The Last of Us Part 1 – Review

I wasn’t sure if I should buy this game just yet, mostly because of the price Sony is charging for it. Yes, I’m one of those people that feel a bad way about the 70$ price point of newer games. My local store had the game for 65$ which took a bit of the bite out of the deal, but I also really want to show my support for Naughty Dog as a studio. I know they are owned by a large corporation that doesn’t really care about most things. I want to support the creation and even the upkeep of story driven, high budget, adult games. On top of that, it’s been a little while since I’ve played the first game, so I was itching to play again. I also wanted the physical version for some reason, not sure If I’m really sold on the digital versions of all games. I like having something physical for my money, and perhaps I can sell my games one day if it comes to that.

Day 1

The first thing most people are going to want to talk about with this game is the graphics. That’s the main reason for this game to even exist. So how does it look? It looks good. If you’ve played The Last of Us 2 recently, I feel like this title would fit in well next to it, or it would look like how a sequel to that game would look. It’s an evolution of what came before it. What’s kind of funny is that the game looks like how I remember it, but if you look at actual footage of the first game you realize just how much of a difference there is. It’s insane.

Character models are completely redone with new topology, details, shaders, hair rendering, the works. More detail and controls are added to the faces to better represent the performance of the actors they originally recorded. The rendering of skin and eyes are leagues better than the original (or the PS4 version for that matter).

Environments are more realistic and densely populated than before. Plants invade every nook and cranny of the environment as it begins to reclaim the world humanity once built and revered so much. The progression of environments as you move through the game carry a sense of realism and space. A building feels like a building, as odd as it that sounds. The lighting and rendering help make the world feel like it has weight and is a part of the ecosystem. When you’re finding your way through an old building and jump out of the window onto a window washing platform, moving from indoors to outdoors feels believable. The environments are more grounded than ever and help carry the realism of the world and the progression of the story. The shaders, textures and lighting are all handled in a controlled and restrained way that helps lend itself to the believability of this.

This environmental detail is coupled by an incredible soundscape, especially when heard through a good pair of headphones. Every sound in the environment occupies a three-dimensional space in your headphones. Thunder echoes around you as lightning cracks in the sky. Raindrops are heard around you as you race through fallen streets and away from searching enemies. The most troubling sound of all comes from the clickers in the game. These enemies use echolocation to find your position and the noise they make is truly unique. Their sound truly fills your space as they click away searching for you. The great thing about the spatial audio is that you can literally track these enemies without even seeing them on screen. They are easily pinpointed by the direction of their noise in your headphones. You can even tell when enemies are on different floors because the sound gets muffled going through the walls. Gunshots crack like a whip and echo when fired, which shocked me the first time I tried shooting something.

So far, I’ve played to just past the whole Bill arc in the game. This was my first day with the game and I’m definitely going to keep going with it tomorrow. Even with all the positive things I’ve said about the game so far, the most impressive aspect of it is the story. I really don’t think any other game has ever had a story that is as good as this one. That’s not just a plot thing, to me that means the whole package. It conveys how the story is told to the player, not just in a cutscene here or there, but during the gameplay as you progress between set pieces. Your characters are still alive and talking in the interstitial moments. It flavors the world and keeps you motivated as you explore. You also will find little notes around the world which help tell a story of the people that came before you. These notes, combined with environmental storytelling, can portray some very gruesome and sad scenes of the struggles of life after the outbreak.

Let’s also not forget one of my favorite things in games these days, the slow leveling of your equipment. Finding parts around the environment and taking them to a workbench to slowly level up your gear is always a great feeling. It’s part of what makes the Resident Evil games so good and it’s part of what makes this game so enjoyable to play and progress as well.

Oh, I’m also glad they updated the model of Ellie for this release. The original one had that odd head size thing going that seems to be common in a lot of video games. The original models definitely needed to be updated, they were just a bit cartoony back on the PS3, which is partly because of the limitation of the hardware combined with the amount of expression they were trying to get out of their models. It’s just how it was back then. They were also working off the back of the Uncharted games, which used to be a mix between realistic and cartoony. I’m just happy they all got a nice little makeover since it suits the story and the other game a lot better.

So that’s it for my first day playing this new old game.

Day 2

My second full day of playing and I made it all the way to the lakeside resort level. I have a few thoughts on the day that I need to get out.

Playing the game in a condensed amount of time, with headphones on, and with minimal distractions have made me see something different about this title that perhaps time has eroded from previous playthroughs. So, what’s my “hot” take?

