Pittsburgh is still bleak but beautiful in remastered Sony game 'The Last of Us'

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Pittsburgh is deserted. The city streets and sidewalks that were once bustling with people and commerce are eerily silent. The metal and stone skyscrapers that stood proudly as Downtown’s signature skyline are wrapped in green vines, moss and trees. Inoperable cars litter streets and block ramp accesses. Somehow, traffic is a nightmare even after the apocalypse.

Only something as catastrophic as the Rooney family moving the Steelers to Ohio could cause such a mass exodus. This was caused by something more destructive: a deadly fungal spore that has infected and wiped out much of the world’s population.

This is “The Last of Us,” a 2013 game developed by Naughty Dog for PlayStation 3. Regarded by many to be one of the finest games of the previous console generation, the game explores what happens to humanity after large-scale disaster. USA Today called it an “incredible journey” and IGN.com said it was a “true feat” in their respective reviews last year. Even the box art rightfully boasts its 200-plus game-of-the-year awards.

This week, the game is taking a victory lap with “The Last of Us Remastered,” a new version for the PlayStation 4 with updated graphics. This rerelease also includes the downloadable content that was released for the game post-launch.

The story of “The Last of Us” is carried by main characters Joel and Ellie. Ellie is a young girl who is immune to the virus. Joel fills the role of protector while accompanying Ellie on their cross-country journey that may or may not lead to humanity’s salvation. That journey takes the pair on a tour through post-apocalyptic Pittsburgh.

This in-game vision of Pittsburgh isn’t a one-to-one replica of the Steel City. Instead, the artists attempted to capture the many things that make this city unique. 

The pair arrives on a rare cloudless day. The sun hits a gray building that resembles the BNY Mellon Building. A few blocks away looms the U.S. Steel Tower. It remains the tallest building in the city, but its monochromatic palette has been enhanced by nature’s overgrown vines. Downtown Pittsburgh has never been this peaceful.

A stroll down what looks like it could be the Boulevard of the Allies brings Joel and Ellie through what’s called Pittsburgh’s Business District. The fictional area looks like Fifth Avenue with some influences from the Cultural District. The sun-soaked, cracked and flooded road stretches into the distance leading to the golden Fort Duquesne Bridge on the horizon.

Joel and Ellie explore the city’s shops and eateries, salvaging what they find along the way. Their goal is to make it to the bridge while avoiding the lawless bandits who have gained control of Downtown.

Amid the carnage and chaos that eliminated nearly the city’s entire population, beauty remains. “The Last of Us” artfully portrays this while using Pittsburgh’s distinctive look as its canvas.

Thanks to the added power of the PS4, “The Last of Us: Remastered” manages to surpass the already stellar visuals of the game’s original release. The remastered version stands as a good excuse to revisit the game. PS4 owners who missed out on the PS3 need little reason to pick it up. “The Last of Us” is one of the rare finds that transcends typical storytelling in the medium. Or just play it to catch a glimpse of Pittsburgh’s possible future.

Max Parker blogs as The Game Guy for the Post-Gazette. Twitter: @GameGuyPGH.

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