Back when The Last of Us: Part 2 originally released over two years ago, in June 2020, one of the biggest reasons the game saw discussion was its suite of accessibility features offered at launch.
While certainly not the first video game to ever feature robust accessibility settings options, The Last of Us 2 did a phenomenal job of hitting all of the basics, as well as adding a few unique innovations that have yet to be matched by other games.
From the addition of High Contrast mode, to settings options that allowed sightless blind players to complete the game unaided, The Last of Us: Part 2 still stands unchallenged in terms of accessibility in a big budget AAA title.
In September 2022, a couple of months from now, The Last of Us: Part 1, a PS5 remake of the original 2013 game, is being released.
One of the key features it’s being sold on is the addition of a suite of accessibility features, and thanks to some leaked screenshots of the game’s accessibility features menus, and a developer interview video which confirmed the leak’s veracity, we now have a pretty good idea what the accessibility settings in The Last of Us: Part 1 are likely to look like upon release.
So today, on Access-Ability, we’re going to be talking about the accessibility settings coming to The Last of Us: Part 1 on PS5.
We’re going to compare the settings offerings in Part 1 compared to those found in The Last of Us 2, see which settings differ, if any, and highlight the importance of one new setting that fixes one of The Last of Us 2’s few accessibility weak points.
Now, before we dig into this settings comparison between The Last of Us: Part 1 and Part 2, it’s important to reiterate that this comparison is based on verified leaked accessibility menu screenshots.
As a result, we can’t currently confirm certain aspects definately mirror the best practices seen in The Last of Us 2. That game for example included disability presets on initial boot up of the game, something that we assume is probbably present in The Last of Us: Part 1, but we were not shown whether it was present or not in these leaked screenshots.
Additionally, some settings offered in the leaked screenshots have names that do not immediately convey what the setting will impact, and as such we’ve got to make some educated guesses as to what some of the offered settings provide.
Lastly, there are several menus, such as most of the settings menus outside of the accessibility specific menu sections, that are not shown in the leaked screenshots, so certain basic options such as camera sensitivity tweaking we can’t currently directly compare.
But, as you’ll see as we go through this video, I think it’s safe to assume that most of the settings you saw in The Last of Us 2 probably will be in Part 1 Remake.
Looking at the accessibility settings menu from its initial drop down, the core settings categories are basically unchanged, Alternative Controls, Magnification and Visual aids, Motion Sickness, Navigation and Traversal, Screen Reader and Audio Cues, and Combat Accessibility, which bodes well for most of the same core categories of settings to return.
The only change is that “Text-To-Speech and Audio cues” in The Last of Us 2 has been renamed to “Screen Reader and Audio Cues”, a renaming that still conveys the same general concept, but is slightly tweaked.
Much like The Last of Us: Part 2, by using the accessibility settings offered in Part 1 Remake, Sony will collect data while you play, so bare that in mind.
In the Alternative Controls section, all controls in The Last of Us: Part 1 can be fully remapped, with the option available to use gyro motion rather than sticks for aiming.
The Last of Us 2 featured presets for one handed control, to quickly map the game’s core functions to either the left or right side of the controller, but, as we haven’t seen that dedicated remapping menu yet, it’s unknown at this time if that is returning in this Part 1 remake.
You can set movement up and down ladders to be relative to the direction of the character, or the direction of the camera camera, if you find one of those options easier to mentally process than the other.
Hand Wheel Input can be swapped from the left analogue stick to the right.
There’s an option to allow for melee attacks to be activated while you’re mid aiming a gun, so that you don’t have to stop aiming and then do a melee attack.
Repeated button presses and melee combos can be switched to a button hold rather than repeated tapping, and aiming, sprinting, and crafting can be switched from button holds to toggles.
In the Magnification and Visual Aids section, HUD elements can be increased in size, the HUD background can be darkened, HUD colour can be changed, including several colorblindness focused presets, HUD flashing can be turned off, and high contrast mode is returning to help make the game easier to follow for low vision players.
Additionally, the game’s screen magnifier setting is returning, and non english language text can be translated automatically into on screen English for the player.
The motion sickness settings menu from The Last of Us 2 is basically unchanged in Part 1 remake, with the only setting missing being the option to turn off Dolly Zoom effects.
In Navigation and Traversal, players can turn on navigation assistance, traversal assistance, ledge guard, enhanced listen mode, infinite breath, and the option to skip puzzles.
These control options are useful for many disabled players, particularly those with motor control disabilities, bit are also very important to sightless blind players, as they’re part of what helped them to navigate effectively in The Last of Us: Part 2, and seeing them return in this Part 1 remake suggests that those sightless players who were able to effectively play Part 2 should have no issue here, hopefully.
In the Screen Reader and Audio Cues section, players can switch on a Screen Reader for in game text, Cinematic Descriptions (which we’ll return to in more depth later in this video), traversal audio cues, combat audio cues, combat vibration cues, as well as customising the volume of specific sources of audio, and checking a glossary of in game sound cues.
This menu is the other half of the settings that make the game playable for sightless blind players, and it’s reassuring to see that nothing appears to have been cut in this regard since Part 2’s release.
In the Combat Accessibility section, the first toggle shown is the “Enable Combat Accessibility” toggle, which unlocks a variety of small ways to tweak the granular difficulty of getting through the game’s combat encounters.
While this list of combat accessibility toggles is largely unchanged from Part 2, there are a few small alterations. The “Enhanced Dodge” option from The Last of Us 2 has been removed, “invisible while prone” from The Last of Us 2 has been switched to “invisibility toggle”, though it’s unclear whether this actually changes anything or is just a new name for the same sort of setting, and there is a new setting to turn off tinnitus sounds during combat, which I personally really appreciate.
