The Last Of Us Part 2 Remastered – it’s not a happy story (Picture: Sony)
One of the best games on the PS4 is remastered for the PS5 and despite what you’d imagine there’s a surprising amount of new content.
Anyone that has already played The Last Of Us Part 2 will be wondering in fascination what the TV viewing public will think of the next season of the HBO show, assuming it follows the same plot as the game. Since the sequel is considerably longer than the original, it will apparently take more than one season to cover but it’s certainly going to be interesting to see if the show goes to the same dark places as the game.
The Last Of Us Part 2 was originally released on PlayStation 4 in 2020 and while there are some almost imperceptible technical improvements in this PlayStation 5 remaster, the game clearly didn’t need any extra work to either tell its story or impress with its visuals.
The same was true of The Last Of Us Part 1, which was a full remake and widely criticised for being a poor use of developer Naughty Dog’s time and resources. This remaster will have been more straightforward to create and yet it’s both cheaper and contains more new content. It’s also less likely people have already played the campaign multiple times before, in part because of its age and in part because it’s such a harrowing experience.
A popular explanation for why The Last Of Us TV show has fared so well, where so many live action video game adaptations have not, is that the original is already so much like a movie that large chunks of it can be replicated with barely a change. It’s a rather glib attitude to take, but certainly there is no interactivity in the stories of The Last Of Us. You don’t get to pick dialogue choices or change the course of the story, but while that was arguably to the detriment of the first game it’s used much more to a storytelling advantage in the sequel.
Naughty Dog has never seemed very interested in gameplay mechanics or player choice and in terms of the former this is only a small improvement over the original, which itself was just a more stealth-focused version of Uncharted’s third person action. The combat in The Last Of Us Part 2 is very competent and serves its purpose, but often times that purpose seems to be continuing the illusion that this is interactive entertainment.
You can find our review of the original game here and in terms of story and gameplay nothing has changed at all when it comes to the main campaign. Set five years after the events of the original game, you once again play as Ellie, who is now 19 years old and in a more estranged relationship with surrogate father Joel – as they both try to survive the fungus zombie apocalypse. The Last Of Us Part 2 is roughly twice as long as the original, in large part because you also play as new character Abby, with who Ellie is set on a self-destructive course of bloody revenge.
Four years ago, Naughty Dog introduced the game by saying that it is about ‘hate’ and the ‘cycle of violence’, with director Neil Druckmann acknowledging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of the major influences on the game’s story. That obviously hits even harder at the moment, given the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas, and unfortunately the game’s almost nihilistic attitude offers little room for comfort or hope.
The part of Abby has only just been cast for the TV show (Picture: Sony)
Long before the closing credits, Ellie has reached a level of irredeemable evil that is shocking to experience, even more so because she’s the main playable character and so you have to act out all of her actions (theoretically, many of her worst are actually in non-interactive cut scenes). And yet Ellie’s quest for vengeance is so hypocritical and violent it’s hard to relate to. As a metaphor it works but even ignoring her physical feats it becomes impossible to see her as a real person by the end of the game.
Instead, what works best about the game’s story is the fact that empathy is also one of the key themes. Not in terms of the characters – most of whom have none – but you, the player. Ellie and Abby each have their own storylines, that only rarely crossover, but they interact with many of the same people and seeing each of them from both points of view is fascinating and often heartbreaking, especially when they’re killed.
In those moments, it’s you who is pulling the trigger and yet because you’re given no agency in the story you often resent having to do so, because otherwise there’s no way to advance. From a game design point of view that seems disappointing and yet it’s essential for the storytelling and how it makes you complicit in violence that you know is wrong.
That’s a powerful message for an action video game to make and it’s going to be very interesting to see if the TV show pulls it off as well. However, we won’t find out for several years yet and it still remains unclear whether there will be a The Last Of Us Part 3, with Naughty Dog giving no indication that they’ve started work on it. Instead, current rumours suggest their main priority at the moment is a new IP.
In terms of this remaster, the graphical differences are nothing any normal person would notice. We’re certain there’ll be plenty of YouTube videos harping on about the native 4K resolution and increased texture resolution, but it just looks like the PlayStation 4 version – even if it technically isn’t. The increased level of detail distances and DualSense support are equally hard to notice, even if it’s still good that they’re there.
In terms of the visuals and gameplay this offers no significant improvement on the original, which is exactly what you’d expect for a less than four-year-old game. However, there are some interesting additions that make it, and the £10 upgrade for the PlayStation 4 version, more tempting.
The biggest is the brand new No Return mode, which is a roguelike that uses randomised locations from the main game, as you try to work your way through a branching path towards a boss battle at the end. With each branch you can choose different mission types, from simply surviving waves of humans or zombies to having to sneak in and steal a particular item.
It is a true roguelike, in that you lose everything when you die, but there are lots of different characters to unlock – virtually every major speaking part form the main game – and extra skins and play modes. Weapons can be upgraded in-game and between missions, and you can also buy new guns and equipment, so there’s a lot going on.
No Return mode let’s you play as a wide range of characters (Picture: Sony)
At around 30 hours long there’s a good chance you will have had enough of the game’s rather simplistic combat long before you get to No Return but in its own right it’s a worthwhile invention, that’s obviously had a lot of effort expended on it.
There are a few other minor extras for the remaster, such as a freeplay mode for Ellie’s guitar and a built-in speedrun mode, as well as a commentary track for cut scenes, that you unlock once you’ve beaten the story (you can import your PlayStation 4 save if you want access to it instantly).
On top of this are three levels cut from the main game, which while incomplete are now fully playable and have their own video introduction and commentary snippets. It’s pretty obvious why they were all cut, in a game that’s already far too long, but they all have at least some point of interest, such as fighting against the current in the sewer level, a protracted fight with a boar, and a non-action level set during a party at the compound where the game’s story begins.
If you’re a fan of The Last Of Us then the upgrade is definitely worth it and if you haven’t played the original version then this is absolutely a game worth experiencing for the first time, even if it does have its flaws. We’d really like to see Naughty Dog make something new now, but as a de facto director’s cut this remaster is a lot more essential than many would’ve expected.
The Last Of Us Part 2 Remastered review summary
In Short: Still one of the greatest achievements in video game storytelling and while the changes are minor the new roguelike mode and cut levels are interesting and worthwhile additions.
Pros: The plot and characters have meaning and purpose unlike almost any other action video game. Excellent graphics and competent combat. A good remaster with a surprising amount of new content.
Cons: The original game is still far too long and too similar to the original in terms of gameplay. The story is highly compelling but completely uninteractive in terms of plot and character decisions.
Formats: PlayStation 5
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 19th January 2024
Age Rating: 18
*£10 upgrade available if you own the PlayStation 4 version.
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