That Joel really isn’t a good guy in the story. I think after all these years and playing the second game, I kind of forgot some of his story and what he’s really about, even though I remembered some of his big story beats as clear as day. You hear him tell Ellie a bit about his past after they were ambushed in Pittsburgh. He says he should have known it was a trap and to go the long way around, Ellie asks him how he would know that. Joel responds by telling Ellie he was on both ends of that in the past. She questions if he killed innocent people and is met with silence.

Later in the story, at the hydroelectric dam, you once again meet up with Joel’s brother, Tommy. Tommy tells him that he had to get away from Joel, that for the first handful of years after the initial outbreak and following along with Joel and the things he’s done, that surviving through that wasn’t even worth what they had done.

These talks, along with other incidents, really reveal and give you context in just the kind of person Joel used to be. He was one of those bad people you come across in the game. Gunning down innocent people to see if they have food or new pairs of shoes to take. Maybe he’s not completely on the pure evil side of the scale, but he’s implied to be pretty far out of a normal, good-natured human.

Of course, Joel’s story in the game is twofold for me. One side is his daughter and how closed off he was and how he goes about dealing with the trauma he endured in her death. He turns down the picture of them together from Tommy, he shuts people if they bring her up, he’s clearly living in his trauma. He’s in extreme denial and his personality has turned to a cold person that sees the world in extreme views. The fatherly instincts he’s once had are slowly clawed back by his relationship with Ellie, being with this 14-year-old girl allows his grizzled exterior to slowly smooth over. It truly is an endearing process to witness this change in character. You see his personal growth throughout the game, and it feels like a realistic depiction of a father opening himself up to the love of a child after dealing with the death of his girl.

The other side of his coin is the violence he uses to take control of his life. It allows him to keep his order, nobody will take from him again because he will win no matter what. This is shown in the brutality your character inflicts on other humans in the world. It’s a dog-eat-dog world where trust is hard to come by. This is an interesting aspect more so in how it instructs the gameplay. It’s not like you get to make a choice in how you kill all these humans you run across. Sometimes you can sneak by, but mostly you have to ensure they are killed before the level is properly opened up to you and you can explore and move on. You don’t get non-lethal moves or weapons either, the world is not that soft to allow for something like that. Human life is not worth it in this world. If you are a bad person, there will be no remorse for your death. Yet, Joel was one of those people, he was hard and closed off, and he drove his brother away with his actions.

What I really appreciated about this game after my second day playing is just how long it is. I mean this in regard to the story progression that is allowed through this length. It’s not a game that is bloated out by fetch quests or open-world nonsense. Instead, the extended trip allows for the interactions between Joel and Ellie over multiple hours of gameplay. The way they talk and interact with each other slowly change over time, demonstrating a progression in their dynamic. It’s a realistic and gradual change that eventually gets Joel to open up to Ellie, where he’s even talking about his daughter to her. Of course, you then get to the point where Ellie has to take care of Joel, which is where I am right now. It’s nice to see how Ellie has grown and seeing that she can handle herself, make mistakes, but also learn from them.

Continuity

The most amazing thing this game does is the continuity in the level progression. This is what really sells this game as a realistic adventure for me. It reminds me of Half Life 2 in that way. Levels and environments are connected to each other in a winding river of paths. It sells the idea of a world that you are in. That this building you are in is in a world, in a city, part of a street. You can go outside of the building and down the alley and into another building, head out the back and you’re greeted with more streets and so on. The game tries to not take you out of the world, if possible.

I’m a fan of the gameplay in this game and I just think it feels really good to play. Granted, I did play through the multiplayer back in the day to get my platinum trophy, so I’m well accustomed to how this game feels. Each encounter is so memorable and sticks in your head, not many games get that right. Who doesn’t remember working your way through the hotel, room by room and floor by floor, creeping behind the bad guys and choking them out one by one? Or the neighborhood with the sniper at the far end and you have to work your way to the house to take him out and eventually use his gun to help your friends.

I really can’t wait to wrap up the story, hopefully I’ll be able to get that all done tomorrow. I’m looking forward to playing the Left Behind DLC since I’ve only played that once and my memories of it are a little loose. I would also be interested in going back into the 2nd game but not sure if I want to spend that much time on it right now. That story is longer than this game, but I do like it. And seeing how that game ties into this one since it’s so fresh would be nice.

I’ve been playing the game with the unlocked performance mode. I have an LG C1 OLED that can do VRR and all that. So, with that mode the game has been pretty steady at about 80fps, which is really nice to see. I do wish they just had a fidelity 40hz mode like a lot of the first party titles have put out. That will probably come in a month or two after I had already beat the game. Honestly though, thinking about it, it seems like the only difference in the two modes available is the resolution. Even then, doing a side-by-side comparison, it’s just a slightly sharper picture on the fidelity mode; more options are better though.

