Naughty Dog’s epic The Last of Us has finally arrived on Sony’s Playstation 4, but is this remastered PS3 classic worthy of your cash? For the most part, TLOU Remastered checks the promised boxes – 1080P 60 FPS (with the occasional dip), better textures, anti-aliasing, shadows and an overall better aesthetic than the PS3 original could ever manage.
The Playstation 3 version of The Last of Us was one of the most impressive technical achievements I’ve ever witnessed on a console. Reminding me of the Sega Saturn days when developers Lobotomy software managed to squeeze the original Quake onto Sega’s Machine. The PS3’s was pushed to its limits. It’s summer time here in the UK, and I imagine the look of fear on my PS3 as I put the disc in to start recording TLOU. Within just a few minutes the consoles fan kicked into high gear. We’re using a launch machine, and TLOU is the only game which makes the PS3 do that.
While The Last of Us on the PS3 pushed the machine to the complete limit, making full use of the consoles hard to use (but extremely powerful) Cell processor, the limited amount of RAM and the RSX GPU. For all intents and purposes while the Remastered looks good, you don’t get the same “it’s the consoles limits” feeling.
While there are certainly large improvements to textures (an obvious weakness in the original), better Anti-Aliasing, higher frame rate, higher resolution and so on, there are still areas Naughty Dog didn’t improve upon for their remaster. Please note that these screen shots and footage have been achieved with the FPS not locked to 30FPS. In our brief experimenting with 30FPS it would appear TLOU does indeed have slightly nicer shadows thanks to the extra GPU time. I’ll conduct more analysis on this over the next few days, but wanted to focus initial efforts on 60FPS, as the desire to play The Last of Us at 60 FPS is one of the largest draws to repurchase the game.
Geometry is one area that hasn’t seen much (if any) love. Cars, pipes, buildings and characters haven’t been improved on. While animation certainly does look considerably smoother thanks to the PS4’s extra horsepower, it isn’t because of vastly improved character complexity or rigging. While the original had good (for the previous generation very impressive) geometry, re-using it with all of the other high quality assets does make for an, at times, jarring clash of visual quality. Square pipes that were obviously meant to be round, iffy looking foliage and vegetation, not so circular wheels are a few examples of this.
Meanwhile, the Remastered textures are a significantly improvement over the PS3’s original assets. Certain textures on the PS3 TLOU suffered more than others from compression or low resolution. Careful observation of the road during the games opening will show textures which look decidedly lower quality than most of their neighbors for example. Even the best textures in the game (for example on Joel’s clothing) weren’t up to the bar set by next generation. The PS4 has fixed that, with massive improvements to virtually all the textures in the game. The much larger pool of available memory (roughly 10 times that of the PS3, if you take into rather hefty OS reserves) and bandwidth afforded by the GDDR5 fueled a 256 -bit bus has alleviated LOD texture issues (from large distances).
That’s not to say texture or Level of Detail popup has been totally eliminated. On more than a few separate occasions I’d noticed level of detail shifts by just a few footsteps forward or backwards – but sometimes these were eliminated after the initial loading (after entering a new area), while at other times it would remain present. We’d also witnessed several instances of ‘white geometry’, where the game failed to render a certain graphical asset and instead we’d enjoy the pleasant view of a white block. In all of our testing we’d only spotted it a few times, primarily at distances or when the object was being partially obscured. It’s possible this is an issue with Hidden Surface Removal (HSR) or Object Culling, where the GPU attempts to figure out if an object can be seen by the games ‘camera’. If the answer is yes, then it’s rendered, if the answer is ‘no’ then it won’t be. This is to save both processing performance and bandwidth.
Aliasing (or jaggies) were an issue in the original The Last of Us. The Playstation 3’s Cell processor could run Anti-Aliasing on the SPE (Synergistic Processing Elements) or the systems GPU. Naughty Dog opted to use the SPE’s, but the AA was fairly light and certainly the 720P resolution did little to alleviate the worst offending edges. For the Playstation 4 things change – for a start the system is not upscaling to 1080P, it’s native. It’s fair to say that after witnessing the Uncharted 4 trailer you might have had hopes for similar levels of Anti-Aliasing, and if so you’ll be left somewhat disappointed.
