The Last of Us Part I Review: Play It Again, Ellie

When Naughty Dog's The Last of Us debuted nearly a decade ago in 2013 for the PlayStation 3, it received near-universal critical acclaim. Not only did it win players over with its visceral gameplay and narrative, but it ended up becoming one of the best-selling video games of all time. Frequently cited as one of the best video games ever made, it's grown into a media franchise that practically guarantees success, whether that means crowds that gather for a simple remastered version only a year after the original game or a live-action television adaptation on HBO.

But as excellent as the original game was, with its remaster adding higher-quality graphics and improved touchups, it paled in comparison to what the PlayStation 4's The Last of Us Part II could ultimately do. The graphical and narrative powerhouse was a massive step up from its predecessor, and felt almost like walking into a completely different world. It became the standard for The Last of Us—but with so many new players jumping on board to see the second installment, the original game needed the same treatment. It needed parity with the new game to bring a sense of cohesion to the project.

Perhaps that was the thought behind Naughty Dog's decision to take The Last of Us Part I and give it a complete overhaul, less than 10 years after releasing it into the wild. While the remaster did a great job of modernizing the game a bit, the remake reimagines the landscapes, character models and much more from The Last of Us Part I to staggeringly gorgeous effect.

While the core game itself remains largely unchanged, it's safe to say this new version should be considered the definitive way to experience the ballad of Ellie and Joel as they eke out an existence on the periphery of humanity's collapse. This is the way The Last of Us Part I was ultimately meant to be experienced.

The Last of Us Part I: Traveling
Ellie and Joel traveling throughout the apocalyptic landscape of The Last of Us: Part I. This remake of the original game has been lovingly created from the ground up. Sony Interactive Entertainment

The Last of Us Part I Review: Story

When it first arrived, The Last of Us Part I was set in the same year it took place: 2013. A mutated Cordyceps fungus has destroyed nearly all of humanity, with human hosts having turned into rabid, zombie-like "Infected" cropping up first in the United States and spreading throughout the world. A Texas father and daughter, Joel and Sarah, desperately try to flee the burning city while the Infected wreak havoc. In the end, while Joel and Sarah flee with Joel's brother Tommy, Sarah is caught in the crossfire.

Twenty years later, humanity has survived—somewhat. Joel has relocated to Boston, working with fellow Survivors and partner Tess to smuggle goods. One of his last assignments finds him pairing up with a member of the Fireflies, a rebel militia who opposes the way things are being run following the Infected taking over the world. The Fireflies task Joel with smuggling a teenage girl named Ellie to another group of Fireflies in exchange for a large cache of stolen weapons. Joel and Tess agree, but soon they learn the truth about Ellie: She's infected.

The story unfolds as several truths are revealed about Ellie, the Fireflies and Joel himself, who's been grieving for the past two decades without his wife and daughter. His icy exterior melts slowly as he finds Ellie has quickly become the daughter he lost so many years ago. Like The Walking Dead, the drama focuses more on the characters than the Infected, and it makes for a compelling narrative with enough twists and turns that it feels like watching a Hollywood blockbuster.

The Last of Us Part I: Surviving
Joel and Ellie make their way through one of the large expanses of land in The Last of Us Part I. Many of these areas have been broadened with additional flora and fauna, as well as other eye candy. Sony Interactive Entertainment

The Last of Us Part I Review: Gameplay

Joel and Ellie's trek throughout the Infected-ridden Midwest feels like playing an interactive zombie flick. Much like that feeling of "I'm playing the movies!" franchises like Uncharted have brought to prominence over the years (though gaming has done this well for some time), you're right in the center of the action, always.

The Last of Us Part I has always been a third-person action game with plenty of shooting to tackle, and whether you use shotguns, pistols, bows or melee, it's always incredibly visceral, especially when dealing with the Cordyceps-riddled Infected. They come in several forms, and they'll lop off Joel's head or have him meet an untimely death in an instant if you let them.

