With the line between remake and remaster blurring for some and the backlash from others stating that this shouldn't need to have happened in the first place, just how successful is this endeavour as a gamer without sight? Thanks to a kindly provided review code from PlayStation UK, let's find out.
When you first boot the game, you're dropped into an entirely accessible setup process (thanks to narration reminiscent of that in Part 2, other than being put on the continue button which could be a little confusing.
Suffice it to say that, thanks to what appeared to me at least to be a higher speed screen reader than in Last Of Us Part 2, this entire setup process is accessible.
Getting through these screens places you on the "press any button" screen and, after you've done as instructed, the main menu.
In collaboration with Descriptive Video Works (DVW) who have famously worked with Ubisoft on some of their trailers, Naughty Dog has introduced AD for its cutscenes, meaning that if you didn't know what was going on before, you can now get a full context for all the key elements of storytelling.
But just how easy is it to enable? It's as straightforward as going to options, then accessibility, then enabling Cinematic Descriptions, if you haven't already enabled it via the vision accessibility preset.
For anyone who might be wondering, there is also audio description in the Left Behind DLC (which comes as a part of this game) and is voiced by the same describer. This means that not only can you experience the base game, but an emotional story that takes place beforehand as well, all while understanding the key elements that make up the narrative of these impactful events.
Slight spoilers for the base game and Left Behind follow
However, one specific element I noticed is that a scene that takes place in the base game has little in the way of scripting, while its counterpart acknowledgements in Left Behind are described with a greater level of detail. I'm not entirely sure why this is and, quite frankly it baffles me as, if you don't play Left Behind, you would have a much less clear view of what goes on in that particular sequence.
That being said, the fact that this has been pulled off to this degree of quality in such a high-profile project is pleasing to see.
In the just over 15 hours that it took me to complete the base game and an hour or two extra for Left Behind, I gathered a majority of the collectables, though I will definitely have to return to complete the former to hopefully get the platinum with as minimal sighted assistance as is possible.
what I have experienced is nothing short of amazing, even if I did know what would happen prior to playing through both narratives. Though I knew the twists, turns and detours the story would take, being able to experience them first-hand was a crucial part of the experience that you miss otherwise. Watching someone else play through a game while you have no control over it, though it may spoil key narrative reveals, is no substitute for being able to have full agency in controlling things like combat approaches, whether you go looking for the aforementioned collectables, etc.
Speaking of collectables, there were even some elements that I had not expected regarding puzzle-like mechanics, such as Firefly pendants hanging in places that you had to throw objects at or shoot to dislodge.
The combat, though lacking dodge and prone functionality introduced in the second game and feeling slightly less fluid as a result, has a brutal impact to it that the sequel sorely lacked in places, at least in my personal opinion. Even connecting with melee weapons has weight to it thanks to the audio design, with stealth takedowns also feeling more like a struggle against a foe who might fight you off than they did in the second game.
Throughout my time with the game, I did keep remembering back to what I'd learnt through playing as Ellie and Abby, gathering resources (though I probably didn't need to), always keeping shivs on hand and making sure that my weapons were loaded where I could. This also paid off in other unexpected ways too in terms of elements I found through gameplay and hadn't remembered reading about, even if they were proesent originally.
Slight spoilers for The Last Of us 1 follow
If you're curious as to whether you could? The answer is a resounding yes. By way of example, when trying this for myself, I had my text language (and thus my screen reader) set to Spanish, with my speech option set to French. The fantastic thing? There's audio description in other languages as well, including French, meaning you can now listen to the alternative dubs of the game while still having menus that you can read as well, or change the menu text as well if you wish. Nothing's stopping you.
On checking in The Last Of Us Part II's own suite of options, I discovered that you could in fact do this previously. However, the difference here of course is that you have audio description available as well.
Moreover, the screen reader feature would not read encounters or chapters in their respective selection menus until you loaded one, and backed out to the main menu, where those options would then read as anticipated. This is highly unusual but not a completely game breaking issue if you know how to work around it.
I am proud to say that I only skipped one puzzle throughout the entire experience, but that was only because I could not get it to progress, whether by reorienting myself and the object I was moving, reloading the save, restarting the checkpoint or even reloading the game.
There were, however, also instances on a smaller scale where geometry wouldn't allow me to actually move an object into place, meaning I had to move backwards while still holding the object, move the camera left and right a little to reorient it, then move forward again until the waypoint loaded or triggered correctly. This was a painstaking process at times, but sometimes to get things to work correctly all that could be done was to reload the checkpoint and retry which, again, is far from ideal.
The above pathfinding issues were unfortunately also present in the Left Behind DLC, though thankfully I didn't have to skip any puzzles in that shorter campaign.
As I said, I put these issues, when I found them during my review period, down to this being a pre-launch build, with them hopefully being things can be resolved through a patch.
However, I did need sighted assistance for some of these, as Enhanced listen mode appears to be limited in terms of its range. In practice, this meant that even though some items should be fairly easily located, even with the range set to maximum they wouldn't be picked up unless you manually moved towards where you thought they were (which is difficult when you have no visual reference in the first place)
Speaking of the golden path, there are times where it is inaccessible due to combat, which happens in one of these key locations. During this particular battle, the enemy AI also seem to have a habbit of hiding out of sight in the distance as opposed to moving to try and neutralise you (though you can hear them yelling to each other in acknowledgement that they've heard something). This means that you have to move to the enemies to progress and thus are unable to turn back and complete that missable, though optional objective, even if you did know where it was.
