Unless you're the type of player who counts the pixels you might not notice the visual upgrades, but the commentary and roguelike mode make for enjoyable return to Seattle.
It's hard to match the combat and minute to minute gameplay in the THE LAST OF US PART II and the new PlayStation 5 version offers more of the excellent nailbiting gameplay and deeper insights into the developer's creative process.
If you treat this new version as $20 premium DLC for a game you already own, the cut content, behind the scenes commentary and new roguelike mode No Return makes for an enjoyable return to this sequel.
Chris Button sits down with SIFTER Executive Producer Gianni Di Giovanni as they enjoy a look behind the curtain.
A copy of THE LAST OF US PART II REMASTERED on PlayStation 5 was provided to SIFTER for the purposes of this review.
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SIFTER is produced by Kyle Pauletto, Fiona Bartholomaeus, Courtney Borrett, Daniel Ang, Adam Christou and Chris Button. Mitch Loh is Senior Producer and Gianni Di Giovanni is our Executive Producer. Thanks to Audio Technica Australia for their support of SIFTER.
CHRIS: G'day and welcome to Drop Rate by SIFTER. Drop Rate is SIFTER's review podcast packed with thoughts and feelings about the newest video games, giving you insights from some of the best games writers around.
I'm Chris Button, and today we're talking about The Last of Us Part II Remastered, alongside Sifter's own Gianni Di Giovanni.
But before we get into the discussion, Here are the top stories featured on Walkthrough, SIFTER's weekly news podcast.
PROMO Sit down for a chat with your pals in video games. You're listening to SIFTER
CHRIS: So Gianni speaking of The Last of Us Part II Remastered I'll admit I was one of quite a few people i assume who was quite surprised at how soon or how quickly this remaster has turned around since the original game on PS4 only launched midway through 2020.
Were you one of the people surprised by how quickly this has been turned around for sort of the next generation hardware?
GIANNI: Absolutely, yes. But I can totally see the pattern as to why they have done so because they have a The Last of Us Part I Remastered, which came out a little while ago, to line up with the launch of the television series adaptation.
So, you know, I can kind of see why because then you can have on your shelf now a Last of Us Part 1 remastered and a Last of Us Part 2 remastered.
And, you know, it seems to be a bit of a trend that Sony and their studios have been doing with a lot of their titles recently.
Uncharted, for example, got a PlayStation 5 Uncharted 4 and Lost Levels combined pack to be playable on that. We've seen it with multiple different other versions that have come out recently for their game.
So it just seems to be a trend that they like to do when they put those things together. But yes, we are talking about not a game that came out many, many years ago.
I think it was 2013 was the original Last of Us when that first came out around that time.
We're talking about PlayStation 3 era game that got modernized twice.
We're talking about a game that came out in 2020, which is only four years ago and can be played perfectly fine on a PlayStation 5 already and I have done so already having played through both the part one remastered and part two, the PlayStation 4 version before the TV series came out.
So, you know, the value as to why this thing is done is a discussion I don't really want to talk about too much about but I think it is still worth mentioning.
The fact that this is a game that you could play easily for a very reasonable price you can get that part two for on very good discount quite often and it is a game that I definitely think you should experience if you want to feel you know what the the absolute you know peak of high budget triple a production can deliver that's what The Last of Us Part II represents.
So yeah the game itself is yeah it's a it's a modernization in some regards it has improved visual fidelity including um higher frame rates at higher resolutions as well um there is also a suite of extra features that are included in there and I think really this is a game for the people who are probably the super fans who can't get enough of the last of us world world those extra pieces that are included in this are something for people who have been through this a few times that's what I feel having played that and having been through it a few times that's where most of the value for it lies for for me at least and for many people who are listening at home I'm sure that's probably what you're thinking about if you're thinking about picking up this particular package.
CHRIS: I think you're probably right there Gianni because me being one of the the people who was apprehensive and hesitant upon hearing the news of this remaster of a game that's only a few years old was because the first and one and only time that I've played The Last of Us Part II was such a deeply effective and emotive experience.
This tale of revenge and the endless cycle of violence and trauma associated with it.
I remember my experience with it so vividly following the the protagonists Ellie and Abby sort of playing off against one another and just seeing seeing that experiencing that and how how dark it is all the way through as as you play through this this I wouldn't say it's a revenge fantasy because it really does away with the fantasy aspect of that because it doesn't shy away from the the sort of the darkness and the the emotions and the sort of widespread effect it has on other people this endless pursuit of what these characters perceive as justice but I had very little desire to to jump back in and play it again because I think part of it was because I didn't want to leave that original experience untouched because of how fantastic an experience it was, but also knowing that how, sort of how, how ugly the game gets.
