The Last of Us Part II Remastered Review

Returning often

By Paul Hunter

Let's get two key points out in the open right from the top. Firstly, The Last of Us Part II Remastered absolutely should have been titled a Director's Cut and not a remaster as the former much more accurately describes what you're getting here. Secondly, this remastered edition is easily worth the $10 upgrade fee, and for those who have never played it before, this is the best version of one of the best games ever made and totally worth the price of admission. But let's dive in deeper to see what you exactly you're getting in the Remastered edition and my impressions of each offering.

Liked: Groundbreaking Campaign

Most PlayStation fans have likely played The Last of Us Part II on PS4 and the campaign here remains essentially the same, albeit with a few graphical touch-ups. The game now runs in native 4K performance in Fidelity mode, along with a boost in framerate for even smoother gameplay. I'll be quite honest here by saying I personally didn't notice the higher resolution, improved textures and greater distance details simply because the original game played on PS4 Pro was already photo-realistic and the best graphics I had ever seen at the time. So while Naughty Dog has made improvements for the PS5 version, it looked and ran nearly the same as I remember, which is to say it's still a stunning game to look at and has impressively smooth combat.

For me, this Remastered release was the perfect excuse to relive this 20-plus-hour adventure all over again in all its graphical and narrative glory. I'm still in awe at how deep and nuanced the story is, with some of the best performances ever from acting legends like Ashley Johnson, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey and Jeffrey Pierce. The facial captures are best-in-industry and really drive home how emotional this story is as it pushes the main cast to their limits in more ways than one.

What's most impressive about the campaign is how begins with one of the most shocking scenes ever in gaming, perpetrated by someone I originally viewed as pure evil. Yet, the second half of the game does an incredible job of humanizing this antagonist nearly to the point of redemption. Storytelling this rich and thought-provoking doesn't come around very often, which is why every PlayStation fan should experience The Last of Us Part II.

Liked: Lost Levels and Developer Commentary

The Last of Us Part II Remastered features three Lost Levels that are quite short, but give us a rare glimpse behind the curtain to show us what happens during development. These Lost Levels can each be completed in about 5-10 minutes and provide a raw look at segments that were cut from the final game for pacing purposes.

The first level has you, as Ellie, play a few silly mini-games with the Jackson community before the big party where Dina and Ellie share their first kiss. The second level is an expanded version of the Seattle sewer with some light puzzle elements, but more importantly a couple of terrifying close encounters with the infected. The final lost level has Ellie follow a trail of blood into an abandoned general store before a climatic showdown with a wild boar.

Along with the thrill of playing a trio of never-before-seen new segments, the Lost Levels do an excellent job of explaining exactly why these scenes didn't make the final game despite being mostly finished. As you play each Lost Level there are icons scattered around the scene you can interact with that begin developer commentary setting up the scene and explaining emotions they're aiming to evoke in players. Truthfully, I didn't realize until playing these levels just how deeply Naughty Dog thinks through every moment of every sequence. I definitely gained a greater appreciation of how much thought and care goes into creating a grand narrative adventure such as The Last of Us Part II.

After I completed the Remastered campaign, I immediately started a second run (which I'm about halfway through) where I flick on the new developer commentary feature. Neil Druckmann and the cast members recorded hours of new developer commentary that plays over the cutscenes and gives you tremendous insights into The Last of Us Part II’s development. Sometimes Neil might set up scenes with additional insights, while other times the cast shares funny moments that occurred during motion capture.

Listening to hours of their commentary gave me even more appreciation of the subtleties within each cutscene—like how Joel's and Ellie's clothing was scanned from real-life apparel for maximum authenticity. Or how Troy Baker (as Joel) put his hand in his pocket but kept his thumb out when he wasn't supposed to, but it looked so cool the team decided to spend hours reworking Joel's outfit to put more visual focus on his thumb and belt. There are so many neat insights like this you'll hear over the adventure.