As far as we can tell it’s a post processing AA, possibly FXAA or TXAA. It does a reasonable job at removing the harshest edges, but does leave some blurring in its wake. To be fair, it still is a considerable improvement over the PS3 version. Just the simple act of a higher internal resolution, higher quality textures and better AA make a large positive impact on the games visual fidelity. With all of that said, at long distance you’ll still spot a lack of Anti-Aliasing. Check the above gallery for a few examples. This can lead to the PS4 version looking softer than the PS3, which in some cases (to eliminate edges) is a good thing, while in other areas, not so much.
Here’ll you notice that while there are certainly less harsh edges (and a degree of softness to boot) not all of the image is treated equally. In the above images you’ll quite easily spot the lamp it a distance looking considerably less ‘AA’ed’ than when it’s closer up.
How a scene is lit – the contrast between lighting and shadows, can make a large difference in the overall image. Ask anyone whose is into photography and they’ll happily tell you that. With the Last of Us Remastered, shadows and lighting are improved – and indeed looks ‘nicer’ than the original, but it’d also be disingenuous to call them truly next generation. When recording the PS4 version of the game for my first impressions (and to reuse some of the footage for a graphics comparison) I had a separate screen I viewed my PS3 footage on. I figured I could give you a decent commentary on how the two versions stacked up visually as I played this way.
It became pretty clear there was differences in the light / darkness of the image. With Joel and his Daughter being illuminated very differently on the couch (where she gave him his birthday gift). The PS4 lighting looked a little brighter, with the shadows on their legs having a smoother transition (and considerably less ‘this is just black’ areas). Overall shadows looked softer too. This theme will be similar throughout your entire playtime with The Last of Us Remastered.
Scenes aren’t radically illuminated differently, but shadow and lightmaps have had a nice bump in resolution, but only in so much as they match the higher resolution of a game as a whole. This can lead to a little inconsistency with scene lighting – a few times I caught myself saying “I don’t think this area should be quite so bright… it doesn’t look quite right”. So while yes, lighting and shadows do look nicer than their previous generation counterparts, it’s not all perfect. You still get the feeling certain areas are a little ‘wrong’ in their illumination. A non technical example perhaps, but a good one. It felt occasionally like someone went into the image and played with the gamma / contrast after it was shot because they felt it wasn’t quite right when it was captured.
Naturally some of the lighting looks quite nice, for example in darker sections if you were to use Joel’s flashlight, the rays of the sun (especially if you’re emerging from a dark and dingy sub basement into the world). But with all of that said, many of the scene elements are fairly basic, and don’t have the same natural feeling of a true next generation title. Many of the values feel very ‘baked in’ and don’t necessarily reflect or react to what’s going on in the surroundings. This can dampen the graphical accomplishments in TLOU. It doesn’t look bad, but it could look better.
Much of the Playstation 4’s GPU budget was certainly blown on both the need for 1080P and the 60FPS target. 1080P is roughly speaking twice the pixel count of 720P, and you’re halving the draw time by asking the PS4 to spit out sixty frames per second. To draw 60 FPS, the GPU has just over 16.6 MS compared to 33.3 for the 30 FPS target. Meaning (in a very rough way) you’re effectively using 4x the PS3’s GPU performance just on 1080 / 60 before anything else was even done.
Another area of the original Last of Us which needed improvement were realistic debris, paper, wood and general liter. A lot of the items are little more than either simple textures (for example, overflowing trashcans were basically geometry with a texture). The same issue is unfortunately present in the Remastered version. Of course the occasional paint can rattles as you kick it, or larger set pieces such as the drum kit in the music store sways if Joel or Ellie happen to knock it… but generally speaking, the environments are deader than you’d perhaps hope for a next generation title.
High Quality Video Download (60FPS)
I’d also spotted a few glitches throughout the game – despite my updating to the launch patch before I’d loaded it up. While this is perhaps not the biggest deal in the world, it does help distract from the overall quality and fidelity of the title. One of the early cinematic’s featuring Joel and Tess trying to pass a check post had the camera angle (and security officers) model glitch for a few seconds as one example. This certainly wasn’t the only issue – there still the occasional clipping of foliage through walls and other objects, but certainly nothing too offensive to the graphics. To be fair this issue is present in many titles, with Far Cry 3 being notorious for having grass and bushes clip through the floor of your car. Clipping and object detection are pretty expensive to run, and often require a lot of GPU compute time. It would likely have meant a lot of additional coding work, hence why it’s absent in the PS4’s Last of Us Remastered, despite other graphical upgrades.
