped my perception of the word: Cheap. Bland. A knock-off. Lacking personality.

Strangely, the word "generic" kept passing through my mind as I played The Last of Us Remastered, even though "cheap," "bland," and "lacking personality" are about the last words I would use to describe this PlayStation 4 revamp of Naughty Dog's survival horror masterpiece. No, the word tumbled through my head because The Last of Us embodies the concept of genre more effectively than any other video game I've ever played. Nothing about the game is in any way new or surprising, but it's all executed to near perfection... and even the shortcomings are what you'd expect from a contemporary action game about zombies. It is, in short, generic: That is, exemplifying a genre.

With The Last of Us, Naughty Dog took the tired zombie genre and the well-worn action game template they refined with Uncharted and combined them into something that surpasses either. Yes, you're foraging through an urban hellscape lousy with the infected undead and heartless marauders, just like any number of other works of zombie fiction. And yes, in contemporary video game fashion, that hellscape consists almost entirely of carefully arranged linear passages that occasionally open out into more expansive spaces littered with convenient, waist-high structures for you to sneak around behind or use for cover shooting. And yes, you take the role of a grizzled middle-aged man accompanied by a young female companion exactingly crafted to tug the player's paternal heartstrings. The Last of Us colors neatly within the lines drawn by its many, many forebears.

Yet it works, because Naughty Dog has rendered those colors in such a beautiful fashion. The game absolutely represents the state of video game art for 2013 — so well, in fact, that it remains more or less at the cutting edge a year later. While The Last of Us clings to genre conventions, it expounds upon its familiar beats and mechanics with some of the best writing and acting ever to appear in a video game, all backed up by some truly stunning visuals. (This remastered version achieves the 60 frames-per-second that gamers demand, but I recommend making use of the ability to lock it in at 30; it makes for a far more cinematically immersive game, bringing the frame rate more in line with the Hollywood standard of 24 fps.)

In particular, the surrogate father-daughter dynamic between protagonist Joel and his young ward had already become a video game cliché before The Last of Us ever saw the light of day. However, Ellie is a far cry from BioShock Infinite's Elizabeth, even if they do share a name in common. She feels more genuine; like a person, rather than an ideal: A convincing combination of post-apocalyptic teenage cynicism and wide-eyed childish wonder. Temperamental, emotional, but never cloying. Her combat interactions are more authentic as well, as she unpredictably lashes out at foes when Joel becomes overwhelmed. She frequently pairs her knife slashes with terse obscenities that come across as equal parts rage and terrified bravado.

The script works best when it leaves things unstated — a rarity in video games. Author Neil Druckmann largely avoids the medium's compulsion to spell every last detail out for players, and what the characters don't say tells you as much about them as what they do say. Joel in particular is defined by his taciturn nature, yet it comes off not as aloofness but rather as the practiced caution of a weary survivor who gets by through giving away as little as possible. Plenty of video games have tried to cast players in the role of an emotionally guarded tough guy who slowly lowers his defenses as he learns to trust his companion, but The Last of Us might be the first to actually have pulled it off.

Though The Last of Us tells a better story than its action game peers, the actual game portions don't quite live up to the same standard of excellence as its narrative. In large part, the seams in the action show so clearly precisely because the narrative works so well. The humanity of the characters becomes a charade the instant a cut scene ends and your A.I. companions start flopping around one another like clumsy marionettes, blocking your path or knocking you off of delicate platforms as you try painstakingly to sneak past clusters of undead. It's little details like this that bedevil the game — factors like the awkward menu system makes it nearly impossible to swap equipment in the heat of battle. It's more realistic, perhaps, but chasing authenticity at the expense of accessibility seems pointless when your protagonist has Daredevil-like radar hearing and the ability to tote a platoon's worth of weapons in his backpack.

