Still Alive: Enduring New Challenges In The Last Of Us

The Last of Us is a purposefully brutal game. Set against the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic United States, it explores the entropy of humankind and the extent of what we, as a species, are willing to do to survive. This hellish, dog-eat-dog paradigm is also embodied in how the game plays, with a particular focus on stealth and the rationing of ammo and resources.

Even when playing on normal or easy, The Last Of Us can prove quite the challenge. Roving packs of scavengers will work in sync, flanking Joel and Ellie in an attempt to flush them out into the open. Then there are the Infected, Naughty Dog’s fungal zombie-like creatures. Unlike human enemies, they have a more direct approach when it comes to combat and can often kill Joel with a single attack. After throwing in a mixture of weapons and the opportunity for melee takedowns you have yourself a intense action game that often feels different every time you reboot a checkpoint.

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As you ramp up the difficulty, however, things get even more intense. Resources become more scarce, human enemies use cover more often, their weapons dealing more damage. Survivor mode takes this one step further, stripping away hints and tips as well as the game’s focus mechanic, completely changing the game’s flow. Whenever being pursued or scouting an area, thrusting down the R2 button acts as a sonar radar for Joel, pinpointing hostile targets for a brief period.

As someone who’s currently attempting their Survivor playthrough, take it from me, it’s incredibly intimidating and can often leave players in a dire predicament. Still, it’s no way near as cutthroat as the game’s latest downloadable difficulty setting, Grounded. According to developer Naughty Dog, this additional mode is meant for the hardcore: dedicated survivors who border on the masochistic. Needless to say, going into Grounded, I feared this new setting would turn me off one of my all-time favourite video games.

Thankfully, it didn’t. Grounded certainly handed my ass to me on multiple most occasions, though my enjoyment of The Last Of Us remained intact. Like Survivor, it renders players blind by snatching away Joel’s Listening Mode and on top of that, enemies dish out triple – yes, triple – damage compared to the game’s default setting. If that wasn’t enough, the human survivors are even more ferocious and cunning, dashing from point to point in an attempt to confuse players.

However, the real icing on the cake is Naughty Dog’s decision to take out the heads-up display. This means players will have no idea how much ammunition or health they have without using some guesswork. Again, hints and tips are out the window, with resources and melee weapons being incredibly hard to find, especially in the heat of battle.

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For gamers who enjoy a steady balance of story and gameplay, Grounded sounds like one of the most unappetising things imaginable. However, after getting to grips with all of the newly-imposed limitations, you will start to develop different approaches to combat. Not only that, you’ll actually make use of some of the equipment shunned in previous playthroughs. Instead of being a two minute gunfight followed by quick looting session, each skirmish becomes a much more premeditated battle.

Having said that, some areas in The Last Of Us do present a particular downside to Grounded mode. A scripted sections will sometimes purposefully drop players into fights where they are either heavily outnumbered or otherwise disadvantaged. One example I found was during Bill Town’s when Joel and Ellie stumble across the unhinged survivor’s trap. After stepping into a building, players are caught in a snare and left dangling by their feet as a plague of Infected inch closer and closer. With one bullet left in my clip and no option to swap weapon, I found myself snookered. Even when I reloaded, the sporadic movement of the Infected meant that at least one would always find its way to me, shredding me in one blow.

It’s certainly not the faint hearted but those who persevere will be entitled to two delicious gold trophies for their efforts. Whether or not adding these two shiny trinkets to your digital cabinet is worth the hassle is another matter…

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18 Comments

  1. I cannot wait to play this on PS4!

    • Same here, i had started survivor mode on PS3 but a soon as i heard a PS4 version was on the cards i stopped so i could enjoy it on PS4 instead.

      • I already had the platinum but jumped at the chance to play through again on Grounded mode. It’ll happen again when I get the PS4 version, I’m sure I’ll play it through at least another two times.

  2. I’m going to do this at some point, and Grounded+, seeing as I went to the effort of getting all the new DLC multilayer trophies (which were a complete twat btw). I really want 100% trophies as it’s probably my favourite game of all time.

    Jim – how did you get past the hanging trap section? Did Ellie throw you the occasional bullet? Also, I’m not looking forward to the section where you and David have to fight that bloater in close quarters – did you get that far?

    • I didn’t go through the entire game on Grounded. Instead I picked small sections via chapter select to illustrate the new setting across different parts of the game.

      During the trap sequence, I simply had to keep retrying. Instead of shooting the first Infected I would have to reload, perform the perfect headshot and keep mowing them down as they came. The fact that the cutscene replays each time at the beginning made it frustrating but I got there in the end.

      • Oh ok, thanks. I was concerned that you could literally get stuck at a point with no ammo, and be unable to progress!

  3. Luckily I decided to do Survivor instead in order to get the platinum, and at least I can cope with it well. But when I’ve done the platinum, I’ll like give grounded mode a try. The absence of the HUD sounds brilliant, triple damage less so.

  4. This sounds like my idea of a nightmare. A few years back I may have battled through it for the trophies but not now. I like my gaming easy going, enjoyable, not hard work and frustrating!
    Not for me I’m afraid, thanks for the heads up.

  5. Looking forward to (hopefully) finding a lot more about Project Cars.

  6. I haven’t touched MP in TLoU but really enjoyed the SP experience and got all the trophies.

    I was hesitant to pay for the DLC for both Ellie and this new difficulty mode on the PS3…I think I will wait till the PS4 remastered version is out.

    Saying that I found the TLoU predictable. Once you know how to beat a section in a particular way you can rinse and repeat that on each playthrough no matter what the difficulty.

    For instance I found an excellent way to get past that bit at the end where you dip into the water and get past the two bloaters and climb up on the bus…and as I repeated my playthroughs I followed the same pattern to beat that trick section.

    I hope the new difficulty throws up better AI, you seem to say it does…

    • ‘Once you know how to beat a section in a particular way you can rinse and repeat that on each playthrough no matter what the difficulty.’

      Just you try that on Grounded. It won’t work unless your original strategy was perfect stealth, executed with no mistakes. If an enemy spots you, you’ll probably have to restart or die. You need all ammunition for the forced combat events.

  7. Does the PS4 version come with this mode? Sounds pretty good, and I’ve only played through the PS3 version once so would be nice to go back to it on a harder mode..

  8. Survivor mode is brilliant, it’s that only way to play this game

  9. The event you mention, being caught upside down, is a lot easier than you make out. In the small room before you enter that area, there were two sets of ammo for the revolver, every time. You should have entered that situation with at least 12 shots. Enemies only take 2-3 shots each (maybe more for the couple of clickers that appear) and Ellie hands you a few boxes of ammo as well.

    If you didn’t rush at that point and actually checked the drawers, instead of assuming they’re all going to be empty (it’s easy to do on Survivor/Grounded) you would not have had a problem. I suppose you’re stuck at that checkpoint now, though. It’s a shame; that’s right at the end of the chapter.

  10. I’m looking forward to replaying this too. I never got round to playing the DLC so the extra content, plus the improved visuals. Thumbs up from me.

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