Outside of Marvel’s Spider-Man, you could make the argument that The Last of Us is PlayStation’s most important intellectual property. Certainly, in terms of gaming IP the company owns outright, The Last of Us sits close to the top, if not the very top of the PlayStation food chain. In the last year, it has gone a step further by injecting itself into more mainstream pop culture via the highly regarded television adaptation at HBO, which recently won a slew of Emmy awards.
Thanks in part to the success of the show, The Last of Us as a franchise feels like it is crescendoing, with more fans and cachet than ever before. With so many more fans joining the fold, it makes sense for developer Naughty Dog to put its best foot forward as stewards of the series. Enter The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered, a PS5 upgrade of the 2020 original that, ultimately, is the best way for newcomers and returners alike to experience this emotional journey of revenge, love, and survival.
I’m not going to spend much time evaluating the story of The Last of Us Part 2 as it remains undisturbed, and you can easily refer to reviews of the original game if you’ve never experienced it. What I will say is that after three years between playthroughs, it packed a much heavier emotional punch this time around. Perhaps I’m just getting softer in my old age, but replaying it allowed me to appreciate the themes and minutia far more than my original experience. I picked up on little callbacks and bits of foreshadowing that I missed years ago, which made me love a game that I already adored even more. And while I remembered most of the major story beats and set pieces, a few of the jump scares still got me the second time around.
As far as the actual remaster itself, the game looks great on PS5, without a doubt. Is it a massive upgrade over the PS4 version? Not in my eyes. Maybe the Digital Foundry folks will prove me wrong, but from a pure fidelity standpoint, it appears to be only slightly better to my naked eye. I did re-download the PS4 version to do some direct comparisons, capturing screenshots in the same areas to evaluate. It’s not an indictment on the PS5 remaster, but rather an affirmation of how well the PS4 version has held up. And of course, the original game is already playable at 60 frames per second on PS5 thanks to an earlier update by Naughty Dog. On PS5, I played in performance mode with HDR turned on (by default it is off for some reason). Performance mode renders at 1440p and either upscales to 4K, or remains at 1440p, depending on your display. I found the quality mode, which renders at native 4K and targets 30 frames per second, to be uncomfortable for me. There was some noticeable stuttering and roughness, especially when on the move. I’m not a frame snob, but it was enough to be distracting.
Let me be clear – running at an upscaled 4K and 60 frames, The Last of Us Part 2 looks excellent, and better than most games on the market. It’s just that the game has always looked excellent. I suspect that if you’re coming directly from playing it on PS4 to PS5, you’ll notice the biggest bump in fidelity, especially with things like textures, which got a noticeable improvement. Bear in mind that this is a remaster not a remake – not that a remake was ever necessary. PlayStation understands this, which is probably why it is a $10 upgrade for owners of the PS4 version of the game, or $50 all-in if you’re coming in fresh. As a value proposition, it is a terrific offer in my opinion, thanks to upgrades in other areas, as well as additional content.
Now, where I think the upgrades really turn up are in the more ancillary features of the PS5 – load times, DualSense support, and 3D audio. Moving back-and-forth between the PS4 and PS5 versions at one point underscored just how good we have it nowadays. We’re spoiled, really. I had to wait an excruciatingly long 20-plus seconds to load the game from the main menu, for instance. I say that in jest, but I was surprisingly annoyed at waiting that long to get into the action, which probably says more about the times we live in than anything else. Still, it was a much-appreciated upgrade. As is the implementation of adaptive triggers and haptic feedback on the DualSense controller. Feeling the weight and resistance of each weapon helped add to the immersion of an already intense experience, while playing the PS4 version without those features felt lacking, in comparison. But perhaps my favorite addition to the PS5 package is the inclusion of 3D audio. Playing with headphones truly heightened my anxiety when playing – hearing the scurry of a stalker, the groan of a shambler, or even a creaky pipe constantly put me on edge.
If you’re a returning player who isn’t keen on replaying the story, you can enjoy new content such as guitar free play, the Lost Levels, or the No Return roguelike mode. Guitar free play lets you channel your inner musician on acoustic guitar and other unlockable instruments. Unlocks are earned by finding collectibles, earning PlayStation trophies, progressing through the No return mode, or completing the story on higher difficulties. All of which were neat ways to add depth to a relatively simple minigame. Meanwhile, Lost Levels are pre-alpha versions of three levels cut from the original game, complete with developer commentary and introductions by Neil Druckmann himself.
