Before I begin, I want to make one thing clear. This is not a review for The Last of Us Part 2. If you are new to this franchise or Part 2 and want to read our thoughts on the game, you can read this piece (insert link here) where we heralded it as our GOTY. To cut a long story short, if you are new PS5 player and has never dwelled into this game or franchise, then The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is the definitive version to experience this game on the PS5. Apart from a slew of technical improvements, this version also comes with additional content, which was not present in the original release. And at a price point of 50$, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is one of the most content packed single player release of recent times.
What this review will actually attempts is to dwell more on the additions that Naughty Dog has made to the 2020 release. Whether it is from the technical standpoint to the new content like the new rogue-like mode No Return, which is going to be the meat of this piece.
It is no secret that Naughty Dog has been in a sort of rough spot since the beginning of the PS5 generation. Even though their last main release (The Last of Us Part 2) was a critical and commercial success and their HBO show was a huge breakout hit, their output for the PS5 generation has been questionable at best. From Uncharted Remasters to the remake of the Last of Us Part 1 and the biggest blow being the cancelation of their The Last of Us standalone multiplayer game. It would be an understatement to say that Naughty Dog’s recent direction has been underwhelming for fans like me who were looking for something new from Naughty Dog. Especially the multiplayer game. So the announcement of The Last of Us Part 2 remastered couldn’t be made at a worse time (ironically one of its trailers was also premiered before the GTA 6 reveal). So the real question arises how does The Last of Us Part 2 fares for someone like who is particularly not happy with the recent trend of the rehashed releases by Naughty Dog.
Right off the bat, let us delve into the technical aspects of this remastered. From a visual standpoint, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered looks identical to the original release on the PS4. Which is not a bad thing per say as the original game still looks better than most of the games coming out on current gen. When it comes to the frame rate, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered has 2 options 1440P 60FPS and Native 4K at 30FPS. Both of these modes come with the unlocked frame rate option, which only works with compatible displays. I manage to have a Sony OLED which is one of the compatible displays and the game does feel smoother than the original version running on a PS5 (which runs at 60FPS on the PS5 via the PS4 backward compatibility patch). The real difference lies in the loading screen which are a significant improvement from the original. While selecting an encounter, the original version of The Last of Us Part 2 (running via backwards compatibility on PS5) takes 50 seconds. Whereas the Remastered only takes about 10-15 seconds. Now this is huge for people like me who have spent hours replaying the wonderfully designed combat encounters of Part 2. The Dualsense implementation also makes the combat feel meatier than the original. And when it comes to install size, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is 75GB when compared to the original that was around 79GB.
Before we have a look at the No Return mode in detail, let us first get the new add-ons out of the way first. You can now replay cinematics and have different playable skins for both Ellie and Abby, which you can unlock via in game points. These replayable cinematics also have the director’s commentary embedded in them, which can be a great way to know more about the particulars scenes and what went behind the scenes in making them. When it comes to additional content, there are also 3 “Lost Levels” which are basically the playable unfinished versions of the 3 levels which were removed from the game due to pacing/production issues. Like the replayable cinematics, these also come with the option to play the developer’s commentary. Even though they were quite short (I was done with all of them in 20 minutes), they do serve a great insight into how Naughty Dog designs their levels and leverage them for their story telling. Finally we also have the guitar free play mode which is designed for the super talented folks who could make some amazing tunes in the guitar sections of the main campaign. Unfortunately, I don’t fall into that camp, so the guitar free play mode is essentially useless for me. However, for those who liked that mode, there is a lot to enjoy here. You can also unlock different instruments like an electric guitar or a banjo and can play as Ellie, Joel or Gustavo Santiolalla (the game’s composer) and can choose a host of locations as the background for your jam sessions.