Having optional conversations be a different kind of item (with their own specific scan cue) would really help here, as would having story progression objects like doors and such be marked with a differentiating audio sweetener when scanned too. Even better would be the ability to customise what you scan for when in enhanced listen mode, a point that I and others have brought up many times since the release of Part II.
The only way to get around this was, much to my frustration, to get sighted assistance once again. Even when i did do this, however, that didn't mean to say everything was smooth sailing either, as we had two conversations apparently glitch and be seemingly unobtainable during the pre-launch time I spent with the game. This was infuriating since, as you might be able to guess, these 2 or 3 conversations were apparently the final ones I needed for the associated trophy at least judging by the collectable counters, thus restricting me from getting the platinum.
Hopefully these and other highlighted issues are resolved in a future patch.
Most of the trophies that you could easily miss can be gained through encounters, chapter select or on new game files where necessary as far as I could tell, but the optional conversations are the final hurdle I'm facing before getting the platinum. As a gamer without sight, seeing this simultaneously frustrates me (as I know that if these parts were definitely going to be locatable without assistance and working as intended I could already have this one under my belt) and makes me elated that I got so close with such minimal assistance once again. I think it's only a matter of time before we see a game where the platinum can be obtained 100% without sighted assistance in the future.
For instance, when I saw speech to vibration as an option, I was intrigued since, though I didn't need it directly, the premise of having line delivery conveyed through a tactile medium was definitely something I hadn't necessarily thought of. When I tried it though, I really enjoyed being able to not only hear the lines, but feel them as well, even if, with the audio turned down, I wouldn't know what was being said.
Whereas the DualSense feature set was not integrated into the PS5 patch for The Last Of Us Part II, this game's ground up remake status means that Naughty Dog were able to work with things like haptic feedback and adaptive triggers to great effect.
For example, when aiming and drawing the bow, then releasing an explosive arrow into an enemy at range, everything is enhanced by tension in the triggers and vibration when the arrow hits the foe, adding to the impact of the already solid audio design.
However, I realised that the aiming cues on PS5 weren't as strong as I'd have liked even at the standard "strong" setting. I wondered what would happen when trying this game via Remote Play and whether having the controller plugged into a PC would make a difference.
Though I won't go into the details of setting this feature up or connecting to my console, I will cut to the chase and say that it very much did have a positive impact when using a DualSense via my PC instead of the console directly. Even the menu vibrations felt stronger, which was a shock to me. This got me thinking though about just how "immersive" I could make my gameplay experience.
This did put me in mind of an experiment to try though, namely to see if I could still act relatively effectively in combat scenarios with no accessibility-centric audio information (not counting the in-game screen reader).
Setting this up via Remote Play and turning down the accessibility audio cues, I got to work with an encounter that happens a little way into the game, set to Survivor difficulty.
Suffice it to say, with a little practice and the stronger vibrations to tell when I was aiming at an enemy, it was a resounding success, though lining up headshots was not possible thanks to a lack of differentiation between haptic elements. If you'd like to see the end result in-game for yourself, here's the video showing that encounter.
This fully revealed previously weakened effects that I'd struggled to feel before, enhancing the game to a whole new level and proving, once and for all, that the DualSense is a step up from previous technology.
However, that did not prove to be the end of the matter, as not long after I'd discovered this inherent difference, a fellow player contacted me post-launch and described an interesting phenomeenon, that of the haptics being different when the combat vibrational cues were turned off as opposed to being left on.
Sure enough, I went to confirm and they were indeed markedly different, with the combat cues off making every fired shot feel specific to the weapon in question rather than just an extra immersive, if generic, blast.
I hope this and other bugs can be resolved soon to allow gamers without sight to have the pure Last Of Us Part I experience.
Granted, I would've liked to earn it fully on my own terms, but at least this time round was less stressful in my personal view in terms of the amount of assistance I needed. Part of that might've been helped by the game already having existing material, but the downside to that was the amount of differing guides you could find if you went looking.
I'm proud to add this one to my collection though and hope that others are able to obtain it.
When I reviewed The last Of Us Part II, I called it "an example to push the industry forward to new heights and a bar to work from.". This game, similarly, while it does have its issues, has set the bar for any studio, company, publisher or anyone else looking to remake an existing game, but not as a bar to be merely reached, but surpassed. It was great to be able to run through a game that I've heard so much about, feel the brutality of this world, understand the personalities of the characters and experience the narrative in greater detail than I would've ever hoped for when I first heard of the game all those years ago thanks to the accessibility features present solely in this remake.
Naughty Dog have shown not only how to make an accessible game with The Last Of Us Part II, but now they've also demonstrated how to put together an accessible remake using pretty much the same mechanics that made the sequel playable for gamers without sight in the first place. Being able to fully experience this masterpiece, even nearly a decade later than everyone else, was worth the wait. I only hope that more developers of remakes (and, in fact, any game) realise how much power their titles hold and just how many would be able to experience them if they make the effort and implement accessibility from the very beginning, involving gamers without sight (and other disabilities) in the process.
In the aftermath of this fantastic, if flawed experience, I am only left wondering: What will the next fully playable game be, not just on PS5, but on other platforms as well? I can't wait to find out.
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