CHRIS: And I don't mean that in sort of a derogatory context, but in terms of thematically and the actions that it portrays, it goes to some very, very ugly places.
And I, I think, you know, that, that added to my hesitation of, of not wanting to dive back back in but I've actually found that while playing through the story again has has been a positive experience I don't particularly care for you know slightly upgraded visuals or smoother frame rates it does it does add a nice bit of polish to the experience but I do really enjoy joy learning about what goes into game development.
So I found that a lot of the cut content and the director slash cast slash developer commentary that went into the game was arguably the most compelling part of this package behind the roguelike experience, No Return.
But before we delve into that more deeply, Gianni, I know you've said that this is a series that you've played through multiple times, you would probably consider yourself a mega fan of The Last of Us series and the franchise as a whole.
Where does sort of The Last of Us Part II sit within the broader narrative of this post-apocalyptic world?
GIANNI: It's really interesting. I think my critical look at what this game is is really that tension between the sort of story that they are attempting to tell and talking about the consequences of violence and this cycle of violence in which you spoke about there and kind of when you balance it between what you actually have to do in the game and what the incentive structure of this game is, it really asks you to become a completely violent character, right?
And, you know, that's the thing that never quite, you know, like I could never quite get into my head.
I really liked the first game. I think that is a game that was much unlike anything else that had happened at the time, had a level of production value that was, you know, unparalleled at that time.
And it was really an emotionally affecting story that I think as well.
But I often think about if you compare and contrast between the first and the second games, the clarity of the vision of the first game is there, right?
You can really understand the motivations of the characters, flawed as they are, why they do the things that they do.
And what I think for The Last of Us Part II is I think that those motivations that people have, you know, the characters that you follow throughout this story particularly the main protagonists in some circumstances are done better than others and I think by the end of this story you know I was left feeling a particular way about having having played it many times I've now actually even be able to further distance myself from being in that moment you described right when you first play it the first time you're on this kind of roller coaster experience where you're trying to kind of just see what what happens next.
And I remember feeling it was like quite a long journey too.
The first time through, you kind of think it's going to end about two or three times and then it continues on, right? So it's a very big story as well.
And when you get to that, you're kind of left questioning whether or not you think it's worth it all at the end, right?
And so I think with this and hearing that developer commentary that you talk about and the caster in there as well, talking about the performances in particular key scenes.
NEIL DRUCKMANN: When I see Dina's looks over here, my interpretation is that she remembers all the times that she was falling in love for Ellie in the past when she was with Jesse.
Because right there talking about this has happened before and she played this song.
And the other character moment that's interesting here is like the song she originally played here when she picks up the guitar is Future Days.
It's what Joel teaches her. And as soon as Dina walks through the door, she stops playing that song because she doesn't want to talk about that. that.
HALLEY GROSS: This is actually, I think, canonically, the first time you will have seen Ellie successfully play guitar since the opening scene where Joel says he's going to teach her. Yeah.
So this is the first moment that we realize like that he really did teach her.
So it also represents not just like her relationship with Dina, but.
DRUCKMANN: Oh, you're right. Every time she's picking up a guitar, there's a connection to Joel every single time.
GIANNI: You know, you do get to understand where they they were trying to get to right what they were trying to portray what this story was that they were trying to deliver to you and have to be part of it but you know if you're talking about a story that is about the cost of violence the gameplay is not about the cost of violence it's actually like that's the point you know you can probably in most circumstances avoid most direct conflict and there is paths around that but there is so much of the game that incentivizes that violence because it's very video gamey.
And that's what we do in games is we take out enemies and we move through, you know, puzzles in that particular way.
So whether or not it actually achieves that, I think, you know, I wonder if people who played it at the time now come back to this game again, having played it in a new format, maybe with a bit of distance and with a bit of perspective.
Whether or not that sits the same way that it did at that time for people.
You know, that's just the big thing. I think, you know, there is something to be said about understanding that a game can do so much right, you know, can be the pinnacle of what we're talking about in so many respects, but also be happy with the fact that like any piece of creative art and piece of creative media is imperfect.
Imperfect as the the views of the author and you know when you experience that piece of media you bring your own perspective to that as well right so you know what i think we've kind of touched on a bit there is that you know what i love about this particular series is that the gameplay itself and the puzzle solving aspects of you know those combat encounters that you go go through are really good.
