Grounded starts with the obvious ways to ramp up the difficulty in a video game: enemies are stronger, you are weaker and ammunition is scarcer. But it also takes masochism a step further in that it completely removes the HUD. Joel’s life meter is gone, as is the gun icon that displays how many bullets remain. As if that wasn’t enough to make you want to crush the DualShock 4 like Joel’s noggin in the hands of a bloater, Grounded also removes the ability to track enemies by sound. The R1 button becomes useless.
This is how “The Last of Us” should be played. Joel isn’t Superman. He’s quite the opposite. He’s Everyman, down to his “lone wolf” mentality, uncontrollable rage and questionable morality. Having the ability to locate enemies through walls was just a device to make the game more player friendly. Joel wouldn’t have this super-human ability in reality.
Everyman doesn’t come with a life bar. He comes in two versions: alive and dead. That’s what it’s like to play on Grounded. Joel doesn’t know how close he is to death, because who ever does? All it can take is a swift right hand from a runner and Ellie could be on her own. In fact, this scenario plays out several times when playing on Grounded. The world of “The Last of Us” becomes brutally punishing.
Resources are nearly non-existent on Grounded, which is how resources are always described by the game’s story. Joel meticulously searches every cabinet and drawer, usually finding nothing. If he does find something, that something - whether it’s scrap metal or a note from Ish – is getting stuffed in his backpack like he's some sort of low-rent hoarder. Usable items are both rare and valuable in this world. Grounded mode accurately conveys what is constantly stressed throughout the game.
Joel and Ellie should never be an army of two. They’re usually outnumbered and outgunned, and that is literally always the case on Grounded. Every combat scenario has to be approached with a strategy. The Grounded difficulty basically turns “The Last of Us” into “Dark Souls.” You’re going to die, and you’re going to die a lot. It becomes a test of trial and error.
Each room with multiple enemies has to be approached like a puzzle. The obvious first choice of action is to use stealth to take out bandits and infected, but it’s not always possible especially with a perpetual lack of shivs. Using bottles and bricks instead of bullets is always a must. I found creative ways to eliminate targets with a bare-boned arsenal. Joel basically becomes the MacGyver of the apocalypse.The world of “The Last of Us” is supposed to be a dangerous place. It’s a miracle that Joel is able to stay alive an uninfected, let alone successfully look after a little girl. The infected and packs of bandits are meant to be approached with extreme caution. Grounded mode acts as a bridge between the gameplay and how the world is conveyed through its story. It’s easy to be intimidated by Grounded Mode considering it wasn’t even in the original version of the game. I suggest trying it out to see how it alters the game into a new experience.