The Last of Us Part 2 is still one of the best games ever made.
It’s a game that excels in art, level design, performance, writing, visuals, audio design, polish, and a list that could go on endlessly. It’s the best-in-class in so many genres of modern AAA video game development, and that hasn’t changed since 2020. So why was the announcement of this remaster met with such a mixed response?
In short, it’s because Naughty Dog hasn’t put out an original game since The Last of Us Part 2. The studio which was once known for its unbelievably high pace of releases has slowed significantly. Naughty Dog released four original games on the PS3, two on the PS4, and so far, none on the PS5. This can easily be explained by the meteoric jump in production time, expense, and expectation between generations, but that hasn’t stopped some fans from feeling somewhat let down that before The Last of Us Part 2 remastered, the only thing Naughty Dog has released on this generation of consoles is another remake.
While often conflated in arguments against the release, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered doesn’t share much in common with the remake of The Last of Us, dubbed Part 1, instead it’s much closer to the PS4 release of The Last of Us, which Naughty Dog released early in the console’s lifecycle due to the original game pushing the PS3 to the brink.
The Last of Us Part 2 includes the base game, complete with visual improvements that bring the game up to the standard of a PlayStation 5 game. Even in side-by-side comparison videos you’ll probably struggle to really see them, but the change is much more clear when you play the game. The gameplay is far more responsive thanks to variable frame-rate options, which, on supported televisions, provide a mix of the game looking its best and feeling its best, a trademark of other rehomed PS4 titles like Spider-Man and Ghost of Tsushima.
The haptic feedback afforded by the DualSense controller is the best featured in a game since Astro’s Playroom, with care and attention paid to not only intense moments when the controller feels like it’s going to explode but also the serene like Joel polishing a guitar he plans to give to Ellie. In our interview with The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered director Matthew Gallant, he named it as one of his favorite features of the remaster project, comparing it to the “blunt instrument,” of the PS4’s rumble engine.
No Return is the biggest new addition to The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered. The roguelike mode sees players move through combat arenas from the game, between which they’ll upgrade their weapons, crafting abilities, and more. On the surface, this is a puzzling addition to a game that is literally about escaping a cycle of violence, but in practice, it’s far more engaging than we expected.
The stealth gameplay of The Last of Us Part 2 is excellent, and when pushed to its difficulty limits can result in some of the most engaging cat-and-mouse type encounters with AI yet seen in games. Naughty Dog has said that this mode was a direct result of the requests of a large group of players who loved the combat of the game so much that they would use the chapter select feature over and over to try to perfect their runs through levels once they’d experienced it for the first time in the main story, and No Return delivers on that.
The other headline addition to The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is The Lost Levels, a series of work-in-progress levels cut from the final game, alongside context and commentary explaining why they were cut. This is, by far, the most exciting piece of this remaster package, and our only wish is that there was more of it. While developer commentary isn’t anything new game, especially in releases of this type, getting to walk through the in-progress levels gives the mode an almost museum-like quality.
It’s also interesting that this kind of thing would be included in a game that famously had large portions of the game illegally shared online ahead of release, leading to footage of levels not unlike those in the Lost Levels to be shared online, totally out of Naughty Dog’s control.
To see what was clearly an incredibly violating experience being recontextualized with Naughty Dog to lead the players through content that traditionally never sees the light of day is a bold step and one we’d like to see other developers emulate in such releases. The secrecy around video game development has only become more absurd in recent years, and for Naughty Dog to be leading the charge on pulling back that curtain even slightly is a very good thing.
While the content of the game has changed, so do has the context in which it is being re-released. To release a game about dealing with the aftermath of a deadly worldwide pandemic in the middle of 2020 was a moment of prescience that no one at Naughty Dog could have possibly expected. It caused The Last of Us Part 2 to become one of the most frighteningly timely pieces of media ever released.
Now, in 2024, while the echoes of the pandemic persist, and hundreds of thousands of people are still quietly dealing with the consequences as the rest of the world decides it’s time we moved on, it’s hard not to get a pit in your stomach when you enter an abandoned supermarket in an early level, posters advising people to wear masks dangling off of the wall.
The Last of Us Part 2 is a seminal game and this is the very best way to play it. For owners of the original game, the upgrade charge is more than covered by No Return and The Lost Levels, with improved visuals and haptic feedback a nice, if not strictly necessary improvement. The Lost Levels offer a look under the hood of games that is rarely shown off by developers of Naughty Dog’s pedigree, and will hopefully encourage others to do the same. No Return is strange on the surface, but in practice it’s a mode that the base game’s excellent stealth mechanics has always deserved.
The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is the best way to play one of the best games ever made. Excellent bonus content and visual bells and whistles make this $10 more than worth it, and the exact excuse you need to revisit this modern masterpiece.
- The Lost Levels are a facisnating peak behind the curtain
- Performance improvements mean it's never played better
- No Return is a fun, addictive way to explore the game's deep combat
- Extensive and well thought out use of the DualSense haptics
- We'd have loved more Lost Levels