The Last of Us Part 1 Accessibility Review — Can I Play That?

Ben Bayliss22 minute read

The Last of Us Part 1 Accessibility

Deaf / Hard of HearingBlind / Low VisionMobilityCognitive

The Last of Us Part 1 brings an impressive suite of accessibility features, opening a critically-acclaimed game up to more disabled players. However, cinematic immersion and the ghost of clunky controls from 2013 feel like it holds the game back in many areas.

Score

8 out of 10
  • Remapping and controller presets
  • High contrast mode and magnification
  • Various tools for sightless gameplay
  • Inventory management is done well
  • Customizable subtitles
  • Audio descriptive cutscenes
  • Speech-to-Vibration feature for DualSense
  • Clunky controls make for heavy play
  • Lack of visual cues for many areas
  • Stealth is clumsy, combat is overwhelming
  • No captions for surrounding essential sounds
  • Not much guidance with exploration

I’ve heard nothing but great things about Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us from 2013. Unfortunately, I was never able to experience it on account of the lack of accessibility. I tried it on PS4, struggling to read the subtitles and follow the story. I put the game aside, hoping one day to play it again, maybe on a bigger TV. Years have passed and Naughty Dog has released The Last of Us Part 1 — a remake packed with accessibility options.

As always, having a vast number of accessibility options is only good providing those have been implemented well. Will I be able to finally experience a game I’ve wanted to play for years, comfortably? This is my The Last of Us Part 1 PS5 accessibility review.

Busy Booting

The Last of Us Part 1 comes with a busy startup process with a condensed but still a hefty list of accessibility options. On first boot, a screen reader is available, built into the software rather than relying on the PS5’s reader. Following that, adjustments to HDR, brightness, and other graphical doohickeys are available. For those interested in graphics, I chose fidelity mode.

Subtitles and Audio are two of three submenus available from here. Subtitles allow me to set their presentation ready for the game — complete with a live preview. Audio offers dynamic range and mono audio rather than any granular adjustments I usually use.

The third option is Accessibility which opens a selection of preset toggles for hearing, vision, and mobility. I enable the hearing preset and receive a warning prompt that it could alter previously changed settings across multiple menus. Were these adjustments to subtitles a waste of time? Thankfully not, they were unchanged.

More Menu Fiddling

I spend a further seven or so minutes going through the entire Settings area before I start a new game. I want to jump in and experience the story without needing to keep pausing and making finer adjustments.

There’s so much to go through, from adjusting various settings including accessibility-specific options. Once fiddled with, starting a game introduces options for various difficulty challenges and final adjustments. These include inverted cameras, camera assist, and permadeath.

Rather than create our typical Menu Deep Dive for The Last of Us Part 1, I’m going to just link to an official blog post on Sony PlayStation. This includes a full list of what’s available, complete with explanations for each setting.

Onboarding

Despite the morbid opening of The Last of Us Part 1, the game runs me through the basics. Minor mechanics such as interacting with objects and moving around. Cut to the present-day, the game progressively introduces more mechanics such as sneaking, combat, and traversal. The spaces between largely focused on telling the story and collecting resources.

My plan to jump into this with settings for hearing accessibility set for no further tweaking did not go to plan. I’ll go into more details into specifics shortly. Overall, I found myself having to make adjustments in other areas I wouldn’t normally touch, all to compensate for the lack of visual cues.

Let’s start with some subtitles.

Substantial Subtitles

Being able to clearly read the dialogue and follow this dramatic story is at the top of my list. What’s available for subtitles is pretty good, however, it’s certainly not perfect. Despite the lack of freedom in size choices, there’s a good deal that can be customized.

At the medium preset size, subtitles are big enough for me to read from where I’m sitting. Although I’d like them a smidge bit bigger, the largest size being far too big. With no sliders available for finer adjustments, I make do.

A background box can be applied with presets for transparency helps with text legibility. The box itself has feathered sides and subtitles have a habit of falling outside of the background box. As a result, speaker labels and the last or first words of dialogue text can blend slightly into the game’s world.

