A few weeks ago, I beat The Last of Us: Remastered on Playstation 4 on Normal Mode. Normal Mode sounds like what it is: normal. You play through the game as the main character Joel, picking up ammo, supplies, all the while assiduously checking your health on the handy-dandy health meter located on the bottom right of the screen. Supplies are limited but still plentiful in any area, as long as you take the time to look around and scavenge. Joel also possesses a special super hearing ability, so you can sense how many enemies are in your immediate area and their locations.
There are 5 levels of difficulty on The Last of Us: Easy, Normal, Hard, Survivor and Grounded. For my second playthrough, I decided to skip over Hard and Survivor and go straight to Grounded.
In Grounded mode, supplies are rare, enemies are much harder to take down, you are weaker (often one powerful punch will knock you out), you have no visible health meter so deciding when to bandage or tourniquet your injuries is a complete guessing game. Most noticeably absent is your super hearing ability. You have to stealthily make your way around enemy territory LIKE A NORMAL PERSON, with no advantage and no way of really knowing if there is danger lurking around the corner. Oh also in Grounded Mode – there are far less save points. Meaning – you could get far through a section of the game, get killed, only to have to do that entire section all over again, even if you try to save the game, it restarts you further back in the storyline.
While Grounded Mode might sound god-awful, here is a fantastic article about why Grounded is the real way to play The Last of Us. I completely agree with this article. It feels more realistic and you feel like you’re really hanging on by a thread, which what you would actually feel if you were in a post-apocalyptic world, having to dodge bandits and infected zombies. There’s absolutely no advantage to run-and-gun approach. You really have to avoid conflict, engage primarily in stealthy takedowns or hand-to-hand combat (aided by bottles, bricks and makeshift melee weapons), use guns when only necessary, and make every bullet count.
I decided to chronicle my reactions for each Chapter of in Grounded mode. Since the game has 12 total chapters, and I anticipate future chapters being increasingly difficult, I’ll post these in 3 parts. Here is Part 1:
Chapter 1: Hometown – Escape and Outrun Infected
So, this is still really sad. I choked up at “the scene.” Didn’t notice the newspaper article in the bathroom the first time in Normal Mode, so I made sure to explore the house a bit more this time. When you’re escaping through the crowd street in the chaos, it was much harder to run than in Normal Mode. Felt like I was constantly bumping and running into people which was slowing me down. Very frustrating when I’m trying to carry my injured daughter to safety.
Chapter 2: The Quarantine Zone – Finding Robert
Instead of trying to take down all of Robert’s goons which I did easily with a few takedowns and bullets in Normal, I took down only a couple before simply trying to make it to his office completely undetected. I ran straight into his office, taking down a guard by the door and avoided combat with everyone else altogether. Easy. Tess (your A.I. partner in this Chapter) is pretty helpful. I found that relying on your A.I. partner to shoot (they never run out of ammo) and melee was a all-around helpful strategy. Their health seems to last longer than yours does, although they will yell for your help if their health is endangered at which point you have to assist them or risk a re-start.
Chapter 3: The Outskirts
This part was TRICKY. I kept constantly dying at the broken building when the soldiers came looking for us in the rain with flashlights. Finally after taking down a couple guards, I was able to again make a run for it, mostly avoiding combat once again. Cutting through the tilted building was also tricky, when Joel has to jump down and take down 4 runners and 1 Clicker to make it safe for Ellie and Tess to come down. Runners were tricky because they can see you moving around.
Chapter 4: Bill’s Town / Escaping the School
Ugh. Dumb Bill. “Must be another one of Bill’s stupid traps!” I definitely heard THAT dialogue a billion times in the cut scene which I had to keep starting over. This is a required cut scene so there’s no way to avoid the trap, but you step into a rope which pulls you up suddenly so you’re dangling from the ceiling by your foot. To make matters worse, you get Runners and Clickers coming at you every which way. You have to quickly shoot a dozen or so enemies, while being completely vulnerable and unprotected, dangling like a wind-chime on a front porch while Ellie tries to cut you loose from the trap.
The schoolyard was also tricky, but I discovered that I could climb on top of the bus and mostly funnel them through and take down Runners one at a time. I say “mostly funnel” because on each bus there are always two points of entry, so you have to constantly watch your back, but it’s still better than fighting them in open territory. This level was much easier once I realized I could draw the runners back, quickly scramble on top of a nearby bus, and then fight them 1 (sometimes 2) at a time instead of all at once.
The gym was AWFUL. I was stuck here, running around the gym floor trying to avoid the Bloater with low health, 3 shotgun bullets and 6 rifle shots. I emptied every clip. More often than not, I would die because of those lousy spore bombs the Bloater constantly throws at you. I was just running around, doing laps around the gym, hoping Bill and Ellie could also shoot/stab him down in addition to the hits he was taking from me. What I hated most about this part was that the gym is an enclosed space — there’s nowhere to run away and hide and you HAVE to fight the Bloater to move onto the next scene.
I actually enjoyed the part where you have to push the car to get it started and then fight off three waves of Runners and Clickers coming on both sides. I liked that you can run really far away to draw a lone Runner instead of taking on all 5 at a time. There was something strangely enjoyable/magical about the way the sun is rising and the surprising musical score (sounded almost triumphant but in a Friday Night Lights kind of way) that made fighting off these attacks and on the brink of escaping the suburbs with a broken car almost poetic and sublime.
A few discoveries made – bricks and bottles become your best friend and much handier in combat if a melee weapon is nowhere to be found. It’s a great way to add more power to your punches and runners usually go down after 2 hits. Also, I discovered if I got a running start, not only does it add power when punching out Runners, I found that I could even punch down a Clicker 50% of the time if I got a good running start. THAT was news to me as you’re normally only able to take down a Clicker using a gun or a handmade shiv. The game specifically does not allow you to stealthily take down a Clicker unless you have a shiv.