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The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered review: perfection deserving of a victory lap

Kate Harrold

Published 
| Last updated 

The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered review: perfection deserving of a victory lap

Featured Image Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

To put it simply, The Last of Us Part II Remastered is utter perfection. Naughty Dog has the advantage that it’s working with what is already one of the most-awarded games of all-time. The Last of Us Part II Remastered is so much more than a new lick of paint though. While those new bells and whistles do boost the main game’s intensity and immersion, making this the definitive way to experience this stage of Ellie’s story, it’s far from the only way in which this release shines.

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The Last of Us Part II Remastered is by no means a money grab. It’s a well-earned victory lap and a celebration not just of the game itself, but the art of creating video games. New mode No Return perfectly isolates and highlights Part II’s brutal and thrilling combat system in an experience that is unlike anything we’ve experienced in the franchise thus far. The Guitar Free Play mode is a celebration of fan creativity, with devs answering the call for a platform for players to show their musical prowess outside of the main story, while the Lost Levels and Director’s Commentary offer valuable insight into the behind-the-scenes genius of those who made the game.

Take a look at our video review of The Last of Us Part II Remastered below.

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The Last of Us Part II Remastered is guaranteed to be picked up by fans new and old. I fall into the latter camp and after several replays, Part II has never lost its hold over me. I’ve never experienced a narrative that so cleverly plays with perspective, complicity, and notions of allegiance. Throughout the game, you’ll drift from hero to villain and back again, from the victim to the aggressor. It’s a long road from apathy to empathy, and yet The Last of Us Part II boasts a narrative that handles this journey masterfully.

Set several years after the events of The Last of Us Part I, Part II sees Ellie and girlfriend Dina journey to Seattle to settle a score with ex-Firefly Abby, now part of a militia known as the Washington Liberation Front. What follows is a tale about the pitfalls of revenge, but I’m sure you already know that. You’re wondering what’s new.

Despite originally being released on the PlayStation 4, The Last of Us Part II remains one of the best-looking games out there to this day. When the remaster was announced, I did wonder if we’d see any meaningful difference. It was foolish of me to think that Naughty Dog would do anything other than excel. The Last of Us Part II Remastered is noticeably darker and no, I don’t mean thematically.

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The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

I’m talking about visibly. That may sound like an odd change on paper but trust me, it makes for an all-the-more thrilling experience. Light no longer exists for your aid. If you’re in an underground tunnel, it won’t be dimly lit just so that you can see what you’re doing. Developers were clearly a lot more intentional this time around. If there’s one lamp or one window, light will only emit from that source. If there’s no light source at all, natural light included, your flashlight is going to feel far more crucial than it ever did in the original Part II release.

This change is something I noticed immediately. In fact, even going as far as to pull up the original game to compare. While the darkened visuals are initially a tad jarring if, like me, you’ve played through the original several times, I quickly adjusted and noticed just how much this tweak upped the intensity of the game.

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The underground sections, which usually come complete with hordes of Infected, felt almost suffocating. Even I, as a player familiar with the various locations and combat sequences, felt so reliant on that one beam of light ahead of me cast by my flashlight. You can imagine the shudder that ran through me when it would flicker off from time to time. Even in broad daylight though, the revamped lighting and shadows added a stronger sense of grounded realism which, yes, is surprisingly possible it turns out.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

It goes without saying that graphically, The Last of Us Part II Remastered is a tour de force, building on the strong foundations established in the original release. In the opening shot of the game, you can easily see the wood grain of Joel's guitar but beyond that, you can also see greased finger smudges on the lacquer. That attention to detail felt improved this time around and extends throughout the game so if the trials and tribulations of Seattle do prove a little overwhelming at times, stop and take a look around. You won’t be disappointed at the way in which this world is crafted.

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The most prominent change to come to the main game though is easily the addition of the PlayStation 5’s DualSense haptic feedback. For those who have played 2022’s The Last of Us Part I, it functions much the same. Each weapon has its own unique feel, largely through button resistance, while you’ll also feel the gentle patter of rain - or the terrifying rumble of a distant Bloater or Shambler. Let me tell you, when you can actually feel the roar of the big Rat King fella in your hands, you might want to drop your DualSense and run a mile.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

The fun, or should I say emotional devastation, doesn’t end when the credits roll as it did in the original Part II release. I’m sure you’ll be itching to dive into No Return, and with good reason. Pitched as a brand new roguelike-inspired survival mode, I can tell you that No Return is positively fantastic. I had the opportunity to preview No Return several months ago and was blown away by the evident consideration with regards to the creation of the mode.

