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The Last Of Us Part II Remastered: Accessibility Review

Disclaimer

The copy of the game used for this review was provided by the publisher at no cost to the reviewer.

Introduction

Some might argue that this review and the game it covers realistically need no introduction, what with how big a hit The Last Of Us Part II (sometimes called TLOU2 or just Part 2 from here onwards) was and still is.

With its "cohesive package of accessibility features" as described in my review at the time and in spite of a few flaws that were realised after release when it hit the masses, this game catapulted "blind" accessibility, or more specifically accessibility for gamers without sight into greater general mainstream awareness.

Being 3 years into what is now the current generation of consoles though, just how does the PS5 port of a PS4 icon hold up, especially to the remaster of the original Last Of Us released in 2022?

First Boot

Though I'd previously played the original version of this game on my PS5, launching the newer, shinier, decidedly smaller 75GB title treated it like I had never set the game before, at least initially.

Thankfully, the screen reader was enabled by default, meaning that I could go through the setup screens, starting with language, then going onto screen markers, then rendering modes, HDR and Brightness, then common features to adjust before playing.

Note that at times, you'll be on the continue option rather than on the top option of the separate menu screens, though it's not as much of an issue as everything's narrated, it's something you'll want to keep in mind.

Funnily enough, a pre-existing bug where the word "apply" was spoken as "apple-e" when turning on accessibility presets seems to have not been fixed, at least when I set the title up for the first time.

Hitting continue after enabling subtitles, audio or other related elements then plays the Sony Studios logo, where you're then finally taken to the title screen with the "press any button prompt".

Options, Options and More Options

Going into the options menu, in amongst the various accessibility elements that were available in 2020, I found a "DualSense trademark" option as part of the Part I upgrades that have found their way here. It's a shame that the trademark symbol has to speak, though I can understand why.

Much like in The Last Of Us Part I, you can customise numerous settings here, including various response values for items like accessibility cues, to enemy attacks and other ones in between.

Importing your Game

Remember I said that the game didn't seem to recognise that I'd played the title previously? Well there's no need to fear as you can actually import your game right from the story section of the main menu.

Importing your game from an existing save is as simple as going to story, then import game, then selecting a save. However, if you, like me, have multiple autosave backups and a few different manual saves, it might take a little longer to figure out just which save you want to start from. Thankfully this process can seemingly be repeated ad infinitum and once done with a save that had been used to earn the platinum trophy all the way back when the game first released, I earned yet another platinum and a few other trophies besides, as well as receiving the following message, copied directly with OCR:

GAME COMPLETED You've unlocked New Game+ and Speedrun Mode! They can be activated when starting a new game. New skins, gameplay mods, filter modes, and other bonus content are available in the EXTRAS menu. For a new challenge, take on roguelike runs through randomised combat encounters in NO RETURN. 0K e SELECT @ BACK

Also, for those who are wondering, the speed achieved by the PS5 hardware mean that the import process shouldn't be something you're waiting minutes or even 10s of seconds for, at least in my case this wasn't a factor. Also, one small point to mention is that though the menu hints repeat, the above message itself doesn't so, if like me you were prevented from hearing the message by the trophy notification popping up every few seconds, OCR would be the only way to retrieve said message at present.

The Game Itself

I've played a huge amount of The Last Of Us Part II. Whether that's permadeath, Grounded or fun challenge run beginnings, I've put far too many hours in here to count.

Wanting to see just what this new remaster had to offer, I tested out an encounter that everyone would know well, Jackson's Supermarket, which I also showed off in my first demo of the game after it released on PS4.

Though I remembered the feel of the PS4 haptics well and always played with the PS4 controller with the original, in testing the DualSense here, everything from the stealth kills to the subtle brush of the listen mode elements, all the way to the pistol kicking when I decided it was finally time to go loud and shoot a clicker in the face felt great under the new and improved haptic systems. The audio still sounded great, as you would expect and the reverb, though it was present in the original, seemed to be even more dynamic here, though that feeling could've been from the excitement of being able to finally play this with load times that didn't give you a window to go and make a sandwich and a drink and come back.

The one thing I did find somewhat strange was that none of my modifiers I'd unlocked were available from the get-go, instead having to be purchased with points I'd earned from my original runs on PS4. As I had 1061 points on the save I'd imported, I didn't have to worry and I unlocked modifiers galore, from infinite ammo and crafting to the one shot kill additions, the latter of which admittedly I never really use.

