Review: The Last of Us Part II's remaster is worth enduring the suffering again

The year of 2024 in gaming begins with Naughty Dog providing yet another updated version of a hit from its own back catalogue.

But don't worry, this isn't another soulless cash-in for one of the games that has been declared one of the best of its generation.

If you already own the PlayStation 4 version of the game, for just NZ$20 you can update to the remaster and get all the extra content that comes with it.

To be frank, it's that extra content that makes the remaster worth it - if you're willing to undergo the brutality and heartbreak of this game all over again.

The main game has been given a thorough spit and polish that makes locations look chillier and more atmospheric than ever before. Indeed, The Last of Us Part II Remastered looks stunning throughout on a PlayStation 5. 

Ellie's bitterness and anger feels more real on a big screen with more definition, with every pore standing out; equally, Abby's anguish positively seeps from the graphical upscale it has undergone with this release.

But for me, the harshness of the game makes a second playthrough difficult at best. Not because of what Naughty Dog has done, but knowing the story beats and the pain that drips out from the story as it plays out makes it grimmer to replay.

The Last of Us Part II is an emotional slog that's stewed in misery.

There's still the misery you'd expect in the game.
There's still the misery you'd expect in the game. Photo credit: PlayStation

It's absolutely exhausting to replay, even if the gameplay is smooth and tautly executed. You can port over your saved game if you want, but it's recommended to start afresh and see the love and care the developers have put in the game a second time around.

Thankfully, Naughty Dog has clearly realised this and bolted on extra content for the remaster that takes out the emotional pain of the game and simply lets you concentrate on offing enemies. 

The No Return series of roguelike encounters, which are the main reason to purchase the upgrade, are ideal for players who don't want to endure the slower parts of The Last Of Us Part II's narrative that help build the character and up the emotional heft.

Much like an online game of Call of Duty, No Return is a series of randomly-spawned levels that will see you pitted against AI-generated others in a fight to the death branch of encounters that end the moment you die. Opening with access to Ellie and Abby, survival in each encounter zone gives you unlockable access to more characters from the story for future runs. 

The games fall into a pattern of either surviving waves solo, surviving enemies with a co-op companion or capturing a safe which has rewards within. At the end of each game, if you survive, you win cash, crafting equipment and access to further weapons to try to get to the end of the encounters on the run. 

Despite my being lukewarm on the concept initially, No Return has proven to be a canny way to appeal to those who feel the main game is stymied by a lack of action. With the use of some key arenas from across the game, No Return provides compelling bitesize gaming that really does add to The Last Of Us, while softening some of the blow caused by the lack of any planned multiplayer. 

The roguelike No Return offers challenges - as well as helping shape your gameplay.
The roguelike No Return offers challenges - as well as helping shape your gameplay. Photo credit: PlayStation

There are no new characters or enemies, but there are gameplay twists and skins involved in the new mode. And with plenty of difficulty levels within the challenges of the randomised gameplay, it proves to be worth the extra cash - if you're already invested in its world. What's most interesting about this mode is how it hones your survival skills given how resources don't carry through to new runs, or are lost completely on death. It's quite an intriguing proposition that can change how you'd approach the main game.

There are also leaderboards, but with the remaster being looked at pre-release, those weren't able to be factored into this review.

It's not just the No Return mode which appears on the game - there's a chance to freeplay a guitar (though why you'd not just pick up a real guitar and learn is beyond this reviewer) and the Lost Levels showcase parts of the game that were dropped. These feature developer insight into what's gone on and deepens the engagement with the world Neil Druckmann and his team have created.

There is plenty worth investing in here.
There is plenty worth investing in here. Photo credit: PlayStation

Perhaps a little less essential than No Return but no less enjoyable, these extras make the game feel like it's now in its most complete form. It's hard to imagine any future DLC coming out.

Whether The Last of Us Part II Remastered is an essential purchase is a decision that will be a personal one and may test gamers' desire for remasters and re-releases. 

But it's pertinent to note that for existing owners, the $20 investment feels like a no-brainer - and for newcomers to the game itself, it's also a no-brainer to experience one of the defining games of the generation.

Just steel yourself for the emotional toll The Last of Us Part II will exert on you - it's hard to understate its impact again.