January 19, 2024
Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered sees the updated return of a much-loved—and certainly controversial—PlayStation game. It’s releasing at a time of peak The Last of Us topicality, from the franchise’s 2022 remaster of the original game, to last year’s HBO TV show launch and its upcoming second season, to the recent news of its online spin-off cancellation. It’s an IP brimming with potential but also brimming with adoration from its fans, of which I’m certainly one. However, the big concern this particular release has to answer to is that of its timeline. How do you justify the remaster of a game that’s only 3 years old?
More than just a PlayStation 5 upgrade, Naughty Dog has pumped extra love into their 2020 classic which we called a “remarkable milestone in game design” at the time. Additional game modes, behind-the-scenes commentary, unreleased levels, and little details everywhere help to bolster what was an already unbelievable experience. It’s the sum of many incredible parts, turning The Last of Us Part II Remastered into a game that feels like a love letter to its fans.
This third-person action/adventure narrative plays as well today as it did back in 2020. There’s no question about the title’s gameplay quality, where intense combat sequences are strengthened by heart-stopping moments of dread, beautifully implemented stealth mechanics, and some hugely technically impressive puzzle designs. The visual and performance updates are minimal when compared to the PS5 patches that already came through for Part II, though the small graphical improvements and details only help to uplift this PlayStation showpiece as the beauties and horrors of the world get amplified. You can’t knock these visuals, which to this day feature the most realistic animations of any game I’ve ever witnessed. The sound design is of course as good as ever, but it’s all done to heighten Ellie’s journey of revenge-fuelled obsession. A tale that’s as painful to experience today as it was when we first played.
“The tenderness and subtlety of Naughty Dog’s writing… creates a rollercoaster of emotion unmatched across the medium.”
With over 3 years to process The Last of Us Part II’s story, this remastered release gives us an opportunity to reset and examine the product with fresh eyes, now distanced from the rocky and frankly bizarre launch discourse. And I have to say it feels right. The tenderness and subtlety of Naughty Dog’s writing juxtaposed against the mortifying scenes presented to us creates a rollercoaster of emotion unmatched across the medium. The game’s story is as brutal as they come, yet it never feels unjustified or distasteful. A miserable world that actually makes the player endure misery is a triumph, even if it sounds odd to say so. The acting is first-class, as is the overall production quality.
Justifying the price of admission is the brand new content found in The Last of Us Part II Remastered. The headline here is the game’s roguelike mode called ‘No Return’ that sees the player take on one of 8 characters as they battle through instanced scenarios and accumulate resources, leading to a final boss fight. There’s a good amount of content here and a roguelike mode is kind of a no-brainer, as the game’s gameplay is more than satisfying enough to support the idea. Unlike many other roguelikes, No Return asks for a touch more consideration from its players as a guns-blazing approach isn’t likely to end in your favour. It gives the mode a distinguishable identity and appropriately mirrors the dread and intensity of the main campaign’s fights.
The encounters are randomly generated with different enemy types including the WLF, Seraphites, Infected and Rattlers. Different objectives exist, such as ‘Assault’ where you survive 3 waves of enemies, ‘Hunted’ where you survive against a timelimit, ‘Capture’ where you infiltrate and unlock a safe, and ‘Holdout’ where you protect an ally. Modifiers, which can be both positive and negative, will impact these encounters too, and cover a wide range of different effects. It all adds to a dynamic and interesting play experience, where plotting your path of encounters in advance simply increases the tactical options. 6 bosses are available to slay, with challenges to unlock as you go, leading to a healthy amount of content found in No Return.
Completing challenges in this game mode unlocks character model skins and gun skins that can be used in the main game, giving extra incentive to check it all out and adding to the cohesion of the overall product. The game mode could be improved by removing the instanced feeling of zoning in and out of encounters, or giving it some narrative justification/throughline. However, the product as it stands is still a resounding accomplishment, just one step removed from the triumph it could have otherwise been.
Also new for the remaster is developer commentary that can be toggled on, providing valuable insights in the design decisions and more from key people within the game’s development. Neil Druckman, Naughty Dog Head of Creative, is joined by the likes of co-writer Halley Gross and voice acting legends Laura Bailey, Ashley Johnson, and Troy Baker as they unpack the details of the game’s world, motion capture technology, storytelling, and characterisation. This commentary happens during the game’s cutscenes which means stretches of the game won’t be commented on, so it’s certainly not all-encompassing. But what it does provide is some amazing tidbits that are perfect for avid fans wanting more detail and behind-the-scenes glimpses.
The developer commentary just feels warming, as if you’re being invited into a roundtable of friends who are widely knowledgeable and passionate about a given topic. You can hear how much each and every one of them cares, and how much respect and adoration they share for one another. It’s just an extra layer of goodness to enjoy.
“…giving that juicy insight and extra context that turns this remaster into something much deeper than a simple coat of paint”
Guitar freeplay is also on offer, letting you jam out with different characters, locations, and instruments using The Last of Us Part II’s strumming minigame. It’s a cute addition that didn’t add much value for me personally, but may capture other players’ attention for longer. The lost levels on the other hand are much more my speed, allowing you to experience sections of the game that were left on the cutting room floor. These are accompanied by further developer commentary, giving that juicy insight and extra context that turns this remaster into something much deeper than a simple coat of paint.
The lost levels in The Last of Us Part II Remastered are short and unfinished, but present something very special. Without spoiling anything, these levels give further insight into the characters, their surroundings, and even their motivations. It’s fascinating to hear that these levels were eventually cut for pacing reasons, as all three brought captivating glimpses into the characters and even introduced interesting gameplay ideas not found in the final product. It makes me yearn for a Director’s Cut of this game and what that would look like if the team was given extra time to finish these sequences and incorporate them wholly.
We’re often warned that we don’t want to see how the sausage is made, but that sage piece of wisdom doesn’t seem applicable here. Every aspect of The Last of Us Part II Remastered feels warming, transparent, and complete. I feel like I know more about a game and franchise that mean a lot to me, and importantly that information was experienced, not just told. There’s a cohesion to everything presented in this remaster that feels lovingly made for its biggest fans. And that’s a very special feeling.
- Gameplay, storytelling and visuals still amongst the best ever created
- Developer commentary and lost levels give a loving glimpse behind the curtains
- So many additional details and features that create the definite The Last of Us Part II experience
- A roguelike mode that provides expanded and continued enjoyment
- Opportunities for No Return to have been even better
The Last of Us Part II Remastered brings not just extra content but extra heart to an already much-loved game. This is one for the fans, with a plethora of additional features that highlight the best aspects of the game’s design whilst giving further context and glimpses into its development. Bursting at the seams with things to do, see, and unlock—The Last of Us Part II Remastered is a celebration of one of gaming’s greats.