This isn't to say the action of The Last of Us is poor or lacking, not by any stretch of the imagination — it's perhaps the most solid blockbuster game, mechanically speaking, of the previous generation. But that's the problem with this remake; underneath its new coat of polish, it feels very much like a last-gen creation. Its flaws — the cumbersome interface, the idiotic enemy AI, Joel's blundering companions, the uneasy way in which the gracefully choreographed cutscenes give way to the halting awkwardness of the interactive sections — are precisely what you've come to expect of a game that try so hard to be filmic in nature. Elements of its may be polished to a mirror sheen, but it still relies on the inelegant trappings of the medium.

But then, what game doesn't? The medium will get past these growing pains, someday, and games like The Last of Us will help get us there. Playing through last year's masterpiece with this year's embellishments doesn't really add much to the experience, but it's another small step toward something better, built on a somewhat flawed but fundamentally excellent foundation. The Last of Us may be generic, but with its lovely exterior and premium contents, it's a far cry from those bland cans of beans that taught me the word.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: This remaster doesn't put the PS4 to work quite as hard as you might expect — the emphasis appears have been on providing a consistent frame rate — but as the best-looking game of last gen, it does the trick
  • Sound: The audio design of The Last of Us works best when it's aiding your situational awareness, from the alarming staccato cries of Clickers to bandits cluing you in to their group tactics.
  • Interface: Frequently clumsy, especially in the heat of combat. Presumably this was meant as some sort of callback to the bad old days of survival horror.
  • Lasting appeal: Between its considerable length, multiple difficulty settings, a multiplayer mode, and the built-in extra DLC story, there's a lot of game here. However, there's not that much to do here that wasn't already available on PS3, so newcomers to the game will definitely get more from this remake.

There's not really enough distance between the PS3 version of The Last of Us and this new Remaster to make it worth double-dipping, unless you're simply that fixated on counting lines of resolution. If you missed out the first time around, though, you really shouldn't let it slip past again. While it often works better as a movie than a game, it still stands at the state of the art. And the writing is good enough to enjoy even if you hate zombie genre fiction (like I do). The Last of Us is about refinement, not innovation, and this version takes the art of refinement another step forward.

4.5 /5

The Last of Us Remastered PlayStation 4 Review: Surrogates and Shotguns Jeremy Parish This slightly tweaked remake of last year's hit embodies the best (and just a tiny bit of the worst) of zombie tales and action games. 2014-07-28T07:01:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 26

  • Avatar for VotesForCows #1 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    I played the PS3 version of this for a couple of hours (on loan from a friend). I found little to enjoy. Its very well presented and written, but the gameplay is quite dull.
    I always felt that reviews gave it too much praise really, when the gameplay has nothing interesting to offer. But of course we're all affected by different elements of a game.
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  • Avatar for NinjaCatfish #2 NinjaCatfish 3 years ago
    Really enjoyed this review, though I suspect it will be divisive amongst the gaming community at large.
    Few critics I have read so far have been willing to place such a critical eye on The Last of Us, and instead held it up as the saviour of video games. It's a very, very good game, but there are as you say, some inconsistencies that are worth discussing.
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  • Avatar for nipsen #3 nipsen 3 years ago
    " the cumbersome interface, the idiotic enemy AI, Joel's blundering companions, the uneasy way in which the gracefully choreographed cutscenes give way to the halting awkwardness of the interactive sections "

    The game wasn't extremely imaginative in the first place. But the lack of believable AI and the less flowing animation in the player-controllable parts the ps4 version has doesn't help.

    A lot of the things that made Uncharted 1&2 so interesting, for example, in spite of being so generic, was that the movement and animation was incredibly well done. Some of that was used well in The Last of Us as well.

    But the ps4 version loses some of the environmentally aware animation, some of the AI - the immediate updates in the world context to player interactions basically - and suddenly the player controlled segments are bland and uninteresting.

    *shrug*
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #4 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    I have not played this, but I watched gameplay where Joel was walking around stalking zombies and all I could think was I liked this game better when it was called Manhunt.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #5 Pacario 3 years ago
    "And yes, you take the role of a grizzled middle-aged man accompanied by a young female companion exactingly crafted to tug the player's paternal heartstrings."

