Last of Us: X-ray specs? Nah, up the ante.

By Zak Longo
Over the holiday break, I had time to dig into this game for the first time. I played it through on hard in around 20 hours. Looking back, I would choose to go a level harder to survivor instead, and I’d recommend as much to experienced gamers. At the very least turn off x-ray hearing in hard mode.

This is not to remedy any lack in the game, but to increase the stress and terror of the overall experience. You paid for a survival horror game. Why not get the most out of it your first time through? If you don’t want to be stressed out and terrified, you can always be bored and unimpressed and just play Uncharted 3.

In hard mode you still have access to use the x-ray hearing ability, which lets you see an outline of any moving enemies up to around 40-60 yards away. You can see through walls, ceilings, and floors, and it gives you a significant advantage when planning your method for completing an encounter. It also makes encounters much less terrifying. I used it sparingly, and mostly opted for my own ears instead (there are audible clues to enemy locations). In retrospect, I wish I had just turned it off completely. It’s a scrub perk.

Using the x-ray hearing ability does have one consequential plus side that adds to the terror: you cannot always see enemies that are hiding or standing still. So, as a result you may find yourself calmly taking a clear path only to have a hidden enemy attack you and eat or blow your face off.

On hard you have less supplies, more enemies, and more damage (you have even less in survivor difficulty, and no x-ray hearing). For much of the game I found myself with no more than a few bullets, and no first aid kits for health. I had to be sure to scavenge every level for every last hidden supply item, and when I had to use my weapons, there was limited wiggle room for wasted shots, melee, or health bars.

Last of Us is all about the story, the atmosphere, and the terror. So, play it loud with headphones or a good sound system (if you hate your neighbors and your family), prompt conversations with the AI, and read the found letters. It has great audio, well-crafted gameplay, a great zombie apoc storyline, good graphics, a modern spin on zombies, solid main characters, and the terrifying need for measured stealth.

If you’re not an 8 year old playing his first act/adv game, you won’t be playing this game on easy or normal, and that means you won’t often have the option of going in guns a blazin. You’re going to need to move slowly, kill quietly, retreat, relocate, avoid enemies, carefully choose your method of stealth kills, fight sparingly, and be pretty decent at quick head shots when you do.

You are also going to need to choose when to run. Some encounters will incorporate the need for all of your available skills. You may use stealth for part one, a bomb for part two, and RUNNING AWAY for part three. There is no specific formula. Enemies do not move completely on pattern rails, and will switch up their movements on you randomly as you retry or work through encounters.

In all, this game’s slow, creepy, varied gameplay adds up to some good old fashioned suspense, and terror. You will dream about this game after playing it for a few hours, and when you reach some of the repetitive mental breaks in the game (like finding another wooden palette for Ellie), you will be relieved to breath easy for a few minutes.

Good luck, and may the bloater spore clouds be only near you.


  • Explore every inch of every board for supplies

  • Rank up your shiv master perk asap. Blade weapons (shiv, axe, machete) are invaluable in this game, and you need them to last for as many melee attacks as possible.

  • Study the angles and ways to kill an enemy with a one shot melee. It is possible with every blade weapon in the game.

  • Arrows are angels. Find them, and use them with great care. They will save your ass.

  • When you find a work bench, equip additional holsters. You may often have 3-4 bullets in 4 different guns, and you won’t have time to rummage through your backpack to equip them in a firepower encounter.

  • Rank up weapon sway and reload speed before worrying about follow up shot speed. You need to make every bullet count in this game. That means headshots, often two are needed.

  • Rank up your pump action shotgun fairly quickly, because (on hard mode at least) this is one of the guns you will find the most ammo for.

  • Try to always have at least 1 ‘full’ shiv in your pack. You will need it to open doors that usually lead to a good amount of supplies.

  • Enemies are not alerted by your AI partners’ movements, so be sure to take advantage of angles if a firefight starts, and let your pals weaken enemies as much as possible before using your own weaponry.

  • Clickers and runners are fairly savvy, but if you throw a molotov cocktail onto one of their nearby compatriots, many of them will run into it like morons burning themselves alive (or dead, or whatever).


Zak Longo is a programmer, writer, and old fart console gamer since the Atari Pitfall days.

Posted in Reviews

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