It’s difficult to comprehend that The Last of Us Part II was released almost four years ago, coinciding with the Covid lockdown. The irony was eerie as people were stuck at home due to a global pandemic, playing a game about a similar scenario. However, Covid is still present, and so is The Last of Us. In 2021, a free upgrade was released for new PS5 owners to experience a modified version of the original PS4 game. This was followed by a highly praised TV series that introduced the gripping story of Ellie and Joel to a wider audience.
The Last of Us Part II has been remastered, with new updates including a Fidelity Mode for 4K resolution at 30 frames-per-second and a Performance Mode for 1440p at 60 fps. To fully appreciate the upgrades from the previous version on PS5, a high-quality display is recommended. The game now features smoother movement, brighter lighting, and more detailed scenery, particularly in foliage. This adds to the immersive experience in the game’s post-apocalyptic world. The improvements are most noticeable in intense fight scenes and emotional cinematic moments, enhancing the already brilliant gameplay.
The modifications to the controls, particularly the complete integration of the Dual Sense controller, are of greater significance. The precise haptic feedback and adaptable triggers create a noticeable distinction in sensation between the different weapons, enhancing the intense physicality of the combat. The inclusion of a guitar mode that enables you to strum Joel’s classic acoustic guitar using the touch pad is a minor yet enjoyable addition.
The selection of additional material is what truly elevates the game. No Return, a new mode, offers a rogue-like experience where the goal is to survive as many enemy attacks as possible. You can choose different routes through randomly generated levels, all inspired by locations in the main game. Failing results in a game over, but successfully reaching the end leads to a challenging boss fight.
This type of game mode, known as “horde mode,” is not a new concept, but Naughty Dog has successfully incorporated the intense storytelling of the main game into these confined shootouts. Instead of simply taking cover and shooting at anything that moves, players must cautiously navigate through abandoned shops and backlots while listening for enemy movements. Additionally, some levels feature infected creatures, while others have human soldiers, requiring players to adapt their tactics accordingly. This results in a captivating blend of stealth and high-energy combat. After each stage, players have the opportunity to upgrade their weapons and items, and it is enjoyable to play as different characters like Dina and Tommy, each with their own unique gameplay abilities. Unfortunately, there is no option for multiplayer co-op in this mode, which would have been a fun way to experience the game with a friend. However, given the well-known issues with The Last of Us online, this is not surprising.
My favourite addition, however, is Lost Levels, a selection of three playable stages that were cut from the game. There’s an extra build up to the Jackson Party where Dina and Ellie kiss, there’s an extended section in the Seattle sewers and finally a late-game scene where Ellie hunts a wild boar. These short sequences are unfinished and understandably rough in places but offer a truly fascinating glimpse into the development process – this sort of content is very rarely shared with players (or journalists, for that matter).
All of the scenes come with audio commentary from the lead designers, offering a glimpse into the extensive thought and preparation that is put into each small aspect of the game. This includes techniques such as establishing the emotional context of a scene and determining the length of an escape ladder, all to enhance the player’s sense of relief and escape. The Lost Levels brought to mind a presentation by Uncharted lead designer Richard Lemarchand at the GameCity festival a few years ago, which gave valuable insights into the making of Uncharted 3. Aspiring game designers should take advantage of this educational experience.
The remastered version of The Last of Us Part II is like a high-quality Blu-ray release from the Criterion Collection – a thoughtful and curated celebration of a game that made a significant impact. Playing this intense journey again, with improved visuals and haptic feedback, was just as emotionally draining and exhilarating as my initial playthrough. It’s refreshing to see video games receive this level of treatment, but it also highlights how rare it is for studios and games to receive such respectful treatment. I appreciate the efforts of Limited Run Games in releasing physical copies, but imagine if all remasters and reboots could provide insights from the developers and include deleted scenes. There is a lot of misinformation spread about the game development process on online forums and social media, which can lead to incorrect assumptions. Having more access to the process would benefit everyone.
For individuals who have not yet tried the game or have not had the opportunity to play it on a PS5, this is an essential experience – it represents the pinnacle of mainstream storytelling in gaming, thoughtfully remastered.