New or not to the emotionally exhausting piece of storytelling, it's difficult to deny that Naughty Dog isn't giving you value for money here. That No Return mode is almost worth the discounted upgrade price for returning players alone, and is worth the extra R200 or so if you're newcomer opting for the PS5 version over the PS4 one -- if rougelikes are your thing. We haven't even mentioned the insanely beautiful updated graphics, Lost Levels and DualSense support that make it all the more worth your buck.
One of the world’s most controversial games of the last, well, ever, has been remastered for the PS5. The Last of Us Part II Remastered is Naughty Dog’s way of letting us know that, actually, yes, it has been keeping itself busy. Just… not on The Last of Us 3. That’s fine. Plenty of the original game’s fanbase ran for cover when Part II was released for the PS4, causing a rift among reviewers and audiences. Well, what better place to shelve your pride and finally give the game ago than a PlayStation 5 remaster?
It isn’t just rehashing the past for a quick buck, either. At least, that’s not the whole idea. Newcomers to what’s now considered the ‘definitive edition’ of the game — something you’ll hear us repeat — will need to pay R900 for the privilege of owning it, though returning players who already own the PS4 version can make the upgrade for $10 (roughly R200). Would we have preferred Naughty Dog to follow in the footsteps of The Witcher 3’s next-gen upgrade? Sure. But you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck here, with an entirely new No Return roguelike mode, and even a guitar free-play mode *cue applause*.
It’s always the same story
If you’re able to pick up the remaster at that heavily discounted price, the story won’t be hiding anything new. If you’re a newbie looking for a review on that brilliant yet extremely controversial story – you best believe we won’t be subjecting ourselves to any cry-baby Twitter DMs. Instead, we’ll direct you to our original review from back in the day (also known as 2020).
Whether or not you’re new to the story, you’ll be experiencing it with some next-gen graphics including a native 4K resolution and a heck of a whole lot more frames – even more if you’ve got a TV that supports VRR (variable refresh rate). Nice as those upgrades are, it’s not like the original game ever looked ugly – especially if you had a PS4 Pro back then or already have access to the PS4 version on a PS5.
You’ll only have two graphics modes to mess around with: fidelity and performance. The former targets 30fps and 4K resolution, while performance takes the hit on resolution, rocking up with a 1440p output and a more satisfying 60fps. Despite spending most of our time with performance mode – which offers the more fluid and precise experience so essential for taking down zombies – there’s a life to be had in fidelity mode if you have a TV that supports VRR and don’t mind not quite hitting 60fps.
Honestly, all that other stuff aside, we reckon it’s our OLED TV that’s appreciating the upgrade more than anyone.
If you’re tired of being dragged through The Last of Us Part II’s story like a lollipop that’s been rolled around in some particularly traumatising dirt before you can get to the game’s director commentary, too bad. Inexplicably, Naughty Dog reckoned that the only new bits of story content (aside from the Lost Levels – more on those later) should be hidden behind the feat of beating the game. A game that’ll take someone at least twenty hours – more if you’re a rusty gamer.
When you do eventually muster up the bottle (physically or mentally) for a second (or even third) run-through of the game, that Director’s Commentary will come in handy more than you think. It features almost all of the main cast and Neil Druckmann himself. We won’t get into all that here – it’s worth discovering something new for yourself.
A second (or again, third) playthrough will reward you with more than just some commentary, at the very least. Head over to the settings and you’ll find a couple of gameplay modifiers – Matrix bullet-time, infinite ammo – that sort of thing waiting for you to make the game a bit easier for those just looking to experience the story without all the palpitations that come with the combat. Our settings remained unfiddled, but it was nice to have the option. Oh, and you’ll be able to play through with new skins for characters and camouflages for weapons.
For players looking to experience the opposite and want to endure as much pain as possible, Naughty Dog’s added speedrun and permadeath modes that we strayed right away from.
No Return (unless we’re talking about Joel)
It’s no secret that combat is one of The Last of Us’ best features, and that’s only exemplified in this remaster’s biggest newcomer in the form of No Return. An entirely new mode – a roguelike – thrusts players into a series of tight, randomized skirmishes that show off the game’s exquisite combat chops.
Story is non-existent here. You’ll start wearing the skin of the main characters, Ellie and Abby, collecting new weapons, gear, and even characters along the journey. One of those includes Joel, which should be enough to assuage the feelings of any new or returning players sniffing the air for something that’ll keep them away from that character’s ace of a story.
There’s plenty of variety in No Return’s extensive journey, but it’s worth noting that it’s only ever going to be as interesting as combat is to you, specifically. There’s nothing to emotionally glom on to here – unless hearing Joel Miller’s voice is enough to keep you going – and it’ll get repetitive faster than you’d like. It’s a roguelike. You’re getting what you paid for.
Whether that’s an issue is, again, something you’ll need to decide for yourself. For us, No Return was a large enough addition that kept us satisfied whenever we had a spare twenty minutes of free time. It also helped us branch out a bit, personally, and approach these new encounters in entirely new ways that might not “fit” the vibe we’re going for where the main story is concerned.
Concept art in remasters is great in theory, but we’ll be damned before we accept it as a genuine “feature” when it’s our money that’s on the line. Fortunately, it feels like the developers agree and threw in Lost Levels – a feature that does exactly what it says on the tin. Lost levels that never made it into the original game – all backed by the same sort of director commentary we can toggle in the main story.
You won’t have much to do, as there are only three levels to conquer – each in varying states of finishedness. You’ll be able to “play” each after listening to a short video featuring Druckmann, explaining why the level was left in this state and didn’t make the cut back then. They’re… playable, but calling them levels feels like a misnomer. They’re more akin to ‘experiences’ that still managed to keep us entertained for the handful of minutes it took to beat the things, regardless.
While the feature isn’t locked behind a first playthrough of the story, we’d recommend keeping away if you’re new to the story at all. Each takes place at various spots in the story. Spoilers.
The Last of Us Part II Remastered verdict
Is this a remaster worthy of whipping your wallet out for? The short answer is yes. The longer answer is sort of. Anyone returning to the game likely already owns the thing and can — and should — pick up the remaster for a whole lot less cheddar than anyone unfamiliar with the game.
There’s no denying that the remaster is the “definitive” version of the game for newbies and should be the one you pick up if you’ve got the necessary R900 to drop – but we have no qualms about directing you to the R720 PS4 version if all the game’s extra features — No Return in particular — hasn’t grabbed your attention. Considering the game’s 2020 release date, it’s an already fantastic-looking game that won’t show its age until you start nitpicking. You can always make use of the PS4 game’s cheaper upgrade route if it compels you enough to play it for a second time.
The Last of Us Part II Remastered releases today, 19 January.