As entertaining as those new add-ons really are, they aren’t even the selling point of this re-release. It is the new rogue-like mode No Return and I am glad to say that it doesn’t disappoint. No Return is essentially the remix of the combat encounters of Part 2’s campaign where you complete 5 different encounters to reach the boss. These encounters have different modifiers. Some can make your life super easy like enemies catching fire on a melee attack or a health regen on a melee kill. Some can make it a never ending nightmare. Like once I got invisible enemies on a holdout mode (where you have to kill a set number of infected while protecting your AI teammate) and my run ended when a clicker whom I did not see coming bit me. There was this other run where I had to fight enemies in an open area and molotovs were raining from the sky. Not an encounter I would like to remember fondly. And then there are some rare mods like enemies dropping bombs on death, which if you take advantage of your surroundings and the enemy AI, can act as disposable bombs without even putting a single dent on your resources. These mods tend to be my favorite as they encourage you to fully engage with all the game’s systems.
And if you die, it’s all the way back to zero. All your progression and upgrades are lost. The only permanent unlockable are the characters you unlock by playing with other characters (and their unlockable skins which you unlock by doing challenges). And these characters are divided into 2 factions – Ellie and Abby. In Ellie’s faction, play 2 encounters with Ellie, you unlock Dina. Play 3 encounters with Dina, you unlock Jesse. Similar sense of progression is also followed to unlock Tommy and Joel and for Abby’s faction, it goes Abby, Lev, Yara, Mel and Manny.
In this piece, we have gone to lengths raving about the gameplay of The Last of Us Part 2 and that is what No Return capitalizes on. For fans like me who have been replaying Part 2’s campaign encounters at ad nauseam, these randomized levels take the replayablity of Part 2 a whole notch above. And the addition of daily runs (which can only be attempted once in 24 hours) keeps you coming back for more. Playing No Return on the Grounded difficulty is an exhilarating experience. Death is lurking at every corner of the map and your are literally 2 hits away from being killed and sent all the way back to starting. It maybe a placebo, but I feel that the enemy AI has been made more relentless in Part 2 Remastered .They are much more aggressive than I remember them being in the original release. Once, I completed a full run on Grounded with my hands sweating profusely. I was having thinking that I have conquered every challenge in the game. And in the very next encounter, I was killed in the very first encounter because an enemy bullet came straight to my head. That is the beauty of No Return.
However, this beauty isn’t without its blemishes. No Return’s playable characters are basically different skins of Ellie and Abby. While it is not a bad thing per say, it sticks out like a sore thumb for Joel, whose character movements I am familiarized with as I have played The Last of Us Part 1 extensively on PS3, PS4 and PS5. And to add insult to the injury, Joel and Tommy can’t dodge. Instead they do get more powerful starting weapons as a way to overcompensate. Though for me personally it does not work, is because Part 2’s entire combat system was originally built around keeping dodge in mind. Enemies hit harder and faster, but you can dodge. Removing that ability is neutering a core part of what makes the combat great in this game to begin with. I can still tolerate Joel as he has all powerful revolver which is fully upgraded and can one hit kill most enemies. But when playing as Tommy, it’s a hassle to maintain the distance as he is a sniper and he is meant for long distance playstyles. But the enemies in this game know very well on how to close that distance. For me, Ellie and Abby are the best characters to play as. Though it shouldn’t be a surprise because the original game’s movement and combat were designed around them.
As far as bugs and glitches go, I encountered severe frame rate drops in Holdout mode, but a day 1 patch fixed it. Though there are some areas in No Return where I can see the frame rate chugging from 60FPS. Hopefully Naughty Dog will be able to address it in future patches. Also while fighting the Rat King on Grounded, I was clipped out of the encounter. So thankyou Naughty Dog. Very cool. On occasions like these, I wanna slam my controller in my TV. But then I realize that I am not a streamer earning millions to buy another 2000$ TV.
As far as trophies are concerned, No Return really makes you put in the work. Unlike the campaign trophies, which are more akin to participation certificate. I have played extensively throughout the review period and when the game launched on 19th January, I went on to get all the trophies for No Return as it consumed my entire weekend. And I am still itching to go for one more run.
As much fun as No Return is and I am gonna keep playing it for a while, I can’t lie that it makes me more sad as to see a fully realized vision of The Last of Us multiplayer with such an engaging gameplay loop. And I really want to believe that it is The Last of Remasters from Naughty Dog.
FINAL RATING: 8/10