Of the extra content, the standout is the No Return mode, which is worth the $10 upgrade on its own. If you enjoy the visceral combat of The Last of Us Part 2, you’re going to love No Return, as it is all combat, all the time. Unlike the recent God of War Ragnarok DLC from PlayStation, No Return does not add anything to the story or character arcs of the game, though it boasts a surprising amount of gameplay depth. The setup is straightforward; you choose a character and a difficulty level, then the game generates a random series of encounters for you to fight through, culminating in a boss fight. A run consists of several encounters, which feature one of what Naughty Dog calls game modes. As you progress, you’re able to choose your path to the boss at certain junctions where you must decide between one game mode or another. I found that these modes offer a nice amount of gameplay variety. Assault has you killing a finite number of enemies across three waves; Hunted continuously spawns enemies as you fight to survive until the timer runs out; Holdout asks you to protect an ally until all enemies are killed; and Capture puts a safe of valuables guarded by enemies on the map with a limited amount of time to crack it. For my money, Hunted is by far the most intense as you’re quite literally running for your life, especially if up against Infected. The other factions from the game are also enemies that you will contend with on each run.
After each encounter you will be scored on how well you did, complete with a Capcom-esque letter grade for both the encounter and your overall run progress. The game rewards precise, adept gameplay, even on the standard difficulty. Truthfully, I haven’t been able to defeat the second boss yet (update: it is done), but I have refused to drop the difficulty down thus far. No Return is a challenge, but that is the point. Once you defeat all the bosses, they get lumped into one big pile that the game will randomly pluck one out of for future runs.
Failing a run means you start all the way over, with a new set of randomly generated encounters, as well as losing your acquired weapons and skills. If you’ve played any roguelike game, you’ll be familiar with the gameplay loop here. The more you play No Return, the more you unlock. Playing with each character will unlock more playable characters, for instance, as well as new cosmetics for them. Each one has their own starting skills and weapons so you can choose one that fits your playstyle. As an example, Jesse starts with a silenced pistol and the skill that allows you to craft silencers, so he is designed for a stealthier approach. On the other hand, Tommy and Joel are brutes with powerful custom weapons, but lacking the ability to dodge melee attacks. I must say – you don’t realize how much you miss the ability to dodge until its gone, which sounds like the start of a country song that I might compose in guitar free play. Speaking of Jesse and Tommy, No Return brings several secondary characters forward as playable characters, which is a cool feature of the mode.
Between each successful encounter you are taken to the hideout to prepare for your next fight. There you can spend the resources you acquired by completing the previous run to upgrade for the next. You can spend coins to buy weapons, holsters, crafting recipes, ammo, and so on. You’ll also want to use supplements to upgrade skills, and the workbench to fabricate weapon upgrades. Just be sure to spend wisely, because sometimes saving up weapon parts to increase the damage of a gun you might buy later is more worthwhile than increasing the stability of an early weapon.
No Return is an intense mode, which didn’t surprise me, but the dearth of respite in the roguelike environment, in contrast to the story mode, almost strips you entirely of those moments to catch your breath. The narrative pit stops simply aren’t there in No Return, and it will have your heart racing because of it. With the recent cancellation of The Last of Us Online, I couldn’t help but wonder how much fun this mode would be with a friend by my side. The interesting part is that the bones are there from a gameplay standpoint with the ally system, but the online infrastructure isn’t, of course. If I were able to invite a friend to play a run or two here and there, I would gladly pay $20 or $30 for this upgrade – no question. I plan to keep playing No Return long after this review, checking in for the daily run curated by Naughty Dog, and hopefully taking down those remaining bosses. The studio must know they have a sticky mode on their hands too, because thankfully, you can delete the story mode file package from your PS5 when you’re done with it, freeing up 42GB of space on your SSD, allowing you to continue enjoying No Return without the burden of taking up nearly 80GB on your console.
Put simply, The Last of Us Part 2 Remastered is the best way to play one of the most acclaimed video games of all-time. If you haven’t experienced it before, or maybe you’re just looking for a reason to go back, now is the time. The $50 price tag for newcomers and $10 upgrade for previous owners feels entirely appropriate. Though I’m sure some fans will argue that God of War Ragnarok just recently released free DLC, I don’t think that is an apples-to-apples comparison considering the generational enhancements that come baked in. For as much as I wish that Rockstar would give Red Dead Redemption 2 this sort of treatment, I can’t help but appreciate Naughty Dog and PlayStation for giving us a worthwhile upgrade to one of the best video games ever made.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.View Profile