The lights are on
Power Member - Level 8
"There are Clickers in the house."
Ellie tells me that the moment she opens the door and Bill and I step into the yard. Great. Not just the house; there are two near the back door as well. I might be able to take two with Bill's help but any more than that is suicide. As quietly as I can; creeping along at a painfully slow pace, I lead the way past them and into the house.
A quick check of the kitchen turns up nothing of use. There's one standing in the living room, its back to us. Getting past it is easy and I check the bathroom and washroom beyond, with no luck, but across the hall is, what was once, a child's bedroom. Now its only occupant is another Clicker. It stands at the foot of the bed, its back to the door. I creep in, trying to see if there is anything of use on the other side of the bed, but I can't tell. I can't get past the Clicker either; if I move too close it would almost certainly sense me. There might be nothing on the other side... there might be anything. Anything I could desperately use.
With at least three other Clickers nearby I make the impossible decision... I need to take this Clicker out. I have a shiv but I dare not use it. I do not have the materials to make another and I may need it later. I have three arrows, however, and with any luck one well-placed shot to the head may break through the fungal growths and silently dispatch this... thing. Carefully I line up the shot, pulling the bow back as far as I can, and then I release.
At the last second the Clicker's head moves and the arrow misses by what cannot be more than a centimeter to strike the bedroom window beyond. The Clicker's shriek is immediately echoed by at least two more. In desperation I lunge at it, bashing its head once, twice, three times with a brick until its skull explodes into a pulpy mix of brain matter and fungus. I cannot exit the bedroom; the thundering tromp of infected feet drives me into the corner that I had initially wanted to investigate. I huddle there, cornered, knuckles white on my shotgun. I only have two shells and I question if that would even be enough to take one out. One Clicker rushes into the bedroom. It clicks furiously as it closes in on my side of the room. I hold position, and my breath, as the thing stops in front of me, not two feet away. I expect disaster; any second I expect it to click at me, locating me easily in such close proximity. I feel my finger tighten on the trigger, fully aware that if I fire I may kill it but I most certainly will not kill the next one. Then, inexplicably, the Clicker turns and walks out of the room... still searching.
I release my breath and lower my weapon, still in disbelief at my luck. I check the corner for the supplies I desperately need... nothing. All of this was for nothing. Slowly I begin to creep out of the room when I hear Bill cry out. I rush out of the bedroom and turn right, towards the garage. Bill is wrestling with a Clicker there. Running headlong at it I clock the Clicker in the side of the head with the butt of my shotgun. "Go, go, go!" As I pass through the door I notice what is behind the Clicker; a shelf next to the door and on it: parts. A whole pile of parts, but there is no time. One after another we clamber onto a large crate and then up onto the top of a Winnibago in the back yard, safely out of reach of three angry Clickers clawing at the side of the RV.
Bill is unperturbed. He quickly crosses from Winnibago to a tree house via a wooden plank and then drops into a yard beyond, but I hesitate. There are parts in that garage... parts that I need. But two of the Clickers remain clawing at the RV while the third wanders off into the house where I can no longer see it. I crouch and wait, silently, hoping that the other two will do the same. No such luck. Minutes pass and they still haven't lost interest. I check my supplies; two arrows, two shotgun shells, three rifle cartridges, five rounds for the handgun, and four for the revolver. I have no brick, no bottle, nothing that I might use to distract them. If I want those parts then it's a firefight; most if not all of my bullets just for a handful of parts. I look over at Ellie; she's still waiting beside me on top of the RV.
She shrugs. I sigh. With resignation I cross over to the tree house and, with one final look over at the garage I drop into the yard after Bill.
This is what The Last of Us: Remastered is like on Grounded Difficulty. For those of you unaware that's the new level above Survivor; formerly the hardest level where enemies are more difficult, supplies are scarce, and you cannot use Joel's ability to listen through walls. Supplies are near non-existent and enemies? One gunshot and you're dead, Runners can kill you with one hit just like Clickers, and even a single punch from a regular human will lay Joel out for a game over. "Why, why do you do it?" The answer is because it's better. It's better this way.
For most games increased difficulty feels cheap, artificial. It gets in the way of the story. Platformers feel exceedingly cheap on harder difficulties (Ok, maybe except Spelunky) but some games are just better this way. Dark Souls is one; The Last of Us is definitely another. That bedroom scene was so thick with tension, so desperate... it created a moment, an experience that I'll remember for years to come, possibly even for the rest of my life. In that moment I was Joel, physically holding my breath as my right finger pressed down ever so slightly on the R2 button, mentally wrestling with myself over the decision to shoot prematurely and possibly doom myself or wait until it was too late.
I played through The Last of Us on PS3 on the Hard difficulty with the intention of doing a Survivor run on my second playthrough making use of the already upgraded equipment. That didn't work; you can start on Survivor and complete the game and then start New Game+ on Hard, Normal, or Easy but it doesn't work the other way around. So I balked on ever replaying on Survivor but since I got TLoU Remastered I made a decision; I was going to finish this game on its hardest difficulty, no matter what.
When you first get into the Remastered PS4 release it is somewhat disorienting. The picture is crystal clear and the comparison to the PS3 release is like comparing the clarity of a soap opera to a cinema release. Remastered feels like the soap opera; so clear that it seems more real, less like watching a movie. At 60 fps it moves more realistically as well. If any of you managed to catch the 60 fps release of the new Hobbit movies (The special 3D release, not the IMAX) then that's what it's like. The sense of realism can be off-putting initially, veering into the uncanny valley a bit as your brain tries to comprehend the clarity and realism of movement with the video game graphics, but once you acclimate to it the game is breathtaking. Once I went back and looked at videos of the original release the new clarity was readily apparent. Remastered is one gorgeous game.
Does all this new shine and poslish help immersion? I think it does, but the real immersion comes from the difficulty. For the easily frustrated perhaps Grounded would feel cheap; after all there aren't many games where "get hit once and die" is welcome but, for some reason, this just works. Once I upgrade Joel's health there will probably be a little relief but for now the option is stealth, the option is success. Everything else is failure, everything else is death. On Grounded the option is "Survive."
There is no other choice.
There is a plus side to this difficulty though, I mean beyond immersion and awesomeness...
Without having to worry about making Health Kits I can use all my Rags and Alcohol to make Molotovs!