Review

The Last of Us Part II Didn't Need a Remaster — But It Got One Anyway

Still a masterclass in atmosphere and tension.

Written by Kazuma Hashimoto

I hold my breath and crouch behind a wall, the tension palpable as a Clicker stalks around the room, its head flowering with colorful mushrooms, as I navigate through the remains of some nameless settlement left to ruin in Seattle.

I know I don’t literally have to hold my breath as I’m playing a video game, but fear courses through me as I navigate Ellie through a pile of rubble, her foot carelessly knocking a stray bottle rolling across the floor. It alerts the Clicker to my position and I freeze as it comes rounding from behind an empty bookcase. I squeeze the right trigger of my controller and fire off a shot. Two shots. Three shots, each more frantic than the last before it crumples at my feet.

While The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered may be a too-young re-release of one of the most technically impressive games of its generation, it still manages to make my palms sweat and is a masterclass in atmosphere and tension.

Met with critical acclaim, The Last of Us Part 2 followed up on the extremely successful The Last of Us, which has gone on to spawn an equally successful HBO series. This title transformed Naughty Dog, a developer previously known for Crash Bandicoot, Uncharted, and Jack and Daxter, into a studio synonymous with hard-hitting (albeit cynical) storytelling back with incredible graphics and voice acting. However, with The Last of Us Part 2 having released less than four years ago, it begs the question as to why The Last of Part 2 Remastered exists, outside of the obvious reasons — to generate more capital in the wake of remasters and remakes being more profitable than ever, or to capitalize on a newfound audience thanks to the success of the HBO series.

Naturally, the remaster does have features unique to this version of the game, which fans of the original game may find substantial enough to warrant a second purchase. If you enjoyed The Last of Us Part 2 then you will without a doubt love the remastered version of the game, as it includes developer commentary and an additional game mode to hone your skills, along with some features that take full advantage of the PlayStation 5’s DualSense controller.

No Return

If you enjoyed The Last of Us Part 2 then you will without a doubt love the remastered version of the game.

Naughty Dog

The biggest addition to The Last of Us 2 Remastered is “No Return,” a new roguelike survival mode where players take on swarms of randomized enemies in familiar maps to unlock weapon upgrades, perks, and additional characters. No Return feels a lot more like Resident Evil’s The Mercenaries classic mode than a traditional roguelike, and load-outs are constrained to the character you’ve picked, along with their general traits. This actually compliments No Return well since stages involve taking on waves of enemies with some conditionals, like melee hits setting enemies on fire. Still, encounters can get stale pretty fast.

No Return also only comes with four game modes: Assault, Hunted, Capture, and Holdout, all of which revolve around defeating waves of enemies. You can pick your path through a literal web of these stages laid out on a cork board in your hideout you return to between stages to upgrade your weapons and traits.

Unlocking characters is easy, too, and only takes two to three hours depending on how quickly you can pass through stages and fulfill the required prerequisites. Unlocking Joel, for example, requires working your way through a handful of characters starting with Ellie, then Dina, then Jessie, and so forth. This forces you to engage with characters and load-outs you otherwise wouldn’t. But it doesn’t amount to much since everything is mostly the same in terms of clearing waves of enemies or tackling bosses like Bloaters.

No Return feels like a slice of what could be a more extensive roguelike mode.

Naughty Dog

You can also unlock characters from Abby’s story, including Lev, Yara, and Mel, and this is done the exact same way you unlock characters with Ellie. Players can also dedicate time to unlocking skins for both characters and weapons, but outside of Abby and Ellie, they’re not particularly stand-out.

Because of how restrictive The Last of Us 2’s gameplay is, there aren’t many creative ways to clear stages. You can toss rocks or bricks to distract enemies with audio cues, but it always ends the same: pummeling enemies with melee weapons (which I found to be the most effective) or shooting them. Upgrades feel insignificant when you’re really only offered two solutions. And while there is a custom mode that allows you to make adjustments to enemies, select specific game modes, and even what upgrade stations you have access to, with only four game modes and two ways to tackle these encounters, it becomes stale very fast.