They're incredible. They unfold in different ways every time you play it.
Even though you've been to the same locations, the way that you play that on different difficulties changes quite a bit.
Your strategy has to change quite a bit. You know, so that sort of stuff is so incredible.
And I often think that the game itself that you play.
And the story that this is trying to tell are at odds in many circumstances.
People might disagree with me, but I really think that they are, especially when you get towards the climax of this particular story, you wonder what it was for.
And equally as you know the the author or the creator can have a particular intent with their art and us having the you know the right to interpret that you know based on our own sort of knowledge upbringing culture environment all the above it's also a very interesting time in history to to revisit this game in a in a game where where the core theme is that about the the the endless cycle of violence and how violence begets violence.
And, you know, these people don't know a way out of this cycle.
And we see that playing out at a global scale at the moment as well.
So it's very, very tough to sort of experience this in an interactive medium as well.
And that disconnect between the gameplay and the narrative and sort of the message it's trying to convey as well
CHRIS: Well, I found that carried over to the new roguelike game mode, No Return, that's exclusive to this remaster of Part 2 on PS5.
I found a compelling version of the roguelike experience or a compelling sort of depiction of the roguelike experience, which is a very well-worn genre at this point, where you start with limited resources, build your way up.
And upon death, you lose that progress beyond some things that carry over, but you're essentially starting from zero from each time.
But I wrote about this in terms of I really felt this weird discord, this weird sense of disconnect while playing No Return.
Because we've spoken about the thematic sort of approach to The Last of Us in terms of it is violent.
It is dark it's it's about sort of these characters reckoning with the the circumstances circumstances and environments in which they're sort of brought up and raised whereas no return, embodying the the roguelike cyclical loop reinforces you know there's no end to this killing there's no end to this violence and to sort of turn that on its head and on on the flip side i actually felt at one point and perhaps maybe i've just been playing long enough to to sort of believe believe its own hype to to some extent that, That perhaps is the point of No Return in terms of these characters due to the circumstances that they're in.
They know no other way and they know no other way other than violent or dealing with problems via force, which No Return sort of plays on as this central theme.
But I'm curious as to what you made of the roguelike mode as well.
GIANNI: I really liked it because I think at its core, the guns and the gameplay and the combat is one of the best that there has ever been.
That sort of third person sort of combat game is, it is so enjoyable.
It is a really engaging and repeatable experience.
Each time you do it is a bit different and it really suits the roguelike format really nicely. But I think you're right.
It's in the name, right? Everything you do, there is no return, no way back from what you have done.
And I think, you know, they're kind of hinting at these particular moments that, you know, they talk about more thematically.
But again it's a it's a highly incentivized combat based scenario right and this is the thing is that you actually you know there's all these gambits there's all these bits and pieces all of the particular variations that say okay this particular enemy has you know less health if you hit him with a or you know it does more damage if you do a melee attack and all of that sort of stuff right it's all about incentivizing different types of violence or discouraging but the the violence is always the core of it, right?
So, you know, I think it is like in terms of a game, if you can turn your brain off and play it, then it's really, you know, it is one of the really enjoyable experiences.
And I think as someone who's played a fair number of roguelikes now, the format works really nicely for what it is.
But as you said, it's like a murder simulator, right?
That's kind of what the whole thing is and kind of doing things in an increasingly over the top and you know, particularly you know violence and and ways that you know just wouldn't I guess the thing for me is that you know I don't know that I accept the core premise of a world that the last of us portrays right and that you know this could be an American thing we live in Australia right we don't have the same sort of stuff and you know for many reasons that's um a different worldview to what we have.
But I just don't see fundamentally that the world would go this way because seeing as we've had now a global pandemic, a global pandemic happened while this game came out and then we had several years after it as well.
And ultimately, I think while there were a few examples of people going out on their own and not doing these particular things, mostly it was examples of people saying that they were going to do their thing, right?
And they didn't want to be told to do everything the same way as whatever it was. Most people pulled in the same direction.
So I don't know that I accept that the world would always completely collapse because of the way that this particular global pandemic and thing would relate.
