Yeah, I know, it seems way too early for a remaster of The Last of Us Part II. The game originally launched on the PS4 in 2020 and has already received an update for those playing on the PS5. It’s not like Ellie, Joel, and Abby need much of an update for modern audiences. But while the slightly enhanced graphics — which include native 4K support and improved frame rates — are nice, they’re not really the reason to play The Last of Us Part II Remastered. Instead, it’s all of the other stuff that turns this into an excellent special edition of the game.
Some of the additions are relatively small. There’s a guitar mode where you can, well, play guitar as much as you want. Using the PlayStation controller’s touchpad to swipe guitar strings was one of the highlights of the original release, and it’s nice to be able to mess around with it freely. I’m sure we’ll see some very cool videos of people rocking out soon. You can also unlock outfits to wear while playing the main game, which is silly but fun. I’m 10 hours deep into a New Game Plus run, and Ellie has been wearing a Death Stranding T-shirt the entire time (even though that game couldn’t exist in TLOU’s timeline).
And since this is my second time through the game, I’ve also really been enjoying messing with the gameplay modifiers to make it a little less stressful this time around. That means unlocking things like infinite ammo, one-hit kills, and — my personal favorite — having time slow down while you’re aiming. It’s helping me relive the story without the frustration. (For those going in the opposite direction, looking for more challenge, there’s also a permadeath option and a speed run mode where you can track your best times racing through the story as fast as possible.)
All of this makes this edition the best option for replaying The Last of Us Part II — or experiencing it for the first time — just like the PS5 remake of its predecessor from last year. It looks great and gives you a huge range of tools to customize your experience. But the two parts that have stuck out for me actually exist outside of the main game — and they’ve given me a greater appreciation for what The Last of Us Part II actually is.
Like most special editions of games, The Last of Us Part II Remastered features things like unlockable concept art to give you a behind-the-scenes look at how the game was made. But it also goes a step further by offering three playable levels that didn’t actually make it into the final release. It’s something I wish all games did.
The three levels are all in various states of completion — in some, the animations aren’t final, and one doesn’t have voice acting in place — but they’re all finished enough that you can play through them from beginning to end. One has Ellie hunting a boar, another wandering around a party in the small town of Jackson, and the last has her crawling through a particularly gross sewer.
Each one is preceded by a video from director Neil Druckmann explaining what the level is and why it ended up being cut from the final release. (In most cases, it seems the answer is pacing.) But the best part is the developer commentary during the levels themselves. As you move through each short level, you’ll hit points where you can trigger commentary from the developers about that particular moment or place. And it really gets into the nitty-gritty of game design, detailing things as small as the placement of a ladder and how the designers utilized different camera options. I was fascinated to learn how much work would’ve gone into having Ellie carry a drink around at a party.
Developer commentary is nothing new, but it’s especially enlightening here because it’s covering elements that were ultimately cut from the game. The commentary digs deep into what the designers were trying to accomplish with each element and why, ultimately, things didn’t work out. Given how secretive the world of game development can be, it’s the kind of insight we don’t get to see much of, particularly for something as high profile as TLOU.
Image: Sony Interactive Entertainment
I’ll admit that during my first playthrough of The Last of Us Part II, the finer nuances of the combat were mostly lost on me. I spent most of that time being stressed out, doing whatever I could to survive. That meant relying on stealth and explosive weaponry as much as possible. So the idea of a roguelike mode focused entirely on combat didn’t seem all that appealing to me — but I’m happy to say that I was wrong.
“No Return,” as it’s called, is a mode where you fight through a series of randomized encounters, unlocking new gear and weapons along the way, while trying to get as far as possible before dying and restarting. It doesn’t have the narrative hook of God of War’s Valhalla expansion; in fact, there’s no story at all. You simply play as one of the main cast members from the game — to start there’s Ellie and Abby, but you unlock other characters as you play — and get to fighting.
When I’m playing through the main campaign in TLOU, I’m mostly trying to get through the combat encounters as quickly as possible so I can see what happens next. But without that push, I found myself instead trying to play through each round of No Return as efficiently as possible. You move through a series of relatively short and self-contained stages, and the goal frequently changes. Sometimes you’re fighting off waves of enemies, other times you have to survive an onslaught of bad guys for a set period of time. My favorite is basically a heist, where you have to break into a heavily guarded safe.
These different types of levels forced me to change of up my style of play quite a bit. In the heist sequences, I’d use stealth as much as possible to thin the enemy ranks before moving in to collect the goods. But that doesn’t work so well when fighting off waves of aggressive foes; there I found myself constantly moving around to get the jump on enemies, and having to be extremely aware of my surroundings to ensure they didn’t get the jump on me. I also experimented with different weapon types, as opposed to the main game where I stuck with what worked and didn’t feel compelled — or required — to change things up.
I’m not sure how long No Return will hold me — it’s still pretty grim, which means I’m probably not going to play it to relax the way I do with something like Fortnite — but it has given me a new appreciation for an element of the game I’d otherwise ignored.
With season 2 of HBO’s live-action take on The Last of Us coming next year, now might be the ideal time to play through the second game. It’s a chance to either refresh your memory before experiencing this new take on the story or for newcomers to prepare themselves for what’s to come.
The Last of Us Part II Remastered launches on the PS5 on January 19th.