Liked: No Return Roguelike Mode

The Remastered edition's big new showcase feature is the roguelike mode No Return. This mode features ten playable characters, including ones we're familiar with controlling such as Ellie, Abby and Joel, while also features characters playable for the very first time including Dina, Jesse, Mel, Manny, Tommy, Yara and Lev.

When you start a run in No Return you'll begin in a safe room complete with a weapon upgrade table, a locker to exchange currency for weapons, ammo or upgrades, plus the focal point of a corkboard that shows various randomly generated paths your run could take you. Your initial few runs will consist of two game modes: Assault, where a group of enemies will spawn in waves, and Hunted, where you need to survive against continuous enemy reinforcements until time runs out. Enemy types are also random and could be WLF soldiers, Seraphites, Rattlers or the Infected. In a neat twist, in some levels, you'll play with an NPC ally, which could be Jesse, Joel or any of the other playable characters.

Once you complete a level, you'll be brought back to the safe room while collecting bonuses like currency to buy new items and parts to upgrade your existing arsenal. While the levels can be challenging, they're really there for you to collect and stock resources for the climatic final boss battle against fearsome foes like the Arcade Bloater, Seraphite Elite and yes, the Rat King. You'll want to stock up on your deadliest offensives like Molotov cocktails, incendiary shotgun shells, pipe bombs and more.

Naughty Dog has done an excellent job staggering the rewards doled out while playing No Return, which includes eight unlockable characters and new skins with fresh, fun looks like a space suit for Ellie or a Badlands version of Abby. But even better are all the crazy level mods you can unlock, such as one that rains down Molotovs or the deadly invisible enemy mod. There are also dozens of Gambits that'll unlock over time and challenge you to complete specific actions, like killing two enemies while holding your breath, in exchange for bonus rewards such as extra currency.

The mode variety also increases as you play to spice up runs. Capture is one such unlockable mode and tasks you with battling enemies guarding a safe filled with valuable supplies that locks when the time runs out. A second unlockable mode is Holdout which has you protect your ally against a deadly swarm of infected, with supplies scattered around the area to help you set up your defense.

With so many random modes, battle arena locations, level modifications, gambits, and a wide roster of playable with their own loadouts and playstyles, there really are endless hours of fun to be had with No Return. I've already plunked a dozen hours into the new roguelike mode and I've still got some unlockables motivating me to go on more runs. To add even more replayability, No Return features a Custom Run where you customize every element, plus a community Daily Run that's the same randomly generated run for every player.

Liked: Guitar Free Play and Speed Run Mode

To sweeten the pot just a wee bit more, Naughty Dog has added a new Guitar Free Play that expands on the popular mini-game. Free Play mode lets you play as characters including Joel and Ellie while you strum away to your heart's content. You can even switch up the location to strum in, such as the Music Store, Theater, Farm and more. By playing through the campaign and earning currency, you can also buy new instruments like a banjo, jazz or rock guitar. For me, it was a fun, short distraction, but I'm looking forward to seeing the songs the community creates and uploads.

The Last of Us Part II Remastered also includes a new Speed Run mode complete with a recap menu where you can view your best times per chapter and per difficulty setting. Once I finish my developer commentary run I'll be jumping into the Speed Run mode to see how quickly I can zip through key battles.

The Verdict

The Last of Us Part II is a masterpiece, and this Remastered version is the ultimate way to experience the groundbreaking title. Graphically I didn't notice too many improvements, but the PS4 version was already visually stunning and the same holds true for the upgraded PS5 version. The Lost Levels, developer commentary and No Return roguelike modes are impressive additions, while the Guitar Free Play and Speed Run Mode just sweeten the deal. It's an easy upgrade for existing fans and for new players, get ready to play one of the greatest finest games in existence today.

Final Score: 10/10 - Masterpiece

The Last of Us Part II Remastered details

Platform: PS5
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Genre: Action Adventure
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.