It’s the directional arrow that can be applied that becomes entirely illegible because of this feathered style. This isn’t always the case, but it happens enough to be a consistent frustration.

Colors can be adjusted for the subtitled dialogue but not for speaker labels. Speaker labels could have been presented differently to stand out. A thicker font or different formatting could help differentiate between speaker and dialogue without relying on color.

On the topic of speaker labels, these are only present for the first instance of each line per speaker. This can be confusing with multiple characters and pauses. Here’s an example.

Tess speaks, her subtitles accompanied by a speaker label. A short moment of silence and she continues with a new subtitle line appearing but no speaker label with it. Joel replies with a speaker label, and only then Tess’ next line will have a speaker label returned. You can see this below with nearby Hunter’s talking to one another.

While the assumption for no speaker label is that the character is continuing, there’s a stronger understanding if each instance is accompanied by a speaker label, regardless of continuation.

Subtitles can also have a directional arrow applied to them, which feels fantastic. A speaker’s direction being conveyed through a simple arrow tucked nicely against the speaker’s name feels simple, yet it’s achieved effectively. Having more background box coverage would help with its legibility.

The subtitles, despite the minor areas mentioned, are very well done. Timings are well handled, the text is legible, and the directional arrow feature is great. More freedom would be nice to have, allowing finer adjustments for players who want to set specifics for their presentation.

Lacking Captions

There are no captions, which I find to be disappointing and immersion-breaking. The Last of Us Part 1 has many moments in which surrounding world audio is essential to understanding scenes. Many moments have Infected or Clickers groaning to warn me to start sneaking. The clattering of items from nearby hunters or explosions in the distance isn’t detailed through captions. Instead, usually referenced by the characters.

Verbal warning’s to stay low, or to wait, double up as a warning to the player. Meanwhile, characters asking Joel if he “heard that” point to world-building that is lost on me. I’m none the wiser about what’s ahead. Could it be an explosion, a large beast roaring, an earthquake?

This isn’t always the case. I wander into a room and fail to hear the sound of a Clicker moaning. There’s no dialogue from Ellie delivered, and instead, I alert a room of Clickers. Naughty Dog could have implemented audio captions similar to age-old titles such as Half-Life 2.

DualSense Direction

Unsurprisingly, The Last of Us Part 1 utilizes the DualSense controller a lot for immersion, but also for accessibility. Haptics by default, are designed to provide a cinematic experience. Players feel everything they can touch and hear. Actions such as vaulting, gunfire, weather, melee attacks, pushing objects, and more are pushed through into the player’s palms.

This is through both cinematics and gameplay, so the immersion never stops. This may sound like much, but thankfully I can adjust all of these specific elements through sliders. Previously, we’ve only seen haptic vibration adjustments to a similar extent with Horizon Forbidden West.

An accessibility slider exists in The Last of Us Part 1 and allows haptics to be used for navigation and combat cues. In theory, this tactile feedback should help guide players through the controller. For combat, I rarely notice vibrations other than a rumble for throwable items locking onto an enemy.

Joel looks at a generator.

Directionality is a different story. For me —I want to coin a new term here— I get a lot of tactile distortion. The vibrations for left and right overlap and become distorted due to the precision of directionality feeling too wide and not very precise.

Early on, my controller starts vibrating nearby a generator. I spend nearly two minutes trying to interact with it. I soon discover its environmental feedback, haptics conveying the sound it’s making. I stand with the generator to the left, and the intensity of the vibration to the left-hand side of the DualSense is noticeable. However, I can still feel some vibration on the right-hand side.

In areas where directional sound is conveyed briefly, I’m not 100% clear on the direction. Because of this. It’d be nice to have a stronger, more precise haptic being given as a result.

Vibrating Voices

A very interesting new addition to The Last of Us Part 1 is the Speech to Vibrations feature which works well for accessibility. This actually utilizes the precise nature of the DualSense in a very wonderful yet eerie way. The emotions and intonations of dialogue are all portrayed through vibrations giving me a physical understanding of the dialogue. It’s eerie in the sense I feel like I have the characters’ necks in my hands.