I was hoping that skins would be detailed via descriptions as well for extra immersion, but at least whilst in the pause menu, this isn't the case. If you go into the extras>skins menu, however, the various outfits and weapons do have names showing up, though there are no descriptions there either. It would be great to see this in a future patch, but even so it's good to be able to choose these without sighted assistance and know just how much you have left to unlock including via No Return mode. Speaking of...: As a point of comparison, in The Last Of us Part I, the original game's own PS5 remaster, the skins were named more as descriptions "God Of War Ragnarok shirt" rather than "patrol" or "Firefly". Either way, it's clear that having some kind oof in-game alt text, for lack of a better description, would massively help here, including when it comes to weapon skins, but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

No Return

Everyone wants to know. Just how accessible is this game's take on a roguelike? If you're unfamiliar with the term, you undertake individual runs and have no elements of permanent progression alongside the temporary ones within each run that you lose upon defeat. The distinction is important, as it is actually one of my personally less chosen genres for the specific reason that unlike in games such as hades, or God Of War Ragnarok's Valhalla DLC, you can't get upgraded versions of weapons, extra recipes or the like to allow your runs to be easier or have more of a chance of success in a roguelike format.

Much like in certain interpretations of the genre such as Slay The Spire, you do, however, unlock characters as you go, which each suit their own archetypes and have their own associated challenges to go with them. These challenges range from simple encounter completions to completing an encounter using only one specific weapon, all the way to trying to craft 8 health kits over the course of a run, which from my experience is a lot harder to time than you'd think, at least on very light where I felt comfortable.

Going into this, I had high confidence that this would be fully playable, but as you can see from my first impressions video, it was even better than I'd anticipated and there's a lot to like about this, even if the navigational assistance doesn't offer the fluidity of God Of War Ragnarok, particularly when it comes to more aggressive styles of gameplay and quickly running to items.

To summarise and avoid spoiling fun elements, there is a lot here to like including both accessibility features that people have wanted for a while (though only in this mode) and aspects that mean a multiplayer game with similar attention to detail could really work as well in future.

Editor's note: The above sentence was written before Factions 2, the large-scale online project, was officially cancelled by Naughty Dog.

The greatest strength of No Return in terms of accessibility comes in the form of an accessible version of a feature I've previously seen in Dead Space 2,. Specifically, you are able to change your objective (where nav assist will take you) which, on default controls, is bound to a touchpad swipe down. During preparing this review for publication and rewatching my first impressions video, I was struck by the idea of remapping this gesture to R3 (which traditionally is used for the flashlight, something that I as a gamer without sight never need) though I'm sure those of you who watch my streams with usable vision appreciate it.

Doing this even for a brief test run proved to be invaluable and, even though I couldn't rename my scheme in an accessible manner thanks to the PS5 keyboard interface not speaking (a problem that isn't just specific to this game but the PS5 OS itself), I had a much smoother experience switching from finding a supply cache to getting to the capture safe, or finding my way back into combat.

Playing through numerous runs with multiple characters, including custom runs, which still allow you to complete challenges unlike in other similar titles, I started to get a feel for how all the pieces fit together, as well as how character choice and the boss at the end of a run can be completely opposing if you're not kitted out correctly. I can definitely see this becoming my new favourite part of the game, considering I've played through the story so many times already, with these short bursts being a great way to pass the time and engage in probably my most enjoyed aspect, the combat.

One thing I will mention is that within a run, there was no clear explanation of when you could safely suspend your game, such as might be seen with Ragnarok's Tablet of Endeavour functionality. Given I might not be able to have to complete a run in one sitting every time, a clear indicator of when it is safe to quit, such as you see during Permadeath, would be fantastic, even if it's just tutorialised during early runs. For the record, I looked into this myself, potentially sacrificing a run in the process and discovered that you can quit between encounters and you get the option to resume a run when you go back into No Return from the main menu, with the game almost being reminiscent of Hades in that regard.

After unlocking so many characters and other elements, I can safely say that the main thing I feel is holding this mode back is the lack of fluidity in navigation, particularly when it comes to moving around to items or enemies. Whether it's trying to run towards enemies to get into melee range or to quickly run to the next piece of loot, something a sighted player can spend a lot more time doing with ease, the current system feels decidedly clunky, as the scanning time and listen mode activations all add up and break the momentum of the core mechanics.

Of particular note with navigation assist and listen mode fluidity are a couple of maps which for some reason seems to still feature a workbench even though you wouldn't be expected to upgrade your guns during an encounter as a part of a run and which caused me no end of issues at times when trying to avoid it to find supply caches or remaining foes.

Also, there have been multiple attempts where nav assist seems to have led me into a corner, being surrounded by numerous enemies and unable to escape, particularly notable during at least one boss encounter. There are several differing bosses and, in trying to unlock the next tier at several points, I found I couldn't because navigation kept being an issue, even though I'd fought this boss enemy before and beaten it in the main game, though admittedly under differing circumstances to that presented in this mode.