Day 3

Just wrapped up the main game. Going to get my thoughts down before I jump into the DLC.

I think the big question with this story is the choice Joel makes at the end. Is it right? Would you make the same choice if you were him? Joel really is a broken man throughout the 20 years since the outbreak started and he lost his daughter. He’s done some very horrible things, drove away his brother, and plenty of stuff that’s only alluded to in the story. It’s a complicated issue if you think about the characters in an honest fashion. If I had gone through everything Joel has, I think that I would do the same exact thing he did, not knowing the repercussions that will come from his actions, it feels like a genuine choice that he made.

The real question is if Joel’s choice was the right thing to do for Ellie. You realize that everything going on in the game really is about Ellie and who she is and what she’s gone through. She brutally murders a man that was trying to get with her (Ellie being 14 at the time), and when she refused and fought back, he basically wanted to eat her. So that’s a whole other level of fuckery right there. She also murders other human bandits along the way, so she has some skin in the game in that regard, but that just comes off as basic survival skills. She was bit while handing out with her girlfriend, Riley, prior to the start of the game. Riley turned and Ellie didn’t. That begs the question of whether her life was forfeited when she got bit, is she living on borrowed time and should she be given to the Fireflies to find a cure, and thereby killing her in the process? Do the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?

Marlene says it in a recording you find in the hospital at the end of the game. She was told to kill Joel but refused, stating that he was the only other person who knows the weight behind the decision to forfeit Ellie’s life. It is all about perspective, which side of the coin you are on and who you have an emotional connection with. Joel lost his connection with his daughter, after 20 years of circling a drain, he comes across another girl who makes him open up his heart again. He slowly and begrudgingly turns back into a father figure, and you start to see the old Joel once more. I think the answer to sacrificing Ellie has to do with how much you care for her. I could easily decide to sacrifice one person I have no connection with to potentially save many, but to sacrifice a daughter after losing one may be too much to ask.

The concepts and depth of the story of The Last of Us is part of what makes it truly great. I’ve said it before, but stories in video games are usually pretty shitty. They just don’t get the small things right and tend to blow it up in the last act. This game is such a watershed moment in the history of video games and is something that may only happen once a decade. I think Bioshock was the last game before this to really get the story aspect right.

What’s interesting about this remake is that I think they changed the ending scene at the hospital. You walk in on the doctors starting the procedure on Ellie and in this version of the game the doctor pulls out a scalpel, you take it from him and stab him in the neck. I believe the original had you shooting him, which definitely changes the tone of what happened. I think it’s a good call to alter that slightly as it seems more appropriate and lessons severity of Joel’s actions. Well, he does then just execute Marlene a few minutes later…

The last line of the game, Ellie asks Joel if everything he said about the Fireflies is true, she wants his word on it, and he says yes. This is the moment that everything about their relationship is going to change. Joel wants that lie to stay so that he can keep his relationship that he built up in his head. Ellie is her own person and deserves more respect than what Joel is showing her. She knows he’s lying, and I believe that he thinks she’s going to believe him. It’s a little sad to think about characters like this, older people that struggle to hold onto the past, that don’t want people to change because they fear it would mean losing them.

Don’t lie to her!
Wrapping Up

It’s also interesting to note that once you beat the game you unlock a lot more extras than the original game. You can now change skins for your characters and weapons. Seems like the start to a battle royale multiplayer game.

You find a note written by Ellie’s mom, it may just be in Ellie’s bag when you play as her, I don’t remember. The letter is to Ellie and tells how she was just born and is less than a day old; she is going to die. Is it just me or does this explain why Ellie is immune to the virus? Her mom is pregnant, about to give birth to Ellie and is bitten and infected. Ellie must have gotten some part of the virus and instead of turning into an infected baby, creating a built-in resistance to the virus. Sounds plausible to me at least. Perhaps she should have shared the note with the Fireflies, and they could start impregnating women and getting them infected prior to giving birth. If they don’t care about killing people for the cure.

Final Score – 10

One of my favorite games of all time. I followed a guide to get all the collectibles and trophies as I went along, played on normal. What’s great about this game is that when you crank up the difficulty, the levels really start to open up to you and see just how deep the combat is. Each encounter is a small puzzle that needs to be solved in order to complete successfully. I would love to go back and play this at max difficulty, which I’ve done on prior releases. Also, playing the lodge level really makes me miss the multiplayer in this game. That was some good times. Time for Left Behind now!

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