There's plenty to use around the environment to take the Infected to task, including pipes, baseball bats, shivs, Molotov cocktails and much more. You can consume edible plants or pills to gain health, and scavenge for crafting materials that can be used at workbenches scattered around the world. All of this was already in place, of course, in the game when it first debuted.

What's changed? Combat is more fluid and responsive than it was before. It's all more akin to The Last of Us Part II's veritable bullet ballet. Whether you're creeping up to a Firefly for a stealth kill or facing off against a Bloater Infected with a wing and a prayer, the remake's changes feel right. And if you've never experienced how the first game felt in comparison to the second, you'll be coming into the original game to get caught up feeling like you're reuniting with an old friend.

Sometimes, you'll switch off and play as Ellie as well, just like most of The Last of Us Part II. Ellie isn't as large or as lumbering as Joel, which makes her an easier target, especially in different terrain. Again, for the many players I suspect will be coming into the game for the first time off the back of the sequel, this will feel familiar, given as you're usually Ellie or Abby in The Last of Us Part II.

Additionally, there are a variety of different transitions between one area to the next, more breakable objects for use in combat, and improved A.I. All of that is important to remember if you feel like taking on the new permadeath mode, which means when you get killed one time, that's it. No coming back from that. There's also a speed run mode you can opt for that encourages you to complete the game in as little time as possible, complete with timers. If you love collectibles, there's a slew of goodies to go out and search for here, too.

The Last of Us Part I: Combat
Joel hides behind some equipment while waiting for his chance to strike. The Last of Us Part I features an abundance of combat scenes. Sony Interactive Entertainment

The Last of Us Part I Review: Additional Content

Oddly, The Last of Us Part I remains almost completely in step, from my view, with the original game. That means there isn't really any new content here, but that also means there are a few questions I have about potential content that could have been added in hindsight. When tackling a remake, there are always opportunities to add storylines or scenes that had to be cut in the original product. And while I'm curious as to why Naughty Dog decided to forgo adding new content, I can understand the trepidation and backlash that could come from altering a beloved story—even a tiny bit.

There's not much new here to speak of as a result. But what is here is some of the most loving and lavish character makeovers you'll see in a remake. Characters, like Ellie and Tess especially, have been aged up a bit, with more believable models. Joel has a much more hardened look to him that can be attributed to 20 years of hard living. But more interestingly, the environments and familiar spaces you may remember from the original have blossomed into more detailed, living, breathing expanses with additional trees, new buildings, pastel skies and arresting green lands. Humanity may be on the brink of extinction, but the world is still beautiful.

In addition to the main game, you'll also get The Last of Us Part I: Left Behind DLC, which was previously paid content you'd need to purchase separately. It's also been remade in the same way as the core story itself, and it's a great addition to the package. There's also a slew of accessibility options, which make this version of the game to recommend to just about anyone, whether players want to tone down the gore or have larger subtitles. Though there's a dearth of new content, the availability of this wide variety of settings cannot be understated—and this may be the only real way some players can engage with The Last of Us Part I in a way that's comfortable with them, which is a huge win for accessibility efforts.

The Last of Us Part I: Verdict
Ellie pets a giraffe found in the wilderness. The Last of Us Part I takes place in an apocalyptic setting, but there are splashes of wildlife and greenery to be found.

The Last of Us Part I: Verdict

The Last of Us Part I doesn't change things up in terms of the main storyline, and it doesn't reinvent the wheel. It does, however, update a modern classic in ways that new players and veterans alike can agree is absolutely spectacular. Still, with all that in mind, the gorgeous graphics, improved gameplay and smaller extras may not be enough to convince some players to pay the $70 price tag to experience this game again. Judging the game on its own merits, however, for those who are looking to experience The Last of Us Part I for the first time, this is absolutely the best way to do it.

Score: 9/10

The Last of Us Part I will release on September 2, 2022, on PlayStation 5.