The Last of Us 2 Remastered review: Reanimating a great game's corpse
Naughty Dog revisits The Last of Us 2, with somewhat mixed results.
Let’s get something cleared up first — this reviewer is a big fan of The Last of Us Part 2 in its original form. In fact, when put on the spot recently and asked what my favourite games of all time are, TLOU2 is one of the first that came to mind.
You’ll probably remember that the game was pretty divisive at launch, with some being put off by a shocking major plot point early on, with later perspective shifts doing little to tamper their fury.
It was hard to tell at the time whether this was a vocal minority or a larger pool of players, and to be honest, it still is hard to tell on that front.
For me, however, every one of these bold storytelling choices felt like a masterstroke of gaming as an art form, with the developers challenging the player to accept the consequences of the first game’s violent ending (which was recently recreated with impressive faithfulness in The Last of Us TV show’s first season finale).
While many games focus on blood-hungry power fantasies, TLOU2 takes an honest look at what might happen next if an actual person in the real world shot up a whole hospital full of people to save their surrogate daughter. Even in a post-apocalyptic setting, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and this game explores that concept beautifully.
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After that amazing TV adaptation on HBO (or Sky here in the UK), it now feels like the perfect time to revisit TLOU2 while we wait for the televised version of these events in The Last of Us season 2.
With Abby now being cast for the show, this is the ideal point at which to refresh your memory of the second game and get ready to spot all the homages and differences in the upcoming telly version.
Whether you’ve played the game before or not, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is a great way to experience that amazing story and the impressive slate of gameplay ideas that the title boasts.
From the brief open world map-using segment to the ingenious use of throwable ropes in puzzle situations, TLOU2 remains a great evolution of the cinematic style of the first game.
While my love for The Last of Us Part 2 hasn’t exactly been hampered by this remastered edition, this repackaged version does seem like a bit of a disappointment. The greatest things about The Last of Us are its characters and its story, and nothing new is really added in those regards here.
There’s no new DLC chapter, which feels like a missed opportunity, considering 2014’s PS4 remaster of the original TLOU came bundled with the amazing Left Behind story add-on.
By comparison, in The Last of Us 2 Remastered, the new additions feel more like optional extras, as opposed to must-play content that will really enrich your appreciation.
A lot of marketing seems to have been thrown behind No Return, the new roguelike mode where you can face off against waves of enemies, playing as familiar faces from the game (and unlocking more as you progress).
This mode is good fun, and it’ll remind you of how good the combat was in the original game, but it is totally devoid of storytelling.
It’s a gameplay-focused mode and it does get quite addictive after you’ve gotten the hang of it, but it also feels like playing The Last of Us without any of the story or character beats. And that’s where this franchise has always shined.
There’s endless replayability here, especially once you get into the fun-filled mods like acid rain and invisible enemies, but there’s certainly a limited supply of heart. They’ve stripped away the narrative to focus on the gunplay, and that does leave an odd aftertaste.
We had high hopes for the so-called Lost Levels, another new addition for the remaster, which promised to bring back a selection of moments that were cut during the game’s original development.
This, we thought, is where we’d get something like Left Behind, some buried treasure that would really add to the story (and possibly inspire the TV show going forward).
Sadly, the Lost Levels are short, unfinished and largely incidental to the overall tale. The last one, involving a boar, is the biggest exception to that.
The voice acting, animations and graphics have been left in the state they were at when the content was cut, meaning these are more like pre-vis showreels as opposed to fully fledged deleted scenes (to use the parlance of DVD extras).
That being said, the experience of playing these Lost Levels is fascinating, and it’s a really interesting exploration of what the gaming equivalent of DVD extras could be. Dotted around each level are buttons you can press to hear developer commentary as you walk around the unfinished environments. We really enjoyed hearing these insights from the game-makers themselves. It was eye-opening stuff.
We can’t say the same for the commentary that has been added to the main game. Unlike the Lost Levels, where you can listen as you wander about, the commentary on the main game can only be heard during cutscenes. We turned this off after a while because it was detracting from our enjoyment of the game’s killer story.
Again, this felt counterintuitive for a franchise where narrative, dialogue and interactions are the lifeblood of what makes it great.
Another addition that somewhat spoils the main game is the concept of swappable skins. Most of these are harmless new looks, but some of the more wacky sci-fi outfits did somewhat trample on the realism and emotional stakes.
Again, we quickly turned those off. (Random note: swapping between options on the menus was also a bit annoying, without much highlighting going on to spotlight which option you were hovering over at any given moment.)
Once we’d done away with the distracting commentary and the more garish skins, it has to be said, we did really enjoy revisiting the main campaign.
We opted for a New Game Plus playthrough (our old save was easy to carry over and this meant we didn’t have to wait to get good guns and upgrades), and we enjoyed the improved DualSense rumbles and the reduced loading times.
The graphics are said to have improved, as well, but they already looked pretty perfect in our eyes. And that story is still incredibly well realised.
One of the more fun new additions is Free-Play Guitar, where you can noodle away on a number of instruments playing as Ellie, Joel and even composer Gustavo Santaolalla.
His work on the game’s score has always been exceptional, and it’s great to see him recognised as a fully fledged playable character.
The upgrade will only cost a tenner for returning players, and the core game itself is still fantastic, so we can’t complain too much!
However, The Last of Us 2 Remastered feels like an exercise in reanimating the corpse of a great game, without adding anything too meaningful. And as any piece of zombie media will tell you, when you mess with reanimation, you run the risk of losing the original soul.
The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered launches Friday 19th January 2024, exclusively for PS5.
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