    This is one cliche I would like to see the medium overcome at some point, but again, the majority of gamers who play this kind of game are men, so the dynamic probably isn't going away anytime soon.

    "...the actual game portions don't quite live up to the same standard of excellence as its narrative."

    Which, of course, is why other narrative-oriented developers are making games like The Walking Dead that dispense with action almost completely. That Naughty Dog even attempted to blend an intelligent story amidst some decidedly sophisticated gameplay (relatively speaking) makes The Last of Us at least worthy of one's respect. I just wonder what other kind of story (moving beyond military or post-apocalyptic survival) would work within the constraints of the genre.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #6 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    You captured my thoughts almost perfectly Jeremy. There's nothing really surprising about TLoU, but it's probably the best told zombie story in the history of the genre. My only problem is when you state that it's the best "mechanically". I don't know about you, but TLoU is a third person shooter to me so I compare it to games like Gears 3, Vanquish, and Resident Evil 6: games that, mechanically, went above the limits of what the TPS is.

    TLoU isn't even above the new Tomb Raider to me in terms of mechanics.

    That said, TLoU is a great cinematic game. All the parts complement its story and its experience. I also don't need TLoU to break its narrative trappings to be "fun". I hope you can understand what I mean with that.Edited July 2014 by Kuni-Nino
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #7 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    @Kuni-Nino I think TLOU works (mechanically) because it doesn't try to exceed the limits of the genre but rather allows itself to be constrained by them — the idea being to make Joel vulnerable rather than a superman. I don't agree with all the mechanical choices (like those godawful real-time menus), but it does make for a much tenser survival horror game than anything, say, Resident Evil has done within the past decade. I just wish it didn't all feel so video-gamey in terms of progression and level design, if that makes sense.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #8 Pacario 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish I think you mean you want TLOU to be more natural and organic in design, which I readily sympathize with. The problem is that games are nothing but contrivances to begin with.

    Why is that platform just floating in mid-air? So Mario can jump on it to reach another flying platform. Why is that rocket launcher just lying on the ground? Because Master Chief is going to need it for the next area. Why is that boulder blocking the path? To prevent Link from accessing the next area too early.

    TLOU is the exact same way, although it at least disguises its conceits more effectively than the aforementioned examples. And to be fair, its linear pathways help prevent the player from meandering around too long, which would otherwise break the pace of the story.
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  • Avatar for Kuni-Nino #9 Kuni-Nino 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish I agree with you whole-heartedly. That's where I was going to. I like that one of Joel's signature weapons is a club with nails wrapped around it. It lends credence to the survival atmosphere and mentality the world is trying to convey. The problems surface when the game tries to have it both ways by making Joel an everyman and then trying to make him an action hero which is why my biggest problems with the game come from the Winter segment of the game. I feel that's where the game became more of an action movie. It was clearly trying to escalate the drama by putting more baddies in front of you to shoot which is what every AAA game does.

    Those moments are minor though in the grand scheme of things. I still appreciate what the game was going for. Mechanically and design-wise, it's very smart, very competent.
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  • Avatar for nipsen #10 nipsen 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish So, will anyone be able to ask Naughty Dog why certain effects and animation is gone from the "remastered" edition? Or does no one care, since the surfaces are shinier?
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  • Avatar for SargeSmash #11 SargeSmash 3 years ago
    @Exhuminator : I've not played Manhunt, so I can't weigh in on the similarities, but there's definitely a lot of stealth killing in the game. And a lot in general.

    I enjoyed my playthrough of the game, but I also can't hold it up as the greatest game I've played, or even the best game I played that year. Jeremy certainly hit on pretty much most of my gripes, but there were characterization quibbles that I had, too. Not so much for Joel, but for Ellie.