Comparing the leaked screenshots of The Last of Us: Part 1 to the settings seen in Part 2, it seems pretty clear that, for the most part, we’re likely to see a 1:1 translation of the phenomenal accessibility support settings from The Last of Us 2 into this new Part 1 remake.
However, the biggest difference, and the one place where I think Part 1 truly has Part 2 beaten, is the addition of Audio Descriptions during cutscenes.
While it was commendable how well The Last of Us 2 was designed to be playable, start to finish, by sightless blind players, one area where it was unfortunately lacking was in how it presented narrative content to those disabled players.
While a sightless blind player could navigate the game world, engage in combat, and listen to the spoken in game dialogue to follow the text of the story, there was no thought given to conveying visual only information to sightless players that provided context to the setting of the adventure, or the tone surrounding moments of dialogue.
Here, I’m going to insert a clip from a video I made back in September 2020 about The Last of Us 2, and why a lack of Audio Descriptions was an issue with regards to that game.
If you were to play the opening scene from The Last of Us 2, while completely sightless, here’s what you would hear as a player.
[Sounds of horses gallopping, ocassional pinging
noises, and ambient guitar music playing]
Now, without any further information, what do you know about what’s happening in this scene? You can probably tell that Joel was riding a horse, but not much else. You’ve got audio pings to help you traverse through the scene, but very little context for what you’re trying to do.
What is the season? What time of day is it? Where are you heading? What landmarks do you pass? Are you leading the journey, or are you following another rider?
How about this early cutscene? Can you picture the setting based on just this audio?
[Sound of knocking on a wooden door]
[Joel] Hello… Ellie?
[Sound of door closing]
Again, without any further information, you probably know that Ellie and Joel are having a conversation, but where is it taking place? At what time of day? What was Ellie doing before the conversation started? There’s a lot of information you simply don’t have access to because, while The Last of Us 2 does a great job of helping sightless players navigate their world, it relies only on spoken in-game dialogue to paint the picture of the story.
While we don’t know for certain how Audio Descriptions will be implemented into The Last of Us: Part 1, we can make some educated guesses.
One of the most difficult aspects of adding Audio Descriptions to video games, compared to other forms of media, is the fact that video games are largely in player control, rather than being static and unchanging forms of media.
Now, some games, such as Bastion or The Stanley Parable, attempt to have narration triggered by in game actions, but it seems like The Last of Us: Part 1 is going to stick to using Audio Descriptions solely for cutscenes, rather than trying to implement them during player controlled gameplay.
I’m making this assumption based on the fact that they’re labelled “Cinematic Descriptions” in the Screen Reader and Audio cues menu.
While this is a definite step forward from The Last of Us 2 featuring no Audio Descriptions, this will likely leave room for future improvement.
In a perfect world, the ideal end goal would be to have Audio Descriptions also implemented in gameplay scenes, such as the scene we played earlier where Joel was riding a horse through the woods.
Still, this is a real big deal. Basically no big budget game has ever taken the time to add proper audio descriptions to its cutscenes, and the potential improvement this provides for sightless players is incredible.
I’m going to play another clip from my September 2020 Audio Descriptions video here, to demonstrate the kind of improvement this could theoretically lead to for players.
Let’s go back to those scenes we played you audio from before, and try offering a little additional description of the events happening on screen.
It is nighttime, and Ellie is sat at her desk, lit by a single small lamp.
She is drawing a rabbit in rough pen strokes, in a lined notebook.
[Sound of door opening]
[Joel] Hello… Ellie?
She has headphones on, and as such does not hear Joel enter.
[Sound of door closing]
Her room is lit by strings of fairy lights, and decorated with Sci-Fi space posters. Her arm is bandaged
While the developer video released last week was light on details, there was actually one very short clip shown of how Audio Descriptions will be implemented in The Last of Us: Part 1.
As the clip shows, the mockup I produced two years ago is pretty accurate to the implementation style in the final game.
[Audio Description] As she surveys the appartment, her eyes wander to Joel.
She steps past the couch.
He wears the wrist watch Sarah gifted him, which now has a cracked face.
[Developer] To my knowledge, this is the first PlayStation game that has audio description built into the game, built into the cinematics.
[Audio Description] Now it’s nighttime. Joel stirs in his sleep.
[Developer] And that’s really the way we’ve tried to push the frontier of accessibility on this game.
[Laura] As demonstrated in that clip, adding audio descriptions to static cutscenes isn’t a particularly difficult proposition, and adds a lot of clarity to the narrative for players who are experiencing the plot through audio only. While The Last of Us 2 was technically playable from start to finish for sightless players, the lack of audio descriptions definitely impacted how well the story could be enjoyed by those players.
While I’m obviously thrilled that most of the accessibility settings from The Last of Us 2 are being ported seemingly unchanged to the Part 1 Remake, the lack of audio descriptions was, honestly, the only area I thought Part 2’s accessibility could really be improved, and to see this actually being attempted in this remake is incredibly exciting.
Say what you will about The Last of Us and its sequel, but it’s undeniably exciting to see a series this consistently applauded for its accessibility continuing to push and try new things.
As soon as The Last of Us: Part 1 remake releases in September 2022, I’ll make sure to post a video review showing the Audio Descriptions in action, so we can see how they work in practice. It seems like sightless players will now be able to enjoy the original The Last of Us from a gameplay perspective, and hopefully to a greater narrative degree too.