But again, it's a fantasy world. and um you know I think if you have been questioning whether or not you agree with or can vibe with the conclusions that this plot draws but enjoy the gameplay of The Last of Us Part II then it's a pretty fun thing to play it's actually like you know enjoyable to do that I just think it needs you know you need to I think what takes you know something from being a casual enjoyer of of something to someone who's something who you know critics like we are is that you also need to to reckon with the full package of what this is um you know and I think a lot of people enjoyed the multiplayer mode which was in the original game as well so you know there was that competitive part of it which was that because that core gameplay loop in a competitive way was really fun too um so yeah I do you know everything about it you go you're talking talking about this cycle of violence but everything you're doing is to encourage the violence um so you know and that and you know and I'm not going to be a hypocrite that violence is quite fun in this context like that is the point of it right um but it's it's kind of one thing or the other.
How do people escape from this particular thing you know they they want us to go a particular path and it's evidenced by what the developer commentary is that you've you know talked about as well well, and the content as well.
You do get a really good insight into what they were thinking about and what they were trying to achieve.
These developers are incredibly talented and they think about every way that a player will interact with a particular environment by a particular enemy and stuff like that.
So they know what people are doing and you see the pathing, right?
You see how they want you to travel through this world.
CHRIS: I think that's best illustrated through what's referred to in this remaster as the Lost Levels, which is a collection of these three levels that were cut from the main game, the final release.
But they've presented them packaged them in a in a pre-alpha state with a little bit of a preamble and there's you can actually play play in inverted commas through these sections where there's also some interactive interactive elements where you can activate particular developer commentary sort of contextualizing and explaining oh here's what we were trying to achieve with this particular level or you know here's why I ultimately got cut but this is what we were trying to achieve and it's it's really interesting from the perspective of learning about game development from a sort of interdisciplinary approach because it's not just it's not just programmers it's not just writers you're talking about level design you're talking You're talking about actors.
You're performing, you're talking about so many different disciplines and sort of creative aspects to the overall project that sort of coalesce into this singular vision.
And what I found particularly interesting was that it also helped sort of humanize the process as well.
I'm a big advocate and love seeing human faces, especially people talking about their work and especially beyond what we're used to seeing, the figureheads or those at the top like Neil Druckmann, in this case from Naughty Dog.
We're used to seeing these sort of front-facing figures a lot of the time, but I really like hearing from those a little bit sort of down the chain, for lack of a better sort of turn of phrase, those who don't necessarily get to be as front-facing or sort of public speaking about their work.
One of the lost levels was describing a labyrinth of sewers that you had to navigate and the person who was talking was from the level design team, and he was talking about how they sort of breadcrumb particular tunnels or how they design particular corridors, hallways, that sort of stuff.
And, you know, hearing that there's an actual legitimate reason that they include dead ends for you to discover, because it then helps Path find the actual way forward you should be going, was really, really clever, you know, and really cool to learn.
And it also sort of taps into my fascination with hearing really smart people talk passionately about their work.
GIANNI: But they also treat it as a piece of media that people have been out there and experienced themselves, right?
So, you know, there's a particularly notorious sort of bait and switch, which was in one of the trailers, where they talked about a character that was supposed to be there, but isn't there anymore.
More um you know if you've played the game you know exactly what I'm talking about um at this particular point was highlighted in an early trailer and then it turned out to be someone completely different um you know and they actually talk about that perception what they were intending to do with that particular change that they made knowing full well that that was not going to be representative of what people would be playing through in the actual game itself and also what that reaction was like and acknowledging the fact that you know the way that they sold that that particular moment didn't go over as well as they would have liked, right?
And that was really cool to hear that perspective where they were like, okay, yeah, we hear the fact that you, as the players, didn't like what we did there.
And here's the reason why we attempted to do it. Maybe we didn't hit the goal as well.
So, you know, I think that's one of the best things about this particular moment is you do get a really good insight into the creative process.
And what I love about doing SIFTER in particular, but, you know, is this, we get to see the the people who make these things, right?
And that's really valuable to know because, you know, we talked a bit about art and intention as whether or not the intention was this and whether or not your interpretation of whether they achieved their intention is a completely subjective and, you know, unique and individual thing.
But we can also hear the process of the artist and that's really valuable too.
And I really like, as you said, what I think is really interesting about this is the, you know, we have a.
A game and a big media franchise and you know the last of us was up for for Emmys and all sorts of things and it's bigger than just a PlayStation game but you know when you look at what it is I think it's one thing to consider that you know the last of us is not shy to to remasters at all it's been the first game itself has been remastered and you know re-released a couple of times now the first game came out on PlayStation 3 back in the day and then um you know was unplayable.
So the remaster, which brought it to the PlayStation 4, the current gen at the time, was quite valuable.