    One thing that is clear, though, is that it's a technological tour-de-force. Anyone who thought the last generation didn't have any life left in it needed to take a look at what Naughty Dog did. Seriously impressive stuff from a tech perspective.
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  • Avatar for secularsage #12 secularsage 3 years ago
    I'd argue that the biggest weakness of The Last Of Us, like Bioshock, Spec Ops: The Line, Red Dead Redemption, Batman: Arkham Asylum/City and many other games from the last generation, is the necessity to adhere to action genre conventions in order to keep the game itself fun and accessible.

    Adventure games have always been the best games for telling stories because they've focused on restricting the player to human actions, and those constraints make for more effective storytelling. Action games, by contrast, have always been lousy at telling stories because of the necessity to make the character into a superman (or superwoman) who can mow down enemies by the hundreds. Without lots of things to kill, they're just not a lot of fun to play. But all that action requires design choices that go against a more realistic story (and AI isn't good enough to make companions like Ellie do things that enhance the realism of the game rather than detracting from it).

    So, criticizing TLOU is really criticizing the action game genre. That genre functions much like a medium for storytelling, and it has its own sort of uncanny valley (where things can approach reality close enough to seem like they should be real, but which are obviously not because of some glaring flaws).

    If you can accept the limitations of the medium through which the story is being told and suspend your disbelief accordingly, you'll find a brutal, atmospheric action game with so-so controls and some fantastic writing and acting. But if you get focused on the uncanny valley, you'll miss what makes the game so great and find yourself annoyed by all the fakery.
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  • Avatar for Pacario #13 Pacario 3 years ago
    @secularsage That's the trick, though--to make an action game that boasts a story comparable to that of an RPG or adventure game. And Naughty Dog probably has come closer than most to achieving this synthesis, even though I think the narrative in Bioshock Infinite, Spec Ops: The Line, and Mass Effect 2+3 also did a fair job.

    And action, I think, is what most gamers still want. Interactive fiction is fine--I really enjoyed Telltale's Fables: The Wolf Among Us, for instance--but to achieve a narrative of similar pathos and consequence while still providing worthwhile gameplay is really the Holy Grail of game design.
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  • Avatar for DemiurgicSoul #14 DemiurgicSoul 3 years ago
    I agree about being over zombie stories. I'm so over zombies. But in my opinion The Last of Us is a big step forward in storytelling in games. It dares to have quiet, introspective moments, and linger on character reactions in a more natural and touching way than any other game I've ever played. It's really feature film quality stuff.

    Oh, and I thought the game part was swell too.
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  • Avatar for Tiucaner #15 Tiucaner 3 years ago
    What the hell is this line doing in a professionally written article on a game review?:

    "(This remastered version achieves the 60 frames-per-second that gamers demand, but I recommend making use of the ability to lock it in at 30; it makes for a far more cinematically immersive game, bringing the frame rate more in line with the Hollywood standard of 24 fps.)"
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  • Avatar for jamesrawet88 #16 jamesrawet88 3 years ago
    Apart from being totally wrong on the account of "cinematic 30fps" - really that's a blatant lie to put in a review - not a bad job.
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  • Avatar for wpaschukat #17 wpaschukat 3 years ago
    (This remastered version achieves the 60 frames-per-second that gamers demand, but I recommend making use of the ability to lock it in at 30; it makes for a far more cinematically immersive game, bringing the frame rate more in line with the Hollywood standard of 24 fps.)

    No further reading needed, folks. Instant disqualifier.

    (as for the background on 24fps on film I may cite Wikipedia: "From 1927 to 1930, as various studios updated equipment, the rate of 24 FPS became standard for 35 mm sound film.") It's an antiquated inheritance, not introduced to enhance the cinematic experience. Good //deity of your choice/......Edited July 2014 by wpaschukat
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  • Avatar for DiscordInc #18 DiscordInc 3 years ago
    @wpaschukat Yes, one line about how the reviewer prefers to play the game instantly disqualifies the rest of the review. Good job Internet Police.
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  • Avatar for Raphalation #19 Raphalation 3 years ago
    @DiscordInc Why, is it wrong to be skeptical of a reviewer who spreads misinformation?Edited July 2014 by Raphalation
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  • Avatar for millieperkins44 #20 millieperkins44 3 years ago
    Good article. For some reason the game has a lot replayability which I hadn't noticed before, although I'd assume it's the effect of playing it on the PS4.

