Lots of people are extremely jaded about the two installments of The Last of Us (and one really excellent piece of DLC), and I can see why. There are loads of amazing stories to be found in videogames, especially in the “indie” space, yet this one often overshadows them all when talking about the “best videogame narratives of all time.”
And yet, the sparkle in my eyes has not yet faded when it comes to the original game. I grew up in a pretty restrictive household, and as a result, I was barred from watching R-rated movies or playing M-rated games until I turned 17 years old. So, of course, on my 17th birthday, I asked for and got a copy of The Last of Us Remastered for the PlayStation 4 from Sue, my mom’s longtime friend and a devout Christian who was only a little mortified when she discovered what she had gifted me after the fact.
At first, I was transfixed by the game. After 17 years of being sheltered from most violent media, I finally had access to one of the most gratuitous games out there. They said “fuck!” And the gore! The sweet, graphic, so-detailed-you-can-smell-the-rot gore.
My teenage brain was in love.
It was also deeply traumatized.
I would pause the game every time my parents came down into the basement. I could sense their curiosity, no longer having the power to shelter me from the media they mostly sheltered themselves from as well, but morbidly curious as to what their son was getting into.
He was getting into countless retries and retries and retries after innumerable deaths, due to his inexperience with shooters of any kind outside of Splatoon. He was crying over the death of Tess, gripping the edge of his seat at every cutscene that might spell the death of his favorite characters, and disgusted both at the difficulty spike and morally odious final boss of the game, consisting of Joel throwing everything he has at killing people trying to make a vaccine for the Cordyceps fungal infection that turns people into mindless zombies.
By the time the credits rolled, I had played over 20 hours of a game that was typically finished in around 15. I had read every item description, tried every combination of weapons, gear and upgrades, and played through Left Behind, perhaps the best piece of The Last of Us content out there.
And then, almost exactly three years later, The Last of Us Part II came out.
Its violence and intensity was even worse. So it was even better.
People can say what they will of the story, but you need to have played a lot of videogames to not like the gameplay. It follows the standard (perhaps cookie-cutter) PlayStation AAA formula of walking slowly around beautiful landscapes as some character inevitably says, “Look at that view,” interspersed by chunks of gameplay, but man, these were good cookies!
Of course the director and actors had their heads up their collective asses. Of course the game was far too long. Of course it came at the Worst Possible Time, as most people in June 2020 did not want trauma porn on their TV when it was all we could see outside our windows. But I loved it so much that when I went to visit my dad in South Dakota, I lugged my PlayStation 4 all the way there from Ohio (and a crappy computer monitor to play it on) just to finish it.
So when it leaked that The Last of Us, a game that isn’t even a decade old, was getting remade after a perfectly serviceable remaster, I was a little annoyed, but still excited. I’ve only ever played the original once, and after the sequel and getting my shiny PlayStation 5, I wanted to see how the game was always meant to look.
And it looks fucking amazing! What more is there to say?! It’s a gross amount of money poured into the Most Powerful Console; what did you expect? The graphics are so good, they’ll make your eyes bleed. The spatial audio practically made me pee my pants. Hearing Joel’s gravelly voice inside my skull was a religious experience. And fuck, those clickers, man. Those clickers are still scary.
There really aren’t many differences aside from the visuals. Joel will have more detailed animations when upgrading his guns, there will be a helpful reminder whenever you have enough parts to craft something, and there are more filters and modes to play around with after you’ve beaten the game once. I really wish these were unlocked from the beginning, since many people who’ve already played the original and/or the remaster might prefer to have things shaken up. There’s a commentary track over the cutscenes with director Neil Druckmann and Joel and Ellie’s actors that I would have loved to hear, but that too is locked until after the first playthrough.
Another reason The Last of Us Part I has me excited is that there are also a lot of accessibility options adapted from The Last of Us Part II, perhaps one of the most accessible games out there aside from its incompatibility with Xbox’s Adaptive Controller. Still, the options on display go above and beyond the standards for most other games, and whether or not you’ll enjoy playing it, I can almost guarantee you’ll be able to do so if you have the necessary console and controller.
I wish I hated The Last of Us. All the cool kids hate The Last of Us. I want to be a Smart Videogame Critic and write about how it’s a mockery of the good name of videogames and how indie games do a way better job telling real stories.
But I’m not. I’m a 22-year-old guy who, despite his efforts, loves big guns, gruff characters and grim stories. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to look back on my love for this series and cringe
Until then, to me at least, The Last of Us Part I is the best version of one of the best games of all time.
The Last of Us Part I was developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony. It is available for the PlayStation 5.
Joseph Stanichar is a freelance writer who specializes in videogames and pop culture. He’s written for publications such as Game Informer, Twinfinite and Looper. He’s on Twitter @JosephStanichar.