While it sometimes feels overwhelming —to the point I turn it off occasionally— it is a remarkable idea pulled off very well. It comes with haptic directionality, indicating the speaker’s direction through controller haptics. However, as above, it’s not entirely noticeable. As a Deaf player using hearing aids, playing on lower volumes, or even on mute, I’m much more connected to the game’s story in a way I hadn’t imagined possible.

My main complaint ties back to the lack of captions. When a character sighs or groans, their vibration is picked up. With no on-screen captioning to assist this vibration, I’m frequently unsure of what is being conveyed.

Blind Play

There’s a lot here. This is of no surprise considering The Last of Us Part 2 was so widely praised because of the accessibility available for sightless players. The Last of Us Part 1 boots with accessibility in mind, offering screen reader support upfront. Menus are fully narrated and the controller haptics help with confirmation of menu navigations.

This carries over into gameplay where directional haptics help with the addition of Navigation Assistance. Pushing L3 will ping a sound, also pointing the camera in the direction of the story progression. Enhanced Listen allows players to scan for nearby enemies or lootable resources. This is complete with varying sounds that can be used with surround sound. The variety of sounds is detailed through an audio glossary for a better understanding of sound cues.

Navigational assistance refuses to work in some areas where enemies are searching, particularly the Hunters. Pressing L3 doesn’t activate the navigational arrow nor the sound. Instead, a dull “unavailable” type click plays out instead of a bright sonar ping. Other times, navigational assistance leads me all over the shop, backtracking for no reason.

Scanning sometimes never fully indicates how many enemies there are. One moment saw more than four enemies grouped together, but the scanner only scanned two.

Ledge guards help with not falling off ledges and traversal assistance helps with scaling obstacles. There’s a lot to offer for navigating the world. It’s the consistent pressing required for navigational assistance that feels like a lot.

The Last of Us Part 1 has another accessibility first for a AAA — the audio descriptions for cinematics. While the gameplay is not described, cinematics are now audibly described to add even more context to scenes. This is done incredibly well and doesn’t feel rushed or tacked on. Although, while testing this, I find audio descriptions don’t carry through into the cinematics where gameplay merges.

I want to clarify a confusing description for enabling audio descriptions. When browsing Audio Volumes in the Accessibility area, a slider for screen reader levels is present. The text for this setting instructs me to navigate to Extras to enable Cinematic Descriptions under Commentary. However, it’s worth noting audio descriptions can be enabled under Accessibility > Screen Reader and Audio Cues.

I also want to point out an interesting note system when using the read feature. Notes and bits of paper picked up in the world have text. When I press Read to bring up legible text, this is read by the screen reader. However, in a bar that Joel, Bill, and Ellie have retreated to there’s a visual map showing various things. When I press read, the map is described with an alternative text.

Those with low vision can enable high contrast modes with a few presets. There’s no granular control over shader colors like we’ve seen in games such as Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered or Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart. There’s also a magnification tool available at a software-level to zoom in on the screen.

The navigation in The Last of Us Part 1 feels awful most of the time, at least in terms of hearing accessibility.

Naughty Dog, and in fact, most PlayStation Studios titles, are notorious for creating linear experiences with branching paths for collectibles and resources. Exploration equates to rewards. However, progression always gets convoluted because the path forward usually feels unclear by design. Hints such as bright lights often mean progression, but that requires finding ways to reach the way forward.

In The Last of Us Part 1, a decaying city inundated by foliage and devastation obscures ways forward or hides resources. Now, I’m all for level design encouraging exploration, in fact, I love exploring in games. The trouble is that a lot of the interactive elements have prompts that are sometimes easily missed. Ladders and fences Ellie can climb, to list a few, have prompts that appear just off-screen when directly next to them.

Sometimes the prompts don’t appear until a character points them out, by which time I’ve already explored and assumed there’s nothing. This fence in the image below is an example. I originally walk up to it and no prompt appears. As I walk away, Ellie mentions something but I miss the subtitle. No prompt can be seen as I’m a fair distance now. It’s only when I backtrack after being killed by an infected around the corner that I see the prompt.

