Calling The Last of Us Part 2 a divisive game would be the understatement of the century, but for my money, it’s one of the best games I’ve ever played. It’s a heartbreaking and relentlessly depressing game, often to the point of being so oppressive that playing it for long stretches can prove difficult- but there’s something so incredibly refreshing about the absolute honesty with which it tells its harrowing story, and the way in which it completely adheres to the rules of its brutal world, without exception. I was floored when I first played the game three and a half years ago, and I’ve only grown to love it more as time has passed.
Naturally, I’ll take any excuse I can get to play The Last of Us Part 2 again, which means I would have been happy to dive into a re-release even if it was just a straight port of the game with little to no additions or improvements to speak of. The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered, however, is not that. On top of the base game’s exceptional campaign, the remaster also introduces an excellent new roguelike survival mode in No Return, which, combined with a host of other additional bonuses, makes this remaster a meaty package that anyone with any sort of investment in the series should be picking up.
"On top of the base game’s exceptional campaign, the remaster also introduces an excellent new roguelike survival mode in No Return, which, combined with a host of other additional bonuses, makes this remaster a meaty package that anyone with any sort of investment in the series should be picking up."
It’s no surprise that No Return is the star of the show here (assuming you’ve played the base game before). The Last of Us Part 2 has some the best, most tense combat and stealth mechanics I’ve ever experienced in a game, and the remaster’s new roguelike survival mode allows them to flourish in ways that the series hasn’t accomplished in the past. It does so by taking the grounded realism and designed messiness that each encounter in The Last of Us Part 2 is characterized by and blending it with a level of variety and chaos that feels completely fresh for this style of gameplay, and adds several new layers to it, recontextualizing it in fascinating ways.
Each run in No Return is comprised of five encounters, each coming with unique and randomized objectives, enemies, locations, and more. You begin each run in your hub and select the encounter you want to tackle next from a choice of branches on a board, and if you’re able to make it through five of them without dying, the run culminates in a tense boss fight. Between each encounter, you return to your hub, where you can purchase weapons, ammo, and crafting recipes, and upgrade your weapons and unlock new skills using weapon parts and pills that you’ve been rewarded with for completing the run’s previous encounters.
Structurally, No Return doesn’t reinvent the wheel where roguelike experiences are concerned, and each run typically lasts only about an hour or an hour and a half (depending on what encounter types you select and how you play), which means there isn’t too much breathing room for you to be able to properly dive into the unique build options that the game touts. What No Return lacks in depth in a single run, however, it more or less makes up for with the variety it injects into the experience through other elements. Mods, for instance, are modifiers that can have wild and varying effects, from giving you speed boosts after you vault over objects to having to deal with a literal downpour of noxious Bloater sacs all over the map. Mods are applied to encounters randomly, and though you do usually have the option to not choose an encounter where a particularly tricky mod has been applied, they also come with bonus points and rewards, which introduces a nice risk-reward element to the proceedings.
"No Return takes the grounded realism and designed messiness that each encounter in The Last of Us Part 2 is characterized by and blends it with a level of variety and chaos that feels completely fresh for this style of gameplay, and adds several new layers to it, recontextualizing it in fascinating ways."
Beyond mods, gameplay variation comes from a number of other things. There are ten playable characters in No Return, and each of them encourages a unique play style, while which weapons you unlock over the course of a run, which skills you purchase, which encounter types you choose, and what locations you choose to play in can all radically impact the experience as well. There are also Gambits, which are optional challenges that you can tackle during a run – like landing a certain number of headshots, for instance – which unlock further rewards, while often, encounters also pair you with AI companions, adding another wrinkle to the proceedings.
This being a roguelike mode, progression during a run is obviously temporary, which means you lose any and all upgrades when you die. There is, however, an overarching progression system as well, one that’s been implemented quite well, even if it doesn’t necessarily think outside the box. From new playable characters and skins to bosses, mods, Gambits, and more, completing Challenges allows for permanent unlocks, and with a large number of Challenges available pertaining to everything from specific characters and engaging with different mods to fighting bosses and more, I can see players putting a significant amount of time into unlocking everything that No Return has to offer.
No Return is by no means a revelation for the roguelike genre where its execution is concerned, and yes, it does have some issues. For instance, not all encounters feel equally interesting. In particular, I felt Hunted encounters – which task you with surviving against constant enemy reinforcements until the timer runs out – would get over too quickly, and more often than not, I could just survive by hiding in a corner and avoiding enemies, never to engage in combat or stealth in any meaningful way. But even though it does have some issues here and there, by and large, No Return uses The Last of Us Part 2’s exceptional combat and stealth mechanics in incredible new ways, and allows you to experience them in a way the campaign doesn’t.
"Even though The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered’s visual and technical upgrades over the original PS4 title feel minimal at best, with comprehensive additions like No Return, the Lost Levels, and Guitar Free Play, it comes across as a legitimately meaty and well-made expanded re-release of the original game."
Beyond No Return, there are a few other intriguing additions in The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered that are also worth mentioning. Chief among them are the Lost Levels, which are early development slices of levels that were cut from the game. Presented in an unfinished state (though to different degrees) and with optional developer commentary, these three levels provide fascinating insight into the development process at Naughty Dog, and allow you to engage with the game in a way that we very rarely see in the AAA space, if ever.
There’s also Guitar Free Play, a mode that, as its name suggests, lets you freely engage with The Last of Us Part 2’s guitar minigame, while also featuring multiple playable characters (including composer Gustavo Santaolallo) and different instruments, including a banjo, an electric guitar, and more. Meanwhile, those who really want to get into it also have the option to do so by hooking up audio FX pedals.
Even though The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered’s visual and technical upgrades over the original PS4 title feel minimal at best (which isn’t surprising, seeing as the original still looks better than most games today), with comprehensive additions like No Return, the Lost Levels, and Guitar Free Play, it comes across as a legitimately meaty and well-made expanded re-release of the original game. Priced at $50 at launch, with a $10 upgrade path available to those who own the PS4 version of the game, it’s also great value for money. As a better and expanded version of what is probably the best game Naughty Dog has ever made, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is incredibly easy to recommend.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
The campaign is as excellent as ever; No Return is a meaty and stellar addition that allows the game's incredible stealth and combat mechanics to flourish in entirely new ways; Other solid additions like Guitar Free Play and Lost Levels.
Some encounters in No Return can feel a bit underbaked.