It made the game more accessible in which people could play it, right? You couldn't play the old version if you only had it on PlayStation 3.
When it came to the PlayStation 5, there was a significant amount of time and there was a significant amount of visual fidelity which had changed in that time, right?
So for a game that is available on PlayStation 4 and still playable on PlayStation 5 with a number of enhancements as well, Well, you know, talking about how that piece of art continues on through time is something to consider.
And I think people should think about that when they are talking about games from, you know, the 80s and the 90s, which are incredibly difficult to get now.
And think about the history of this piece of art that gets passed down.
You know, what things do get the chance to be remastered and reinterpreted and put back through for another generation?
And what things are we missing out on because their particular financial value is smaller than what would be worthy of that. So, you know, it's really interesting.
One thing to consider, you know, we have this new version of it.
You can go out and buy it. You can buy it as an add-on, which just upgrades your PlayStation 4 version, which is, you know, quite a good compromise, I think, if you were looking to revisit this in a new console.
But, you know, what are the things that we're missing out because resources are directed towards something like this? You know, we will never know the answer to that.
It's something for you listening at home. I want you to consider where you fit and where you sit with the sort of games which are these milestones, which are these touchstones, but also the smaller things that we get to, you know, that may not be as lauded and as re-released as a series like The Last of Us.
CHRIS: Indeed. And then it also taps into the ongoing discussion between physical and digital media and preservation as a whole. But that's a discussion for another day.
In the meantime, Gianni, do you drop or rate this remaster of The Last of Us Part II?
GIANNI: Look, it is a good game. It is definitely a good game.
I think if you had relatively recently played the PlayStation 4 version, and even if you played it on your PlayStation 5 with the upgrades which were put into that, if you just go into it for a pure replayability, you're not going to get a dramatic improvement.
Unless you are one of these people who is very graphics-driven and all of that sort of thing, you can play that game and it's still a good game.
It is still a really good game. But if you really love to look at the creative process, then I think this is actually something that's quite special, actually, to see those little moments, to see those, you know, the cast and the creative team talk about the process of doing that.
CHRIS: And for me, that was quite a real, like it was quite special good experience to come back and see and it was good it was good to hear those sort of things and that was an insight that you don't always get to see so I really like it for that perspective you know and I think it's one that is nice if you want to have the two boxes sitting right there on your on your shelf um but you know as I said you know this is a game from 2020 it's actually not that tricky to still play it so whether or not that sits for you you might need to think about where that goes you know and yeah reconsider what you think about how the story fits into a world in 2024 versus what it was like when we were playing it especially under current contexts um yeah yeah and I certainly I certainly rate it for the comprehensive approach that it took to not just remastering the game but packaging everything else that came along with it you know a comprehensive roguelike mode that is very cleverly adapted from the main gameplay loop and a lot of the behind the scenes and lost levels and just the generosity in which they've sort of granted access to the creatives behind the game, I think is a really cool and really special thing to give to sort of fans and to players and to those who really appreciate the art of game development.
So I certainly rate this game, which wraps up our discussion of The Last of Us Part II Remastered, which despite being so close to its original release is an absolutely worthwhile revisitation of what is a classic big budget game.
And thank you to PlayStation Australia for review code access.
PROMO: You're listening to Drop Rate by SIFTER. Visit us on sifter.com.au.
CHRIS: This has been Drop Rate by SIFTER, our video game review podcast.
Thanks to Brian Fairbanks from Salty Dog Sounds for composing the theme music.
SIFTER is produced by Chris Button, Courtney Borrett, Kyle Pauletto, Fiona Bartholomeus, Daniel Ang and Adam Christou.
Mitch Loh is Senior Producer and Gianni Di Giovanni is our Executive Producer.
So Gianni, if people want to see more of your work, where can they find you?
GIANNI: Well, you can listen to the first episode of Walkthrough for 2024.
Kyle and I just recorded that to kick us off for this year of news.
If you haven't heard of Walkthrough before, it is our weekly news podcast and we always take to those big stories that make up the news and kind of present them to you in a nice and easy and quick format for you to look at.
So search for that in your podcast player. player. It's called Walkthrough and used to live it fast by Sifter.
So check that out. Look for the purple icon when you're searching for that on your podcast player. Of course, head to sifter.com.au.
CHRIS: You can also jump into our Discord server with the link in the show description.
And if you enjoyed this episode of Drop Rate, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts and sharing the episode on social media.
Thank you very much for joining us. See you next time.