Last year, The Last of Us rode in on a wave of critical and commercial acclaim that cemented this “twilight years” game as one of the all-time classics of the seventh generation. It brought gaming back to its less common survival horror roots, pushed the PS3 to its absolute limit of performance, and upped the ante for every other game out there in the narrative and emotional complexity department. This year, in a gesture either of good will to new “members of the PlayStation family,” or else as a cynical cash grab, it’s jumped on the HD+ re-release train and arrived at the station. And it’s still one of the best games of the year.
The Last of Us needs no introduction for the familiar, and a minimum of spoilage for those who might be experiencing it for the first time. It takes the concept of a Cordyceps virus (an infection that takes over the mind of its insect host) and makes both the narrative and species jump to being lethal to humans. Joel is the hero of the game, scarred by 20 years of slow burn apocalypse as humanity faces its extinction. Then he undertakes a special mission with a special teenage girl named Ellie… and a 2013 game of the year is born. This is one of the most emotional, provocative, electrifying games of the last generation. One year later, it hasn’t lost any of its power. It’s still a high watermark in the maturity of games as a narrative medium, and deserves to be played by everyone at least once.
Of course, with a game so recent, Sony had better have a good reason to repackage it and put it out in stores again. They haven’t changed the gameplay at all, so the big draw here is the performance leap courtesy of the PS4. The game now runs at a default 60 frames per second, with better textures on everyone and everything. A game that regularly threatened to bring the PS3 to its knees now has room to breathe on the PS4, and the results are noticeable and obvious. The framerate bump, in particular is dramatic. Naughty Dog has included an option to lock down the framerate to the original 30 for those that prefer a more cinematic look and feel, but from a gameplay perspective, there’s an agility and responsiveness to 60 that makes it hard to go back.
The shadows have been improved in the 30 fps version, but the overall feel and flow of the new, higher framerate makes it a clear winner. The textures are also a wonder to behold, with Joel, Ellie, Tess and all the rest of the cast looking just as good in-game as they do during cut scenes. The sound hasn’t really gotten much in the way of a boost, however, Naughty Dog has optimized the audio experience with a range of sound configurations for everything from stereo TVs to 7.1 headphones, so the gut wrenching sound effects and ethereal score will sound their best on your particular set up. For fans of the game, some new content has been thrown in like commentaries for cut scenes and a documentary about the making of TLOU give a bit more insight.
All this having been said, the problem remains; this is a high profile game—with brutal, distinctive multiplayer—that came out just last year. It is it worth a purchase? The answer to this question depends entirely on your circumstances. If you’re a former Wii or Xbox 360 owner that missed out on this title last year, it is, absolutely, an essential purchase. Anyone who hasn’t played this game before can, and should, buy this technically superior version. If you’re a PS3 owner that made the jump to the PS4 and want the absolute best of everything, then yes, in similar fashion to Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition, this game needs to be on your shelf to replace your last-gen copy. If you loved and adored The Last of Us and just can’t let go… here’s another way to hold on. However, if you played the game once, enjoyed your time with it, but didn’t feel a profound sense of attachment to the experience, chances are you won’t miss anything by not playing and buying it again this year. Yes, it includes the multi-player maps as well as the Left Behind single-player campaign that was released as subsequent DLC, but for people that have never felt the need to buy a “Game of the Year” edition after playing a game the first time, a similar scenario is playing out here. The Remastered version is strictly for dedicated fans and the uninitiated. If you don’t belong to either of those camps, you’re not missing out. That doesn’t make the game any less brilliant or important; it just means you don’t need to re-experience it if you had your fill on the first outing.