Few studios have as much reverence for their own games as Naughty Dog.
All four mainline Uncharted games received the remaster treatment for more powerful PlayStation hardware. The original The Last of Us has been remastered and remade. It was inevitable, then, that its sequel would eventually get a glow-up for the PS5. With the second season of HBO’s TV adaptation – which will cover the events of The Last of Us Part II – due to go into production in the spring, we’re not surprised that Naughty Dog has decided that now is the time.
Back to the rapture
I received early review code for The Last of Us Part II Remastered from Sony and have spent the last few weeks revisiting Ellie’s obsessive and unrelentingly gruesome quest for vengeance. I thought the original game was an incredible achievement back in 2020, easily Naughty Dog’s most compelling game to play.
The ability to go prone is very much a staple of stealth games, but it wasn’t possible in the original. Its introduction in Part II, as well as the larger, more open areas, make it easier to sneakily dispose of Infected without raising the alarm. The Last of Us Part II was a very long game by Naughty Dog’s standards, but it was well paced and never had you doing the same thing for too long.
Less successful for me was the direction the story takes, which I found to be excessively nihilistic. It was also probably just a bit too much in the midst of real-life pandemic that had us all locked in our homes and seeking media with a slightly more upbeat interpretation of the world and the people in it.
By the end I had given up on the characters I was controlling and found myself willing the game to end. This really got me down, given that The Last of Us was (and remains) one of my favourite games of all time.
The Last of us Part II: Back again
I was intrigued, then, to see how the sequel would go down a second time. Now I know where it’s all heading, I can appreciate Naughty Dog’s cinematic storytelling and perfectly honed stealth action gameplay for what it is. Like 2022’s The Last of Us Part I, Part II Remastered runs natively on PS5 and looks superb in 4K. You can choose between fidelity mode, which targets 4K 30fps, or performance mode, which outputs at 1440p upscaled to 4K and targets 60fps.
There is also an unlocked frame rate option for VRR-compatible TVs. This meant I was happy with the performance of the fidelity mode throughout. Beyond slightly sharper textures, I couldn’t notice many differences in detail between the two graphics modes. So if you want the smoothest possible frame rates, you won’t give up too much in performance mode. Naughty Dog will let you bring over your PS4 save too. That means you can jump straight back into your favourite set pieces if you don’t want to start at the beginning again.
Alongside the graphical enhancements, The Last of Us Part II Remastered also makes full use of the DualSense controls. The haptics are given a proper workout, and you really feel the tension of the bow and arrow in the triggers when you’re nervously lining up a headshot on a squawking Clicker. I’m yet to play a game with the PS5’s tech-heavy controller that doesn’t feel that bit more immersive when these features are properly utilised. It’s only right then, that one of Sony’s flagship series can now be experienced in its entirety on current-gen hardware.
I haven’t played through the whole campaign again yet. But the opening hours leading up to that scene were still as tense and shocking the second time round. I’ve now reached Seattle, where Naughty Dog does an excellent job of making you feel like you’re discovering the map on your own, rather than following a series of cleverly disguised linear corridors. I’m still yet to play a game where your violent actions feel as personal as they do here. And I still find myself being surprised. Even though I know what’s coming, I never feel at ease when I climb over a wall or through a window of an abandoned building. I definitely intend to see it through for a second time, so it’s all fresh in my mind when Pedro and co return to our screens next year.
The Last of Us Part II Remastered is more than just the main game with a fresh lick of UHD paint. Also included is a new roguelike mode called No Return. Straight away this feels a bit odd. Naughty Dog’s games are typically very authored, story-driven affairs, but here there isn’t one.
You make your way through a series of randomly generated encounters in locations taken from the campaign, culminating in a boss fight at the end. Resources picked up during each level can be used to upgrade your gear and abilities in exactly the same way you do in the main game. Yes, this means more unskippable gun-deconstructing animations. You can also purchase better weapons from what is essentially a vending machine at your hideout before heading out. Die, and you go back to the beginning and lose everything, but completing missions gradually unlocks new playable characters and features that are permanent additions.
Given that the recent (and miraculously free) God Of War Raganorok: Valhalla roguelike DLC contained a whole new story, No Return arguably feels a bit flat in comparison. There’s no dialogue beyond your chosen characters saying things like “let’s do this”. But the deliberately bleak tone of the combat encounters makes those narrative additions seem a bit out of place. Stabbing someone in the neck and hearing their friend scream their name when they discover them makes sense in the campaign, when Abby and Ellie’s violent actions are driven by grief and rage. Here that still happens, but seconds later you’re congratulated with high scores and rewards. The arcadiness of it all is just a bit jarring.
That said, No Return does a very good job of showcasing just how well The Last of us Part II plays as a game when everything else is stripped away. Stalking mercenaries through the grass and laying traps is extremely satisfying. When it all inevitably goes pear-shaped, every gun has its own weight and feel. You always feel a tad understocked with ammo, so every wasted bullet has the potential to derail your run. Sometimes you’re joined by an AI companion, but the game is at its best when it’s just Ellie or Joel (yes, he’s here). There are a number of difficulty settings on offer, too. The lowest is very forgiving, yet the hardest so far proved insurmountable for me.
Naughty Dog keeps you on your toes by introducing modifiers in certain encounters that add an extra layer of challenge. Enemies might drop bombs when they die. Maybe, you’ll have to negotiate tripwire traps as well as all the hungry zombies. Sometimes, they have extra health. And the Mototov Rain Mod is exactly what it sounds like – not an ideal situation to contend with. There are challenges to complete in each mission that encourage you to adjust your playstyle. Like all good roguelikes, No Return is extremely replayable, and while I don’t think it’s essential, it did remind me just how excellent the core gameplay of The Last of Us Part II is.
Strum with me
If you’re a hardcore The Last of Us fan you’ll also want to play through the ‘Lost Levels’ included in The Last of Us Part II Remastered. These are early versions of levels that were eventually cut from the final game, and are still in an unfinished state. They’re clearly not as polished as the main game content, for obvious reasons. But optional developer commentary as you play offers a unique insight into the development process and how the shape of a game can change if something is going to interrupt its momentum. It would be great to see more developers let players peek behind the curtain in this way if they’re interested.
Other bonus features include unlockable character skins, gameplay mods and a free play guitar mode for those who fancy themselves as a bit of a post-apocalyptic Bob Dylan. If you already own the base game you can upgrade to The Last of Us Part II Remastered for £10, which is pretty reasonable given all the extra content. And if you haven’t played the second instalment yet and own a PS5, now is the perfect time to jump into Naughty Dog’s biggest and most ambitious game.