The Last of Us Part 1 has characters talking about landmarks, or a simple “Look at that”. These are usually followed by a press L3 prompt to focus on that area. Annoyingly, because I’m focused on traversing or reading subtitles, I often miss the prompt that subtly appears.

Usually, I play games comfortably with on-screen waypoints or a legible compass at the top of the screen. Without these available in The Last of Us Part 1, I use navigational assistance to point me in the right direction, especially in darker levels. As mentioned earlier, it doesn’t always work for certain levels. Occasionally it has me backtracking for no reason other than to pass a marker.

Looting Struggles

The desire for minimal UI means less noticeable prompts unless nearby. Items do shimmer with a white glow, but this isn’t always abundantly clear, especially in the sunny levels. In general, resources can be found around the edges of environments.

Because prompts don’t appear unless nearby, and I struggle to see the dull shimmer, I wind up running around the edges of rooms. Ellie looks on nervously, watching me run into cabinets and desks. Below, you can see Joel and Ellie talking, to the right are resources to gather. However, these aren’t indicated unless I’m right next to them.

Joel looks to Ellie, they're standing in a large hall with fancy decorated tables and curtains. A piano sits on stage.

The feature to allow resources to be picked up automatically is useful. However, I’m a player that finds it appealing to manually pick the resources up. Knowing what I can pick up adds to the satisfaction of looting. The enhanced listen mode does help with pinpointing items to loot nearby, but I’ll touch on the struggles with that feature soon.

Sluggish Mobility

The Last of Us Part 1 has a lot of accessibility options related to mobility. However, the game’s focus on providing this realistic sense of gameplay from 2013 holds the game back. Moving is floaty and heavy at the same time. Sneaking requires moving the stick gently which can be an issue. Aiming is heavy and sluggish.

Stealth is the recommended way to play. Though, my consistent ability to fail at stealth means I’m mostly going in guns blazing against my will. Aiming is my hindrance here. Without aim assist, I’m free to aim but struggle to pick out enemies for lack of visual cues. I also struggle to aim when enemies are in my face swarming around me.

With aim assist on, I’m more confident in locating enemies, but now I’m struggling to adjust my aim for headshots because of how heavy it is. I’ve tried meeting the aim assist halfway with the slider, but I just cannot get to grips with gun combat.

So either way, stealth or aggression, I keep falling into two types of gameplay I’ve now grown to dislike in The Last of Us Part 1.

The weapon sway was also a feature I had to turn off. Although, this was not because of motion sickness, but because it just felt unnecessary and harder to aim. I know this is the intended experience but it was still a lot to contend with. Additionally, when Joel is grabbed, button prompts to retaliate dance around the screen making it awkward to see.

The holds and press options are nice to see and offer a fair bit of customization. The camera assist feature allows players to use a single stick instead of adjusting the camera with a second stick. Traversal assistance makes the more vertical levels less arduous. There’s even an option to skip mini-games but appears to be only tied to the Left Behind DLC.

Controls can be customized with remapping, inverted controls, and even controls for those who hold the controller in various ways. There are assists such as slow motion, weapon sway, and even invisibility that can help players handle the game where mobility may be tough going.

Also, Naughty Dog brought this darn controller slapping mechanic back. Originally disliked by myself in Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, this feature returns in The Last of Us Part 1.

Players have to tap the controller against their palm —or anything really— to reactivate the flashlight that has flickered off. Thankfully this doesn’t appear to happen all that often but twice was already annoying enough.

There’s a timed QTE to power generators up as well that I can’t seem to skip. So far I’ve encountered this twice in my playthrough. This only requires the button to be tapped, on time, three times in a row.

If you’re curious what another writer thought of The Last of Us Part 1 and mobility accessibility, Carlos has a dedicated review available here.

Sneaky Struggles

Stealth is tough on the game’s Moderate difficulty and even Light. As mentioned above, I’ve grown to dislike the gunplay because I struggle with a bunch of features, even with changes applied. The same is said for stealth because some levels have me failing time and time again. This means getting to see Joel being slaughtered time and time again.