While I did dedicate a handful of hours to this mode, it didn’t exactly blow me away. The stages started to feel same-y, and upgrades are inconsequential unless you’re playing at a harder difficulty. Ultimately, No Return feels like a slice of what could be a more extensive roguelike mode, and one that could maybe keep players entertained for more than just a few play sessions.

Remastering a Modern Classic

The way faces deform with each change in expression is still wildly impressive.

Naughty Dog

Outside of The Last of Us Part II Remastered supporting 4K performance with the addition of a Fidelity Mode, the upgraded textures are barely noticeable. Then again, that’s not exactly a surprise considering how good the original game looked on release less than five years ago for the PlayStation 4. The way faces deform with each change in expression or how clothing folds and creases with each movement a character makes is still wildly impressive (along with the still-impressive rope physics), but none of this should come as a surprise. The Last of Us Part 2 is still relatively fresh, and graphics haven’t really improved in the years since to any significant degree.

Other new features include a baked-in speedrun mode, which feels par for the course for modern games that want to see a community form around a game long after its lifespan (the Resident Evil 4 remake had something similar). There’s even a Guitar Free Play mode, which allows for players to pick from a total of six different string instruments to quite literally play the guitar or banjo using a radial wheel and the PlayStation 5 DualSense touch pad. It’s great to see Remastered make use of the capabilities of this controller, but is a little clunky since you need to use the thumbstick to select a chord and then use your thumb or an additional finger to stroke the touch pad as if you were playing the instrument. Since it’s free play, you’re able to play whatever song you want either through looking up chords or making your compositions. Players can also pick from a total of three different characters to “play” as, which includes Ellie, Joel, and composer Gustava Santaoalla.

You’re able to play whatever song you want using Guitar Free Play mode.

Naughty Dog

Naughty Dog’s remaster also takes advantage of the PS5’s haptic feedback, which feels incredible when using the bow and arrow either in the main scenario or in No Return. This can be turned off, which I did about half-way through my replay of the main game just because it did end up straining my hands with extended use. Additionally, Remastered adds a greater range of accessibility features which includes descriptive audio and speech to vibration to assist the visually impaired. The Last of Us Part 2 already had extremely impressive accessibility options, so it’s great to see Naughty Dog expand upon this.

Even if you’ve already played The Last of Us Part 2 in full, the developer commentary included in this remaster might entice you to revisit the game. This more or less functions in the same way you would experience director’s commentary from a movie or TV show, playing over specific cutscenes in the game with insight from director Neil Duckmann along with voice actors Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Laura Bailey (Abby). However, in order to access this feature, you’ll need to complete the game, and it’s also limited to English audio.

When it comes to the overarching plot, nothing has changed even with the inclusion of the Lost Levels (levels cut during the development of the game), as the main scenario is fundamentally the same. The Last of Us 2 is technically an impressive game, the narrative is undoubtedly bleak and it’s impossible to ignore how Neil Druckmann’s personal political beliefs are baked into the story itself (especially concerning the ongoing crisis in Palestine). For anyone coming to the game for the first time after watching the HBO show, it’s worth taking a critical look at how Druckmann’s opinions color this story of a brutal, never-ending conflict — especially as big-budget games demand the same treatment as prestige movies and TV.

Final Thoughts

It still manages to make my palms sweat and is a masterclass in atmosphere and tension.

Naughty Dog

Ultimately, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is functionally the same game with a few new features and some developer commentary. It feels like an attempt to capitalize on the success of the HBO series and to entice a new audience to jump into Part 2 before it's adapted into Season 2. But While the developer commentary is interesting and helps demystify the kind of work that goes into these extremely expensive video games, its new roguelike mode gets old fast. The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered feels like an inevitability in terms of what the greater market demands, but that doesn’t mean it’s worth your time.

7/10

The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered launches on January 19 on the PlayStation 5.

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