Even though the game does present you with audio for hazards and when you're inside their areas of effect, the fact remains that getting out of them seems to be rather tricky without sight and this port, as far as I could tell, does nothing to resolve this problem. This means that even though I fought a Shambler, let's say, I couldn't find a position on screen where I'd be safe from its ranged attacks, thus meaning that I'd get injured when trying to move and causing me to fail a run.

A final point of issue is actually one that is present throughout the entire game, specifically the inability to change the speed of the text to speech. What this means in practice is that there is a lot of information being provided but the time it takes to be spoken is far longer than it would take to read it as a sighted player. Additionally, as a player who's run the various encounter types large numbers of times and wishes to prioritise certain information, the wait times for the elements you want to hear can be very tedious indeed.

As an example, I hear the following:

supermarket. Status: Available. Encounter type: hunted. Enemy faction: rattlers. Score multiplier: 1. point. 20. times. Rewards: 45. parts. 40. supplements. 11. currency.

The full stops denote pauses where the screen reader will wait before saying the next pre-recorded line. In this instance, I'd like to know The game mode first and the faction I'd be facing, then the rewards, with the score multiplier being last, all without the headings. It might look something like this.

Available. Hunted. Supermarket. Rattlers. Rewards: 45. parts. 40. supplements. 11. currency. Score multiplier: 1. point. 20. times.

If mods were present (elements that can either help or hinder your encounter via buffs to you or to the enemies, or even the game's mechanics, it would be good to have those somewhere in the middle of all of this potentially rather than being right at the end as well.

But of course, this is all down to player preference and, unfortunately, as of the time of writing, there's no way to act on those impulses to optimise the retention of information.

Speaking of which:

Gambits

Gambits are smaller-scale encounter-only challenges that can pop up at random. They are usually things like "get 3 headshot kills", "grab and kill two enemies from stealth" or "stun an enemy with brick or bottle" and usually award ammo and currency to use at the trading post.

As great as these are, from what I could figure out, there's actually no way of re-reading these after they're spoken, meaning that if you miss it in the heat of running for loot at the beginning of an encounter, you could miss a potentially easy way to get additional supplies or vital resources. Even just having these work the same way mods do, where they are viewable in the collectables section of the "backpack menu" would be a relatively straightforward solution.

Combat Clarification

In certain situations, it can be a good strategy to confront your enemy head-on to take them out quickly, especially if you're packing a melee weapon and, in the case of No Return, if that weapon can set enemies on fire via the associated mod that shows up from time to time.

However, having to use listen mode as described above with items and the like as your only way of pathfinding towards enemies does make things a lot slower and means that, at least as far as I can tell, you won't be able to easily sprint in their general direction to minimise the time you're visible before eliminating them. Having a system that doesn't rely on aiming at an enemy to target them, nor require you to be in listen mode to seek them out, could help here, such as you might see in God Of War Ragnarok, though in a game that is usually designed around stealth the listen mode approach is useful most of the time. It would just be great to see a more robust option that covers multiple playstyles for anyone who wants to try them, irrespective of their level of vision.

No Return Final Thoughts

As much as it might seem like I'm just complaining about the mode, that's far from my intent. This expansion is still great and these pain points are only being stated as lessons, whether for the future of No Return or other projects like it. The side mode is still (mostly) a great time in its current state, but the quality-of-life changes highlighted here would make it and the rest of the content you can play through, yes, including the main story, even better in terms of mechanics in my opinion. This is the most Last Of Us Part II I've played in a long time and arguably the most enjoyment I've had out of the game thanks to the combat focus and the short burst-style gameplay. Though I'd like to see some balancing (which might happen post-launch), I am so pleased to be able to run a mode like this in these smaller spaces that doesn't require me to passively watch cutscenes for hours on end, at least not when I'd rather be obliterating infected.

Guitar Freeplay

Given there's a devout community of guitar-centric content creators in TLOU2, I was curious to see how naughty Dog had honoured them with the new Guitar Freeplay mode. Going into it, the prompts are of course narrated and there are a lot of unlockables here which I won't spoil. Changing the character in this mode doesn't seem to impact anything audio-wise, at least from an initial test, but if you enjoy strumming a virtual instrument via your controller with no constraints in terms of time or a goal, this is certainly a fun and relaxing break from the chaos of the main game.

Lost Levels

Going into this remaster, I was very curious to see how playable the Lost Levels would be given they were cut from the game during development and are presented in a "pre-alpha" state. I dived into the sewer level just to try things out, though I realised immediately that, as per the developer commentary, I should've probably started with the first level on the list. Interestingly though, after skipping the introduction (as I was in fact trying to see if these had accessibility support), I found that I was forced into a QTE that, yes, did have accessibility polish from the main game.

