The Last of Us Part II Remastered
Released: January 19th, 2024
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Enterainment
The Last of Us Part II demonstrates the validity of videogames that focus purely on mindless fun. I love it when a game tackles heavier subject matter and deals with meaningful themes, but sometimes you just want a cute little zombie game, and The Last of Us II reminds one that disposable fluff can be just as gripping as a well written, thoughtful story.
With this remaster of a recent wacky classic, Naughty Dog serves us all another reminder - we will never see the last of The Last of Us. Can't wait for The Last of Us Part I Remastered in three years!
For the uninitiated, The Last of Us 2 is predominantly about what a laugh Molotov cocktails are. The remaster preserves everything that made the original a rewarding romp while adding improvements such as a less reliable framerate even when running in Performance Mode. There’s also new content, including a whole Roguelite Mode that asks the question - “what would happen if we took out almost everything that makes a genre work?”
Aside from fixing how unbroken the first release was, the core adventure is preserved in its entirety. This includes all of the hilariously satirical jokes, such as when Ellie temporarily breaks down over killing her first visibly pregnant woman, or when you’re supposed to feel bad for stabbing one single dog after hours of being conditioned to see this world's dogs as annoying tripmine fodder.
If anything justifies a replay it’s those timeless gags, the ones always hammered home by an immediate and remorseless return to indiscriminate killing (which is the best bit of the joke).
The cycle of violence really spins into top gear with New Game Plus, which this remaster provides the perfect excuse to play. Ellie and Abby's wild misadventures don’t have to end at the punchline - just take all your unlocked weapons and upgrades on a subsequent playthough, making it more trivial than ever to pop human heads like grapes, set fire to dogs, and laugh while your disposable victims scream each others’ names in sorrow and fear.
This game, which is said to be about Isreal and Palestine, gets really funny when you dress Ellie up like an astronaut and add various filters to make a mockery of the graphics or give everyone chipmunk voices. To truly emphasize Naughty Dog’s narrative themes, you can also unlock infinite ammo, one-hit kills, and other bonus swag to hammer home the power fantasy that is The Last of Us Part 2. Rolling into battle wearing a fancy dress costume and armed to the fuckdamned teeth is a fresh and - dare I say - better way to experience the game.
No Return isn’t a better way to do anything though, least of all the thing it’s trying to do.
This roguelite mode feels like a cobbled together act of desperation intended to justify charging for a remastered version of a game that isn’t even all that old and benefits in almost no tangible way from being allegedly “upgraded,” such is the nature of diminishing returns.
The main problem is that, while The Last of Us’ splatter movie violence is as thrilling as Peter Jackson’s pre-Rings films, it's woefully ill-suited to the kind of experience No Return purports to offer.
Combat is slow and methodical, and in the main game it relies on carefully structured enemy encounters to really bring out its best. Randomly generated skirmishes on tiny maps with a “rubber banding” A.I. that makes enemies vaguely follow you in unpredictable patterns is possibly the worst way you could present The Last of Us, but that’s the majority of this dreary mode.
Each run is a sequential offering of small maps with various objectives such as taking out squads of enemies or surviving waves of attackers. Between missions you can buy new equipment, unlock skills, and wank over your firearms. You’ll also choose the next mission on a board that offers a few branching paths to create the illusion of diversity - a glamor that ultimately fails under the mildest scrutiny.
Despite runs being rather short, they still manage to drag on too long.
Perhaps the most striking aspect of this mode is how damn quiet it is. The lack of chatter beyond a few repeated lines is remarkable off the back of TLoU2’s talkative campaign. Allied characters appear in a few random levels and only repeat stock battle lines, as do the enemies (who still amusingly scream the names of their evermore disposable friends). There’s very little music or environmental sounds. Winning a level or even a whole run takes you to a silent stat screen with zero fanfare.
This perpetual silence, indicative of a lack of brand new audio, really emphasizes how reused No Return’s assets are. Considering the only other notable content addition are a few unfinished gameplay sections that never made it into the final game, the struggle to make this release worth releasing is palpable.
It’s not like you can get bonkers upgrades and weaponry like you can in most roguelites. Naughty Dog’s commitment to exhausting realism means character skills and guns never shift beyond the mundane, which in turn only makes the repetition more glaring. It also means multiple runs become extremely tedious because upgrading weapons means sitting through all those laborious, unskippable, bespoke animations that unfold every time you alter a weapon. Still, the rampant gun porn is yet another clever reinforcement of this game’s stance on shooting people’s throats out (pro).
“Wait just a minute you fucking bitch,” I hear you scream. “You’ve spent this entire review sarcastically making fun of the tonal dissonance between The Last of Us 2’s creative goals and the exaggeratedly glorious violence that undermines everything, and now you're whining about the lack of ‘bonkers’ weapons? What’s the deal, you fucking bitch?”
Well, that’s the rub, isn’t it?
The Last of Us Part II’s biggest problem has always been how badly it failed to "have it all." How any attempt at thematically matching both writing and gameplay was grossly fumbled because hardly any credible attempt was made.
Perhaps the most valuable artistic contribution TLoU2 offers - unwittingly - is how perfectly it showcases the contradictory juxtaposition between a videogame as a work of artistic expression and a videogame as a big budget media product.
It wanted to be a heartfelt story about the vengeful perpetuation of violence, but it needed to be a fun action shooter that sold loads of copies. This is why Ellie’s exceedingly brief remorse over murdering the one victim she knows to be pregnant is so offensive. A game that tries to make you feel bad for enjoying violence that's been designed to feel enjoyable is just asking to be critically mauled unless it’s being damn clever… which this game ain’t.
Rather than try to do anything truly subversive with the conflict, Naughty Dog simply bulldozed through any glaring contradictions and hoped audiences would be too ignorant to notice. Or perhaps the ignorance was Naughty Dog’s - you can’t seriously think your hyperviolent blockbuster about mushroom zombies is equipped to handle serious contemporary political discourse without a severe lack of self-awareness.
A complete inability to reflect is, well, reflected with ReLastered’s tenuous additions. The base game was already narratively vulgar, but this is just creative self-sabotage. No Return's distilled presentation of violence for its own sake, on top of just being poorly cobbled together, erode's the story's final fragile foundation and comprehensively undermines the entire thing.
Every game has violence. Many games even contradict their story elements with violent content. The Last of Us Part II is singled out among them because its stated goals were so extremely lofty compared to the product it became, yet it carries its ass with the self-assured arrogance of a game that nailed it.
I say all this, by the way, as an enby who actually rather likes The Last of Us 2, albeit one who likes what it is rather than what we’re supposed to think it is. Sarcastic though my labeling may be, I do genuinely consider it a "fun zombie game" with some really neat horror moments and damn satisfying explosions. That’s a perfectly fine thing for a game to be.
The Last of Us Part II Remastered, however, is not so fine.
The “remastering” is of highly questionable value and the extra content is weak. No Return is a cheaply recycled and tawdry take on roguelite gameplay, while the Lost Levels were lost for a reason. Worse, such additions hammer a final nail into the coffin of this game’s creative ambition, definitively invalidating an already flimsy story with the kind of combat-focused experiences that communicate only one thing to the player - violent videogames are cool.