While we’re veering off the subject of graphics or how pretty the game is, I’ll also point out that at times AI of your team mates (either Ellie or Tess) was a little simple. Early on in the game I played a rather amusing ‘run around a box’ while the enemy chased me. Meanwhile Tess and company just looked on, fully content behind cover and daydreaming. A few times I’d also had issues with the AI running straight towards clickers, realizing I was behind (as it’s supposed to be a stealthy section) and for Tess / Ellie to say “oops” and start running back… only to get scared and start shooting. The Clicker behind me then lunged and grabbed me… my point being, while the graphics have seen an improvement, AI is pretty much the same as ever.
If you’re feeling at all unhappy or disappointed by Naughty Dog’s accomplishments, you shouldn’t. The RRP of The Last of Us Remastered is considerably lower than that of a regular PS4 release. The team also had less than a year to port the game to the PS4, and with far fewer developers than usual. Indeed Neil Druckman was quoted in saying ““At first, there was a pretty small team of two or three programmers, experimenting and trying to answer the questions of what it would take to port it over, so we could decide whether it was worth it or not,” during an interview he had with Edge back in May of this year. “We put in a pretty significant programming staff to port all the graphics systems over, the physics, the AI, the scripting language. It’s not an insignificant team, but it’s not as large as a full-scale production.”
He continued in the same interview “Going from PS2 to PS3, we actually had to throw out most of our work for the engine We were using a proprietary programming language that was developed by Andy Gavin and some of the other programmers… Even on in the early days of PS3, we were thinking of the transition to PS4, because of how hard transitions have been in the past.” he continued by pointing out the obvious, “One way to [test the tools] is to take an existing game and port it, and The Last Of Us Remastered gave us an excuse to bring those systems over, refine them and optimize them for the hardware.”
For those wondering about loading times – there’s little in it. The PS4 version takes around 48 – 50 seconds on initial loading (that’s from the second you click okay on the main menu to start the game up to when you can move your character). While this is slightly faster than the PS3’s 60-ish seconds, it’s vital to remember there are still unskippable cutscenes on both versions of The Last of Us – in other words, the remastered version still requires loading in the background if you’re visiting a totally new area. But the good news is, just like the PS3 version, if you die the loading times are (unlike some games I could mention) mercifully short.
The Last of Us Remastered | Tech Tribunal Opinion
Overall, if you’re yet to experience Naughty Dog’s epic, buying TLOU on the PS4 is a bit of a no-brainer. it’s the best looking version of the two (by far), and comes with all the DLC to boot. On the other hand, if you’re the proud owner of the Playstation 3 original, purchasing The Last of Us Remastered might be a bit more of a decision. We at RGT / Tech Tribunal give it out recommendation, but just be aware that it’s not going to be the graphical revelation you might have hoped for.
Despite this, the game is still very impressive looking. While the Anti-Aliasing isn’t perfect, AI still a little suspect at times, and the shadows and lighting haven’t improved via great strides, the improved level of detail in the distant terrain, much improved texture quality and 1080P native resolution make for a much better experience.
The keyword here is “Remaster”, and not “Remake”. Just like a movie, they go in and clean up the audio, clean up the visuals, adjust the gamma and lighting some, maybe add a few visual effects in if some VG looks particularly ropey – but that’s it. With a remake, you get entire new assets – for example, Resident Evil Remake on the Gamecube (fantastic game FYI).
The controls certainly benefit from the higher frame rate, and overall the title feels less ‘heavy’ than its Playstation 3 iteration. Indeed, a few times when I’d transitioned to the PS3 after a length PS4 recording session, TLOU felt heavy and a little sticky. The controls were less than ideally responsive, it it look me sometime to adjust to this and not miss two or three shots in a row as the crosshair just didn’t like playing ball.
So there you have it – The Last of Us Remastered is a fantastic experience, and one I’d encourage you to partake in. If you’re the owner of the original (particularly with all of the DLC) you might find it a little more difficult to justify the purchase, but I think the extras are worth the price of admission. I had little desire to play the original Last of Us during recording, while I always felt a twinge of excitement of settling down to trying out the PS4 version. This is despite completing the title already. In other words, for me and the RGT team, the remaster held enough value to be worthy and recommendation of a purchase.