It’s no secret that The Last of Us is a narrative powerhouse of a franchise. How does the gameplay hold up when that narrative is taken away? Very well, it turns out. At the end of the day, every single character we encounter in The Last of Us Part I and Part II has the same intention: to survive. Many go about it in different ways but that’s essentially what it whittles down to. I felt immediately invested in the run of whichever character I was playing as, with the mode’s pacing and variety leaving me breathless.

Having now sunk many more hours into No Return, I’ve discovered that I’d barely scratched the surface of that variety in my preview session. No Return boasts four modes in total. Assault sees you face off against three waves of enemies - sometimes they’ll begin in search, and other times they’ll begin in combat. In Hunted, you’ll have to survive several minutes as enemies continually close in. Holdout functions similarly except this time, you’ve got a companion you’re tasked with keeping alive. Finally, you’ll unlock Capture. This mode features a safe guarded by enemies which you must unlock before time runs out. The more runs you complete, the more of these modes become available.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

The same goes for enemy types. Initially, you’ll either face off against the WLF, Seraphites, or Infected but after some time, you’ll unlock Rattlers too. There are six bosses to beat in total before you unlock randomised boss encounters. The run isn’t set for you either. You’ll be able to choose between branching paths, adding a fun strategic element. Capture and Assault, in my opinion, are the easiest of the four round types to choose (if they’re available as options) but you may be hindering your long-term success by picking the path of least resistance. Greater risk comes with greater reward, and you’ll need every weapon and upgrade you can get by the time you reach the final boss fight.

Already, I’m imagining you can see that sense of variety I’m talking about, and there are so many factors I’m yet to mention. Each playable character has their own traits. You’ll begin with Ellie and Abby available to you - Ellie offering a balanced approach and Abby excelling in melee - with further characters unlocked the more runs you complete. After going full throttle as Abby, I initially struggled as Mel and Dina, characters who favour crafting and logic - a tricky conundrum when five infected are hurtling towards you.

Manny is the complete opposite, boasting an ‘armoury’ trait. He may begin with a solid roaster of weapons, but he’s also the only character unable to craft med kits. Like I said, it’s all about risk and reward. Lev favours stealth, Yara’s trait is allyship which sees her team up with Lev, while Tommy and Joel boast some impressive weapons but cannot dodge - that final part being one of the most challenging hurdles I came across.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

I can guarantee that you’ll want to cycle through all the various characters (and you’ll need to in order to unlock all that No Return has to offer), resulting in an experience that is ever-changing. While you might have character loadouts that you favour, you can never truly prepare for what No Return has in store. It’s a mode that demands quick-thinking and flexibility.

In the main game, I tend to prefer a stealth-based approach to combat and so in No Return, I thought I’d enjoy opting for Lev. That’s great if No Return then throws up a series of Assault rounds where I can eliminate my enemies quietly, one by one. Lev is suddenly rendered pretty useless though if I’m forced to play Hunted where quickfire guns, throwables, and melee weapons are far more useful as enemies continue to pour in, ever aware of my position.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep you on your toes, I haven’t even touched on gameplay mods which really set the No Return mode apart from any experience that you’ll have in the main game. Some mods work in your favour, lowering the difficulty by slowing down time on a headshot, or boosting your speed after vaulting. For the most part though, mods are yet another obstacle in your path.

It’s a further form of high risk, high reward. How do you feel about facing off against a horde of enemies while surrounded by a thick fog, completely reducing visibility? Not intense enough? How about pustile rain? Enemies exploding upon death? Hidden tripwires? These are all challenges you can face in No Return. The hardest of all though? Invisible enemies.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

I’ll admit, to begin with, I avoided such mods. Why opt for the pustile rain path when I can dive into a regular Capture round? With time though, you’ll be drawn in by curiosity - soon discovering that you’ll set yourself up better in the long run should you survive the round. While the risk may end in your demise, it’s okay not to reach the boss. Sometimes the fun is in taking on the most perilous challenge - and you shouldn’t expect to beat the boss every time. If I hadn’t put it across already, No Return is by no means easy.

Even on the lower difficulties, it’ll take some time for you to find your flow and fall out of the restrictive patterns you may have picked up in the main game. Once you finally master the flexibility that No Return demands though, you simply won’t be able to stop coming back for more.

