SPOILER ALERT: This review discusses minor plot details and gameplay elements from The Last of Us Part II Remastered.
It’s not an unfair question to ask why a game that’s not even four years old needs to be remastered — especially when the original was already widely regarded as near-perfect. But that’s just what Naughty Dog set out to do with The Last of Us Part II Remastered, a redux of the 2020 sequel.
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Just minutes into playing, it becomes clear exactly why the remaster is the definitive version of this game. Playing in fidelity mode on PS5, which features native 4K performance, I gasped at the opening shot of Joel’s weathered hands on his guitar. A new level of staggering detail is present in every one of his wrinkles and callouses as he wrestles with the neck of his instrument.
While the main story remains identical to the original, graphical improvements deepen the nature of the already-stunning world, with textures you’d swear you could run your fingers over and feel. Combined with the power of the PS5 and the DualSense controller’s haptic feedback, the story has never felt more immersive.
New in the remaster is a roguelike survival mode called No Return, in which players complete runs through a series of smaller encounters with enemies. There’s great variety and replayability in spades here, from the type of battle to the character selection.
To name a couple encounter types: ‘Hunted’ fights force you to survive an unrelenting attack, while ‘Assault’ battles pit you against waves of enemies increasing in difficulty. Abby, Ellie and Joel are playable like in the main game, but this expansion allows players to step into the shoes of Dina, Jesse, Tommy, Lev, Yara, Mel and Manny. Each of them has a unique play style featuring unique gun choices and abilities, from Abby’s proficiency with close combat to Dina’s superior crafting prowess.
This mode is unbelievably addicting – modifiers, boss battles and an ever-changing path of randomized encounters keeps it feeling fresh and exciting, even after hours of play.
Logging time in No Return is one of several ways players can unlock new skins, allowing them to further customize their experience. They’re all great fun, but there are two obvious standout skins — and as gorgeous as they are, it does feel somewhat blasphemous watching a punk ‘80s Abby wreak havoc as a space suit-clad Ellie watches on in horror.
Also added to the remaster are three ‘lost levels,’ early-development versions of gameplay scenes that never made it to the final game. They’re paired with commentary from game designers Banun Idris and Pete Ellis, who walk players through the rough-cut levels, explaining what their intention was in crafting the levels, and why they were ultimately cut.
While it makes sense that the three levels, (Sewers, Jackson Party and Boar Hunt) were removed from the already long and laborious story, it’s illuminating to see what could have been. Thankfully, Naughty Dog also brought optional commentary to the main story’s cutscenes, including musings from both developers and actors like Ashley Johnson and Laura Bailey.
For diehard fans of the series, pulling back the curtain like this will only serve to deepen their understanding of the beautifully tragic story – and make the game feel new again. Instead of simply watching a cutscene they’ve already seen, they can hear from the creators about exactly what the intent of the scene was.
It’s hard to imagine improving upon the 2020 game, but Naughty Dog has achieved the impossible with a remaster packed to the gills with heart and technical finesse. Whether you’re picking up this title for the first time or playing it again after several runs through Abby and Ellie’s journeys, The Last of Us Part II Remastered is surely worth your time and attention.
The Last of Us Part II Remastered launches on January 19 for PlayStation 5.
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