A Tribute To 'The Last Of Us' Level That I Will Always Despise
I absolutely adore The Last Of Us. Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic epic is, without a doubt, one of my favourite games of all time - a beautiful, moving, harrowing, deeply affecting journey that combines a stellar script and phenomenal performances with tight, tense gameplay punctuated by moments of quiet reflection and shocking horror. I consider it to be a masterpiece.
Having found myself I've myself fully caught up in all the hype around Part 2 (which is very much one of my most-anticipated titles of 2020, thanks for asking), I've been replaying The Last Of Us Remastered over the past few days in preparation. The game is every bit as magic as I remember, perhaps even moreso, given I'd somehow convinced myself that the actual gameplay was bang average and that it's the story that does most of the heavy lifting.
While it's true that the story is of a much, much higher quality than the gameplay itself, revisiting The Last of Us Remastered has reminded me that playing through the moments between each big scene is hardly the slog it was in my memory. While there's certainly room for improvements (improvements it sounds like Naughty Dog has made for Part 2), my reunion with Joel and Ellie started off as a genuinely pleasant surprise.
Whether I was attempting to sneak through a graveyard full of Clickers or fight off a group of human hunters in a library, I found every setpiece and encounter to be thoroughly engaging. Combat has a nice heft to it, silently popping and arrow straight into someone's head always feels fantastic, and stealth (which I am hopeless at) is as tense and challenging as you could hope for, even if it's a little basic.
I was having such a great time with The Last Of Us Remastered - not just in experiencing the story again, but in actually playing it - that I found myself asking why on Earth I'd only ever replayed the game once before, on a harder difficulty right after beating it the first time. That's around the time I got back to the hotel basement section, and remembered exactly why I'd put off returning to the game for so long.
If you've played The Last of Us before, I'd imagine that you'll agree the hotel basement is a cursed level where dreams go to die. For the uninitiated, about a third of a way through the game, Joel will become separated by Ellie when he falls down an elevator shaft and into a flooded, unlit basement. What follows is about half an hour of wandering through a maze of corridors alone, by torchlight, while infected scurry around looking for you.
It quickly transpires that you need to do two things in this basement; find a keycard, and restore power to the door leading to the stairwell so that you can actually use the keycard. Easy enough. The problem, as you might well remember, is that activating the generator somehow inadvertently opens the gates of Hell, through which arrives a hitherto-unknown horde of enemies led by a Bloater, an extra-powerful behemoth that will snap your jaw off like a Kit Kat and instantly kill you if it gets anywhere near you.
Even if you find the keycard before you activate the generator, you still have to get from the generator back to the door without being caught, which isn't easy given how tight the area is. You could stay and fight if you really wanted, but the enemies really do come from all sides and being ambushed from behind by a Clicker in the dark is more than enough to make one brown one's trousers, old sport.
The basement is intense then. It's so intense, in fact, that as soon as I got to it I remembered what was about to happen and decided to put it off by watching through the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad instead. I'd intended to spend my weekend playing through The Last Of Us again, but the prospect of descending into that goddamn basement was more than enough enough to put me off.
To be clear, it's not that anything in the hotel basement is broken, or buggy, or inherently unfair. It's just that it's so incredibly tense and terrifying that I find it to be an actively unpleasant experience, and not in a good way. It just flat-out twists my melons, man. I'm not exactly sure why this segment bothers me quite so much when I've explored the darkened zombie-filled corridors of Raccoon City Police Department in Resident Evil 2 Remake and been (mostly) fine, but everything about it just screws with my head in a way I've never really experienced before.
My theory on why The Last Of Us and its basement of death and tears bothers me in a way that actual horror games rarely do is that The Last Of Us isn't a traditional horror game. I'm not saying there aren't some incredibly freaky moments - any encounter with the infected is pretty hair-raising, after all, but the basement is, in my opinion, a level of full-on horror that we don't experience in the game again, and hadn't really experienced up till that point.
The majority of our time in The Last Of Us is spent in company. No matter how scary being trapped in a subway full of infected should be, it's an awful lot more bearable when you've got Tess and Ellie with you, even if they're only NPCs. Having someone by your side takes a lot of the horror out of the situation, so when you're suddenly thrown into an unlit basement, completely isolated for the first time, it takes the horror to unprecedented and unexpected heights.
Even knowing it's coming, and knowing what's going to happen when I get down to that basement does nothing to take away from what an incredibly grim and gruesome interlude it is. If anything, knowing that the basement is waiting for me is what actively puts me off replaying the game more than I'd like to.
I'm not saying it's bad, and I've no problem having the occasional chill in my diet, but I find the entire basement section is just an absolutely needless detour into horror that's pretty much entirely removed from all of the things I love about The Last Of Us in the first place.
So screw you, basement section - I'll conquer you and get back to the parts of the game I enjoy, but there's no denying you're a mushroom-coated blemish on an otherwise perfect experience.
Featured Image Credit: Naughty Dog