The reason I’m failing so much is because of the lack of visual indications of how much noise I’m making. If I move slowly enough by pushing the stick delicately, I’m more likely to get caught if the enemy suddenly turns. If I move too fast, I’m detectable by sound. A white directional glow indicates when an enemy is aware, and it’ll do a very subtle flash if that detection makes them alert.

Occasionally, characters ping an enemy, leaving a white arrow above their head for a short moment of time. There is, though, no way of keeping these pings so I’m always aware of their locations.

Using the Listen mode in The Last of Us Part 1 can be exhausting, which isn’t wonderful for accessibility. This feature only works for sneaking and once activated the gameplay slows down. Enemies are presented as white and feathered silhouettes only when they’re making noise. Enemies not moving will not be shown, which does call for some jump scares.

When listen mode is deactivated, you’re unable to see anything in the way of outlines (Like Far Cry 6) or footsteps (Like We Happy Few). Enhanced Listen is a useful tool, but being locked to sneaking means I’m constantly going in and out of sneaking and walking. Every time I enter a new area, I activate it and instantly start sneaking. Who knew that hearing was only possible when crouching?

As someone who prefers to play stealth games with some form of visual guidance, the lack of is a barrier. Not having this guidance in The Last of Us Part 1 has me now disliking both the stealth and combat elements of gameplay. All that’s left is to enjoy the writing where I can in gameplay and cutscenes.

Minor Management

A game about survival comes with looting for resources in order to craft things. Overall, management is handled very well. Items collected are put to the back of my mind and automatically ordered into categories. Crafting is a simple opening of the backpack and choosing what to craft providing the resources are there.

Certain skills can be upgraded, although there are no reminders through the gameplay that you can do this. Weapon upgrades are different as you’re visually reminded to upgrade your weapons when you see a workbench. Other items tied to the story, collectibles, and crafting upgrades, are automatically added to the backpack.

Weapon swapping is rough as switching in the heat of the moment can be frantic and time doesn’t slow down. It requires using the d-pad to select items and then pressing a further input to open the list of available weapons or items to switch out.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that The Last of Us Part 1 has a lot of good things for accessibility and it shows what is possible when a remake is done well. For me, the focus on cinematic immersion and realism in gameplay has torn away the possibility of optional non-diegetic visuals that can be helpful. Regardless of how much I’m enjoying the story, the gameplay has me rearing my head in frustration at the original 2013 gameplay coming through.

While some features —intended for other purposes— can be helpful to fill in the blanks elsewhere, it’s a persistent dance of enabling and disabling. It winds up pulling me in and out of the experience just to fiddle. For example, navigational assistance which is ideal for blind players and those with limited mobility, is a tool used by myself, a Deaf player, to fill in the non-existent objective waypoints.

The addition of newer accessibility features to The Last of Us Part 1 such as audio descriptive cinematics and speech-to-vibrations are achieved incredibly well. They help with immersion and understanding in ways previously unheard and unfelt in a game. These, packed alongside such a wide range of features are only a good thing overall.

I have much more I want to talk about, but this review is getting a bit on the long side. To conclude, The Last of Us Part 1 opens this dramatic and playable story up to more players through its extensive accessibility features. What’s available should help provide a suitable playstyle for many, but the challenge is finding that balance across the volume of options.

A review copy of The Last of Us Part 1 was provided by the developer / publisher.

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Ben
BaylissEditor-in-ChiefHe/Him

Ben is the one in charge of keeping the content cogs at Can I Play That? turning. Deafness means that he has a focus on discussing captions, but with experience in consultancy and advocacy, he covers what bases he can. Having written about accessibility in video games at DualShockers, GamesRadar+, GamesIndustry.biz, Wireframe, and more he continues his advocacy at CIPT. He was actually awarded a Good Games Writing award for an article he wrote here! He enjoys a range of games, but anything that’s open-world and with a photo mode will probably be his cup of tea. You can get in touch with him at: ben@caniplaythat.com

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