I played for a little longer to discover that there was navigation assist and, wanting to potentially record it for a video initially, I stopped there since, given what we know about sewers and the trepidation of the fan community, I wanted to possibly show you all what was down there, at least as of the time of originally writing this sentence.

Going back to the first of the lost levels featured here, I listened to the introductory commentary that details what's missing and the story behind it. Leaving the developer commentary on, unidentified voices give you the lowdown on the reasoning behind everything and, even though nothing is necessarily audio described, you are led by the hand (using the term in the nicest possible way) through various elements of the level. Having played through the first level (or rather what's there) and realised that there's not a lot here (understandable given it's cut content), I decided to play the other levels instead of recording them.

Back into the sewers, and past a puzzle that I did actually skip as I couldn't work out what was a puzzle trigger and what would trigger commentary phrases, I journeyed onward and found it very interesting seeing behind the curtain, learning about the things that worked or didn't work and hearing, in particular, some user testing stories.

I found an area of the game that appeared to malfunction when I went into it, though this isn't exactly unsurprising as it was in an alpha state. Interestingly enough, I noticed that when you reset the level, if you've adjusted any options within that level itself, they don't appear to save, meaning they have to be reset every time.

On replaying it and getting to that same section, the same bug happened again, so hopefully this can be patched in order that you can finish the level or at least get back to the main menu.

The final level, The Hunt, whilst it seems like it'll be fully playable, does seem to have some accessibility issues in terms of aiming. This means that it's much harder to complete if not impossible for some. Again, I'm aware it's in a pre-alpha state, but it would be great if the tweaks to make this able to be completed to the same degree as a sighted player were in there as well.

The Story Experience

Though I wasn't sure what I'd do initially on receiving my review code, I did actually go back and play through the entire story on New Game Plus. I did this for the sole reason that I could turn infinite ammo and crafting on which, whilst it does trivialise some encounters, also cut down on the time I had to spend scavenging for items in the environment, which was by far my least favourite part of the original release even when I first played it, due to the navigation fluidity issues highlighted previously.

Audio description of course makes a return from Part I's accessibility suite too and, Even though it is not present at what I might argue are all the necessary points in the game, it seems like this time around it merges far more seamlessly into gameplay, with the narrator from Part I returning as well for a great continuity bonus.

It's good to finally be able to understand the key story beats without having to read online articles to discover, let's say, crucial elements of the ending or the important but silent parts of cutscenes and, having played Part I in a similar manner, the franchise has now caught up in terms of comprehension for gamers without sight. That being said, the fact that you don't have a sense of your surroundings is glaringly obvious here as, even though the script does do a great job, there is no additional description for environments or QTEs, which are at times the elements gluing the narrative together and making the transitions from location to location.

There was only one point in the game where I put the audio description volume up to the maximum of 100 because the rest of the audio was too loud, but after that it was plain sailing all the way and I really appreciated being able to more fully experience this controversial and morally questionable journey.

Speedrunning

An interesting aspect of The Last Of Us that has been long embraced by the community is speedrunning, trying to see just how quickly you can get through a game. I've never actually attempted to speedrun a game, as much as I'd like to, because most of the glitches/skips used in this subgenre of streaming, content creation and record-breaking involve visual-specific elements like finding a certain point of a wall to phase through.

However, this game ads narrated end of section timers for you to know how well you're doing, as well as ways to only speedrun character-specific versions of the story. Wanting to see how I'd do as Ellie, I decided to try this, hoping it would only load the required levels in order for you to run. However, I was frustrated to see that you seemingly still have to go through the rest of the story as well, thus making me less interested in undertaking this challenge. That doesn't mean to say I won't try and speedrun the whole game or something in future, just that given I can't practice speedrunning certain sections from what I could see, I'm less inclined to engage with this.

Summary

Pros

Cons

Conclusions

Though The Last Of Us Part II Remastered is a great upgrade for next-generation hardware, the fact remains that it still contains flaws that make it at times either trickier to complete or less fluid in terms of narrative than it would be for sighted players. If you had the original PS4 version of the game or haven't played it before though, I would highly recommend this as a starting point if you want to experience more of this franchise's story, or an opportunity to dive back in and experience everything with a fresh perspective.

As someone who has sunk multiple hours into the original release and 50+ into the upgraded edition at least as of the time of writing this sentence, I'd definitely say that The Last Of Us Part II Remastered is the best way to play the sequel and commend Naughty Dog on bringing both games in the franchise up to the same bar. I can't wait to see what comes next from the studio with all the learnings that have been done over the past several years, as well as what might be ahead with a Part III in the infected adventure series.

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