From the breakneck speed of No Return, I ventured to the more meandering pace of the Lost Levels. Naughty Dog recently put out a poll on Twitter, also known as X, asking fans what they were most excited for in The Last of Us Part II Remastered. Just over 44% of people voted for the Lost Levels, with No Return following behind at 39.7%. While No Return is the jewel in this release’s crown, the Lost Levels are a must-play addition for fans who are curious to learn more about the craft of creating video games.

All three are relatively low-key. One is completely void of combat, another sees you grapple with a single Infected, while the final level features a short struggle with a boar. Each, as is stressed in a series of introductory videos, is “months away” from being finished. Jackson Party is void of dialogue, while The Sewers and Boar Hunt are a tad further along. They’re still work-in-progress builds though, with missing animations and gameplay tweaks.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

What is most joyful about playing these Lost Levels isn’t actually the act of playing them, it’s listening to the developer’s commentary that activates as you proceed through. You’ll learn why the level was cut, what developers hoped the level would narratively convey, why certain obstacles or layouts were chosen, and where cut ideas were eventually recycled elsewhere in the game.

I particularly enjoyed Jackson Party, despite it being in the roughest state. In the level, you’ll see how developers planned to recycle and redress mechanics, swapping the upgrade bench for a drinks crafting station, or the echolocation of a clicker for a game played by children. Jackson Party also provides a cute backstory for JJ’s toy Ollie which you collect in the farmhouse chapter, something I’ll now always think of when I play the main game. It’s so thrilling to experience this ‘cut lore’ essentially, widening our understanding of this story.

My favourite moment hands down came in The Sewers level though. I won’t dive into specifics as it’s best experienced without warning, but I’ll just say that it involves Ellie, a small crawl space, and a clicker - and it might just be one of my favourite shots in the franchise. What a small mercy that we finally see it brought to life.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Guitar Free Play certainly won’t blow you away quite like No Return, the Lost Levels, or the game itself will. That being said, it’s a well put together addition for those who longed to show their musical prowess outside of the main game in the 2020 release. Guitar Free Play allows you to select from several characters, including composer Gustavo Santaolalla himself, picking between various stringed instruments. You can also add sound filters, allowing you to perfectly set the tone you’re after, plus you can adjust the background.

While I had Ellie strum a bit of ‘Black Space’ by Taylor Swift (it’s the first song that popped into my head that I know the guitar chords for), this isn’t a mode I personally will spend a ton of time in. Despite that, I can see players strumming up masterpieces, with the ideal setting and instrument intonation to match their vision, and I look forward to seeing such demonstrations begin to flood social media following the game’s release.

As much as I hate to acknowledge it, The Last of Us Part II’s release was messy. The studio dealt with leaks, backlash to the plot, and no one could’ve prepared for launching a game during a global pandemic. Still, as developer Matthew Gallant told me back in November, it’s a game that remains precious to all those involved in creating it. Well, it’s time for those developers to enjoy a well-earned victory lap.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
The Last of Us Part II Remastered / Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment

The Last of Us Part II Remastered is everything fans could’ve wanted from this release. If you’re a new player, this is the definitive way to experience the next chapter in Ellie’s journey and for those returning for another round, you’ll undoubtedly feel a renewed sense of wonder at the marvel that is this game. The Lost Levels will provide you with a deep appreciation of the creative process but it’s No Return that makes this release so special.

With the mode, Naughty Dog has proved that The Last of Us isn’t just a narrative powerhouse, it boasts a thrilling combat system that perhaps, until now, has been underestimated. No Return pushes the franchise's systems to their limits, creating a mode that is oh so easy to sink many, many hours into. As a full package, there’s nothing else you could possibly want from The Last of Us Part II Remastered. We all thought Part II was Naughty Dog’s magnum opus but Part II Remastered shows that there’s plenty more gas in the tank. If this is insight into what’s to come from the studio, I cannot wait to see what Naughty Dog is cooking up next.

Pros: DualSense haptic feedback boosts immersion, No Return boasts immense variety and replayability, interesting insight into making of the game

Cons: nothing

For fans of: The Last of Us Part I, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Telltale’s The Walking Dead

10/10: Perfect

The Last of Us Part II Remastered is set to launch on 19 January on PlayStation 5 (version tested). A review code was provided by the publisher, Sony Interactive Entertainment. Read a guide to our review scores here.

Topics: The Last Of Us, The Last Of Us Part 2, PlayStation, PlayStation 5, Naughty Dog

Kate Harrold
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