Despite releasing so close to the original game, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered proves itself a worthwhile endeavour. Not because of nicer-looking visuals or an increase in frames, however. Its fully-realised roguelike mode, No Return, is a compelling addition but only forms part of why this package works. Where this remaster succeeds is in showing us the brushstrokes of the artists behind the creation.
When the news first broke that The Last of Us Part 2 was getting remastered for the PS5, I’ll admit to being a bit bewildered. An excellent feat of game development? Undoubtedly. But the original PS4 version only released in 2020. Admittedly, given the state of the world, 2020 feels like a lifetime ago. Still, that’s not a long gap between re-releases.
Far from a cheery fairytale where everyone lives happily ever after, The Last of Us Part 2 is grim. As much as I appreciated playing through the survival-horror game upon release, I was in no rush to go back. It’s a tale of extreme violence begetting more extreme violence, which is a harder sell given the current state of the world.
On PS5, the remaster indeed does enhance the morbid beauty of a post-apocalyptic America. It looks and runs smoother, although I recall the PS4 version still looking incredible. My apprehension about returning so soon quickly dissipated after seeing how deep Naughty Dog went to extract the most out of the remaster. Aside from the brand-new standalone game mode, I appreciated the looks behind the curtain the most.
Separate from The Last of Us Part 2‘s story, is No Return, a roguelike mode that cleverly borrows from the main game’s survival-based gameplay. Akin to the many roguelike games before it, No Return sees you start with limited resources, planning each subsequent encounter meticulously. Depending on the character you choose to play as, you start with different weapons or specialisations. For example, Ellie balances pistol weaponry with Molotov cocktail crafting, while Abby favours brute force through close-quarters combat.
Starting from a dingy base of operations, you choose from a branching tree of encounters that eventually converge on a boss battle. Successfully completing an encounter nets you resources to spend on upgrades and additional supplies to use in the next section. Death, which comes swiftly, ends the run, leaving you to begin anew. It’s tough, too, with one ill-timed clicker all it takes to upend your progress.
That’s not to say you don’t gain anything from a failed attempt. By simply playing as different characters or making more attempts, you unlock more variables to contend with. Different encounters are a big part of this. Some are assault-based, where you hunt down enemies to progress, while others focus on surviving overwhelming masses of foes until the timer ends. For a genre rooted in repetition, No Return smartly throws not just more things at you, but more types of things to avoid monotony.
Even though I enjoyed it, I felt an odd sense of thematic disconnect while playing No Return. The Last of Us is about the cyclical effects of violence and trauma, and how hard it is to break free from. Confined within the roguelike genre, No Return plays on that cycle: no matter the outcome, there’s no end to the killing.
Perhaps that’s exactly the point. It’s symbolic of how the game’s characters are committed to an endless loop of brutality due to the violent environment they inhabit. Either way, it’s well-realised, deftly distilling much of the main game’s experience in an engaging way.
The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered: behind the scenes
More than anything, I found myself drawn to the behind-the-scenes content. Optional commentary during cutscenes gives you a greater appreciation for the creative decisions made throughout development. It’s a treat to hear from prominent actors Ashley Johnson, Laura Bailey, and Troy Baker sharing insights into their craft. A lot of it is fairly surface-level but it’s tricky to encompass the whole process given the multi-disciplinary nature of game development.
Within The Last of Us Part 2Remastered is a collection of three levels cut from the main game. Labelled the “Lost Levels”, these sections represent the heart of the remaster. Rough around the edges due to their incomplete state, each level includes commentary from different members of the development team. More so than during cutscenes, they’re free to talk at length about their work – and it’s the best part of this whole package.
Topics covered in the Lost Levels range from level design to cinematics, and everything in between. Hearing why content hit the cutting room floor is fascinating, as is how developers approach each section. For a narrative-focused game like The Last of Us, every aspect of game design needs to serve the story in some way. Discovering the context behind various decisions, including the non-linear structure, only adds to the appreciation for the end result.
One developer explained at length the process of creating hallways and guiding players towards objectives. It’s something you might not actively think of while playing games: you just go to where the game tells you, right? But there’s an entire art to keeping players on the right path, and having it explained while playing is extremely cool.
Considering I watched the Double Fine PsychOdyssey – a 32-part documentary series following Psychonauts 2‘s development – in its entirety, it’s not surprising that The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered captured my interest. Game development is tough at the best of times: getting to know the people behind the art helps to enjoy video games on a deeper level.