(This Review has been updated to include features from the Last of Us remastered edition on the PS4.)
Naughty Dog’s latest blockbuster blurs the line between video game and art thanks to its masterful storytelling, beautiful visuals, and seamless gameplay. It is without a doubt one of the best games I have ever played. From the standpoint of accessibility, however—I’m not sure if it’s just rose-colored glasses—the game seems to represent a very reasonable standard of accessibility in third person action games.
First off, players with visual impairments should have very little issue with this game. Although large sections of it take place in dimly lit levels, Joel, the main character, has a flashlight that players can turn on at any time to make things easier to see. And there is an option to turn on a feature that puts floating indicators over objects players can interact with, eliminating much of the need to see the super-fine detail as players scavenge for ammo, craft weapons, and sneak around enemies. And even though players will have to interact with small objects in the environment such as bricks and bottles, there is an option to highlight all of these with grey icons, telling a player exactly what they are. Even more impressive is the fact that Naughty Dog has included a tool for helping players read the text of in-game notes. When Joel picks up a journal, he can look at it. As he looks at it, the writing may be an unintelligible scrawl, but there is always an option to convert the text from the handwriting into a plain white block of text that is much easier to read. This is a real boon because these notes help give the player a picture of just how bleak the world of The Last of Us is. As a result, players with visual disabilities will be able to be as immersed in the story as players without.
In the PS4 remastered edition, all of this still holds true and the last of us is as visually accessible on the new hardware as it was on the PS3. The PS4’s updated graphics makes fine details clearer and easier to see, while providing a greater degree of immersion in the entire experience.
Furthermore, those with fine motor disabilities should also have little problem with this game. Personally, my fine motor limitations have not posed a barrier, and I am over half way through. The gameplay emphasizes Joel’s and Ellie’s relative weakness as compared to the hordes of clickers and savage humans that they face. As a result, the main mode of gameplay is stealth. This means that there are very few time sensitive areas in the game, which allows players to slow down, take their time, and plan the easiest route through each scenario. But the truly impressive part of The Last of Us from the standpoint of fine motor accessibility is how Naughty Dog handled the many quick time events. Even though there are dozens of QTEs in the gameplay, most of them did not require very precise timing or rapid button presses. And even the few that did require rapid button presses were forgiving enough that personally I could advance through them with a little perseverance and absolutely no help from anyone else. The one exception is the frantic QTEs that are initiated when Joel is attacked by one of the vicious infected. I found myself dying more times that I care to recount because I couldn’t mash square fast enough. But the amazing thing is these QTEs can be avoided altogether. If you can’t handle them, just find a way to sneak around the infected or pick them off at range with bullets and explosives. Combine this masterful handling of quick time events with the fact that players can adjust the difficulty at any point in time and the fact that there are literally hundreds of ways around any given scenario, and you can see why Naughty Dog sets the standard for fine motor accessibility in this type of game.
In the remastered edition, the Last of Us is actually more accesible, since it gives players the option of using the games photo mode to pause the action in the middle of even the most tense scenarios to give their hands a break. Beyond this, the PS4’s controller is more accessible, because it doesn’t rest on it’s triggers, and therefore players will run less of a risk of accidentally throwing a brick, or firing their weapon when trying to remain undetected. Even the PS4’s touchpad on the controller is used to make the game more accesible, as it gives a bigger button to bring up the crafting menu, and makes it easier for players with precision issues to access this feature at any point in the game. The Last of Us is remarkable for its flexibility and forgiving nature, and thankfully these features carry over not only into the remastered game, but also into it’s Left Behind DLC.
The one area where I’m really not sure how the accessibility bears out is auditory accessibility. All of the main story-driven dialogue and the in-level dialogue between Joel and Ellie is thoroughly subtitled. Most of the enemy dialogue seems to be subtitled too, but it seems to rely on how close the player is to a given enemy to determine whether they can see the subtitles or not. Combine that with the fact that there is a very heavy emphasis on sound, and this game probably seems inaccessible for those with auditory disabilities. But there’s one major saving grace. There is a listening mode that players can activate at any time which allows them to see what Joel is hearing. Guards become highlighted through walls in grey outlines, and the visible sound waves emanating from their feet tell you if they’re walking or just standing there talking. Because this seems to turn all of the important auditory elements into visual elements, I think it’s fair to say that The Last of Us is barrier free for those with auditory disabilities.
Thankfully this accessibility carries over into the new hardware, and players can look forward to enjoying all of the gameplay and storytelling that the original game was so remarkable for.
In conclusion, I had a really hard time figuring out what to rate this game. It is such a good game that I really didn’t want to give it a bad rating and scare people off. On the other hand, it is by no means perfect. But it does do more from the standpoint of accessibility than almost any other game in the genre. And, what’s more important, it represents a reasonable standard for game accessibility for this type of game.
Please feel free to leave comments below the article that address your particular accessibility challenges with this game. If you feel there is a major omission in this review, please feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “revision” in the subject line. Please include specific details regarding anything we may have missed. If necessary, we will update our review based on your feedback.
The Bottom Line for Disabled Gamers: The Last of Us
– Nothing is communicated solely with color.
– The game has a relatively dark color scheme.
– Gameplay is very forgiving and provides lots of options.
– Lots of quick time events.
– No controller customization.
– All story-driven dialogue is subtitled thoroughly.
– There is a heavy emphasis on sound and how it affects the gameplay.