One of the big trends of this console generation has been the "photo mode." Popularized in earnest this generation by Sucker Punch Productions in Infamous Second Son, itself a showcase for the PlayStation 4's then-newly impressive particle effects, photo modes have since taken every triple-A game by storm. Sometimes games get photo modes patched in post-launch; others have it immediately available. The Last of Us Part 2 is one of the latter.
In 2014, Naughty Dog rereleased The Last of Us on PS4, just a year following its debut on PlayStation 3. The cutscenes were sharper; the textures better. Its performance was smoother. Most importantly, it ushered in a new photo mode. At the time it was a welcome addition and hot on the trend. It was also very limiting.
Replaying The Last of Us in the weeks ahead of its sequel, I was shocked at how slim the options were not just for editing, but in framing screenshots. The camera didn't have free orbiting, just a clunky zoom that never works as well as I want it to, and a few other minor editing options. I cranked up the film grain to obscure the rougher sides of it being a PS3 port, unknowing that cranked up film grain would be the standard in The Last of Us Part 2 for grittiness sake.
I hoped in playing The Last of Us Part 2, that the photo mode wouldn't be as restrictive and hard to control as the remaster's. That released early in the PS4's life cycle, so I figured that Naughty Dog's upgraded photo mode would surely take the lessons it learned from both The Last of Us and Uncharted 4 moving forward. But it didn't. It's pretty much the same as it was in 2014.
Once again, instead of having a free orbit camera, there is merely a stiff-feeling zoom in and zoom out dolly-like feature. The primary issue is that the zoom hitches a lot. Depending on where my main character was positioned when I stopped to whip out the photo mode from the pause menu, it would sometimes get stuck in strange places. In most cases, I could barely zoom out from the default over the shoulder viewpoint at all.
For instance, once I wanted to zoom in really close to a particular detail, but the zoom function kept bouncing either too close, or a considerable distance back. I could not get it to the exact position I was hoping for. With a free orbiting camera, or even more flexible features like in Uncharted 4's photo mode, this would not be an issue. Instead, I feel like I'm constantly fighting with The Last of Us Part 2's photo mode to get it to just cooperate even a little bit.
It feels stubborn to an almost purposeful intent. As if it's so squarely focused on the developer's specific vision, that it offers no room for any sorts of shenanigans. Even the silly toggleable facial expressions that have quickly become the norm in other triple-A games is gone here (which is probably a good thing, considering the dour nature of the game). It's the fact that I can't really position the camera outside of the default over the shoulder look that makes this photo mode frustrating. For all it offers with its plentiful filters, features like depth-of-field adjusting, and cinematic letterbox frames, it amounts to nothing because of how it heavily limits our camera control; tethering it to the main character on screen whether they're visible or not. As a result, we're not given our own authorship for our own journeys through the game.
It's limiting in the same way the triple-A action-adventure genre tends to be. Where it's like a rollercoaster where we must keep all arms and legs inside at all costs, and here, even shifting the angle in a photo mode to the left or right is too much control to offer up to those of us playing. It's a disappointment, considering how richly detailed The Last of Us Part 2's post-apocalyptic Seattle is.
Still, as Kotaku aggregated, there have been folks that have managed to make the stubborn photo mode in The Last of Us Part 2 produce stunning shots. I, myself, have taken a few half-decent screenshots as well, but at a certain point, I just gave up trying to mess with the photo mode entirely. As a fan of playing with photo modes in other games—partly for my job, partly just for fun—to see The Last of Us Part 2's not offer players full control over how they frame their screenshots, despite being one of the best-looking games on the PlayStation 4, just feels like a major oversight.