    Apart from this, one thing struck me. What the hell are you on about? Cinematic 30FPS bullshit? There is nothing "cinematic" about 30FPS, you would simply have to be insane to compare games to movies. You're basically spreading lies.

    Naughty Dog didn't put this feature in for the "cinematic feel".
    ND explains why they had this in: "We included it at the request of the purists who wanted the experience as close to the original (PS3) as possible."
    source: http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-07-16-the-last-of-us-remastered-lets-you-lock-frame-rate-at-30fps

    How ND feels about 30FPS: "Playing The Last of Us at 30fps feels 'broken' after trying PS4 remaster" http://www.videogamer.com/ps4/the_last_of_us_remastered/news/playing_the_last_of_us_at_30fps_feels_broken_after_trying_ps4_remaster_says_naughty_dog.htmlEdited 2 times. Last edited July 2014 by millieperkins44
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  • Avatar for matthewyoung47 #21 matthewyoung47 3 years ago
    To added onto comment 21 sense it is not worth repeating him to just repeat.

    There is no such thing as a cinematic feel in video games just by dropping the fps down to 30 or 24. The reason films work at those rates is because of natural motion blur.

    http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/RogerHaagensen/20121105/180934/Framerate_and_Refresh_games_and_movies_are_not_the_same.php

    Here is a 30 minute video on the subject.


    Speaking of totalbiscuit, apparently you raised his ire lol
    https://twitter.com/Totalbiscuit/status/494431395637633024
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  • Avatar for jeremy.parish #22 jeremy.parish 3 years ago
    Yo, shout out to everyone who dropped by to tell me I'm an unprofessional liar or general moron. No, seriously. Hold on to your anger, guys. It means you're not yet dead inside. I don't personally share the religious zeal around 1080p/60fps, but I just sank a ton of money into getting perfect RGB video capture of Game Boy software, so I get it — we all have our own little personal madnesses.
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  • Avatar for matthewyoung47 #23 matthewyoung47 3 years ago
    @jeremy.parish Not going to speak for anyone but myself but I did not call you a "unprofessional liar or general moron". Just point out while it is easy to think that just because a game and movie can be running at the same fps, you would get a "cinematic look", they have nothing to do with each other in how they look because of the chain of technology that it takes to produce the image and displayed it on the screen is different. Again motion blur being impossible at this time without ugly hacks that do not even really work.

    This is coming from a reader of your work from before even 1up ;)
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  • Avatar for scuffpuppies #24 scuffpuppies 3 years ago
    The remaster is FULL of bugs and glitches. From weird lighting screw ups, to enemies vanishing in front of your eyes, only to appear invisible but for Joel's super hearing. Visible collision boxes around objects, and audio cut-outs.

    Last night I died, only for the game to restart the engagement in an entirely new engagement...IN THE NEXT CHAPTER, skipping at least two hours of game. I know this from playing the original four times last year.

    The last of Us is a great game. I love it. But this remaster has been rushed to meet this release window. Really rushed.

    Regarding the frame rate topic, Jeremy...you kind of made an idiot out of yourself. But, we all have brain farts now and again.Edited August 2014 by scuffpuppies
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  • Avatar for KizzaGaming #25 KizzaGaming 3 years ago
    Why on god's earth would you want to cap this game at 30 FPS?
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  • Avatar for atccoin #26 atccoin 16 days ago
    This is really nice review and I really like review articles.I have recently readed ATC Coin Reviewarticle and It was awesome.
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