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Game review: The Last of Us Part I (PC)

Some ten years after its first release, the remake of the hit PlayStation game, The Last of Us Part I, is now available on PC.

Unless you've been living under a rock, you'd likely have heard something about The Last of Us- either the game or the very well-received HBO TV show. It's a post-apocalyptic survival tale that follows a grizzled fifty-something man and a feisty teenage girl across an America ravaged by a zombie-like infection that they may hold the key to curing.

This PC version is a port of the PlayStation 5 remake of the original 2013 game. This new version enhanced the gameplay and visuals, as well as added accessibility options. Whilst essentially offering the same story and game experience, the idea is that "Part I" would now flow seamlessly into the events of the 2020 "Part II" sequel without players noticing drastic changes in the mechanics and visual fidelity. As well as the original campaign, The Last of Us Part I also includes the remade version of the original game's Left Behind DLC campaign. 

The game begins with players witnessing, first-hand, the gruesome start of the deadly outbreak that brought humanity to its knees. The Last of Us Part I takes a more grounded approach to what is essentially an entry into the zombie genre, replacing the supernatural with a scientific explanation as to why people become mindlessly aggressive creatures.

A mutated form of the cordyceps fungus infects humans via spores or a bite from an already infected host, turning them into mindless creatures. The developer has cleverly used the progressive stages of the infection to provide a variety of different infected creatures for players to encounter. The early stages of the infection make the hosts fast and aggressive but fairly easy to kill. As the fungus grows in the host brain, it cracks the skull open, blinding them with only an ultrasonic clicking to guide them to their prey. It's a shockingly horrific premise, especially when you come across long-dead hosts that have turned into a ghastly floral pattern of fungi spreading across walls.

After the harrowing introduction, the game jumps to twenty years. Joel, who we were introduced to at the start of the game, and his partner, Tess, are making the best of living in the totalitarian Boston quarantine zone. Fate would introduce the pair to a young girl, Ellie. This sets the scene for a road trip across a hostile and devastated United States. It's the relationship between Joel and Ellie that is the key to the game's narrative and what they will do to save each other.

The story cuts to the core. The blossoming father/daughter relationship between Joel and Ellie is punctuated by some desperately bleak episodes. As well as the main narrative, every location tells a story. Incidental details, be it notes found lying about or drawings scribbled on a wall, have their own heartbreaking tales.

The strength of the storytelling is matched by the polished gameplay. At its heart, The Last of Us Part I is an action game with combat, stealth, exploration, looting, crafting, and puzzles complementing the extraordinary plot. The DNA of Naughty Dog's other hit cinematic action game franchise, Uncharted, is clearly visible in the game, but this time more refined and with a far more sombre tone. 

Whilst there's plenty of opportunity to go in guns blazing, the game encourages stealth over a head-on fight. Taking on a hostile group of infected head-on is pretty much suicidal. Limited ammo also makes encounters often very tense. Joel and Ellie can sneak around enemies using a unique listening ability that helps them "see" through walls. Objects can be thrown to distract the enemy and divide them so that you may choose to either sneak by or silently take them down one at a time. 

The immersion is sometimes spoilt by the behaviour of your computer-controlled companions, who seem to be able to move about in full view of hostiles without being seen. The original game, back in 2013, had this same issue.  

It's worth pointing out, especially if you are coming from the TV show that The Last of Us Part I is a very violent game. It may have all the feels of the TV show, and there are plenty of monsters that deserve a baseball bat around the head, but the violence doesn't stop there. Human antagonists often find their heads on the underside of Joel's boot, bursting with a pop, or dealt a swift but bloody blow around the head. The aftermath of combat encounters often consists of a bloody mess of dismembered bodies and blood-splattered walls. It's not that it's gratuitous, though, the game violence reflects a world that has quite literally gone to Hell.         

Whilst Naughty Dog gets top marks for creating such formidable monsters, as with all the best post-apocalyptic stories, it's the effect on human society that is the most chilling. Whilst the interactions with the infected, especially the chilling clickers, serve up some tense sequences, it is dealing with hostile survivors that makes the game that much more horrific. The protagonists exist in a grey area amongst others in the same circumstances, although they have made different choices. The way the game ends in a manner that will leave you wondering what you would do in a similar situation is a piece of genius.

The included Left Behind campaign, whilst still excellent, is a little self-indulgent at times. It serves as a prequel of sorts for the character Ellie. At the same time, it fits into the timeframe of the main campaign flashing back to before Ellie met Joel. It feels like a whole section of the main game that was edited out to improve the pacing. I do, however, think it works better as an encore to the main game rather than interrupting the flow during part of the main campaign it has been plucked from.

Complementing the game's story are the rather breathtaking environments. Joel and Ellie's journey takes them through a landscape, much of which has been reclaimed by nature. The painstaking attention to detail is only matched by the incredible lighting making the game a visual treat. As the season change, so does the scenery, sun-kissed forests become sodden muddy trails before the broken world is covered with the cold snow of winter.

It's a credit to Sony for embracing the Windows PC platform and releasing many of their top PlayStation exclusives for PC gamers. The PC visuals can be set to a fidelity far above that of the PlayStation 5 version. With support for ultra-wide monitors and uncompromising 4K visuals, this version is potentially the best version of The Last of Us Part I. 

Whilst there have been reports of graphical issues, crashes, and bugs in the PC version of the game. I never encountered this on the review rig or the Intel NUC that I tested with the game. I'm not saying that people are not having issues, as it is the nature of PC gaming. Hopefully, the patches that have already been released and those incoming soon will sort some of these issues out.

I played the game on a PC with an Intel Core i9-13900K and an Nvidia RTX 3090 GPU. I noticed that the game plus the operating system breached the 16GB of video memory that most graphics cards come equipped with. As well as a 24GB RTX 3090 GPU, I also tested it with a 12GB RTX 3080 Ti and had no problems, despite the software reporting that I'd breached the amount of available GDDR6 memory. 

With the settings maxed out at 4K, the review PC managed a stable 50 frames per second. That's with an above-average gaming PC. A bit of tinkering, with very little reduction in visual quality, got me to 80-90 frames per second at 4K. For me, this is reasonable, but owners of lower-spec PCs may struggle to reach the graphical fidelity of the PlayStation 5 original.

The Last of Us Part I is a masterclass in both video game design and interactive storytelling. The PC version presents itself as the definitive version of the game. If you've never played the game before, you are in for a treat. And, if you've played it in the past on Sony's consoles, you are likely to still be blown away with one of the best video games released in the last decade.

Verdict: 9.5/10

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