When HBO revealed it was going to ditch the spores in favour of tendrils in The Last of Us, I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing. But after watching episode 2 of the hit TV series and seeing how it actually works – and how a single misstep could land you in all kinds of trouble – I’ve found myself yearning for an experience I never had.
In the show, the cordyceps infection uses tendrils like a neural network. That means the infected are connected, in one way or another, by long fibres of fungus growing underground. If you step on a patch of shrooms in one place, you’ll alert a fair few zombies nearby – and they’ll know exactly where you are.
In other words, one wrong step, and you could be swarmed by all sorts of the infected in minutes. And there’s not a single thing you can do to stop it.
It’s not just the tendrils that you can see that you have to look out for, either. In the last part of the second episode, Joel shoots a recently infected firefly soldier, who doesn’t have an ounce of fungus growing on him. Yet, as his cold, lifeless body hits the floor, the cordyceps’ mycelium wraps around his hand, telling everyone else connected to the world wide mushroom net that there’s some fresh meat ready for the taking.
Suddenly, it becomes a fight or flight situation. If you choose to fight, you don’t know how many there’ll be and if you run, who knows what else you might step on.
With that in mind, can you imagine if Naughty Dog had stuck to its guns and added tendrils to one of the best PS5 games of all time? It’d be a whole different ball game. We’d have to rely on Joel’s stealth and bottle throwing skills as much as his listening ability and you certainly wouldn’t be able to sprint from one corridor to another in the museum in a bid to outrun the infected.
Every single building you venture into would have to be approached with caution and Ellie wouldn’t be able to just wander willy-nilly into shop fronts any more. Her attempts to help Joel find a ladder or a plank in small enclosed spaces would be so fraught with danger that it isn’t even worth considering. As Tess says in the TV series, Ellie isn’t immune to being ripped apart, and with a fungal alert system running underground, her life really would depend on every single step she takes.
Switching from spores to tendrils would slow The Last of Us Part 1 right down and turn it more from a thrilling action-adventure game into a true horror game. It feels a little wrong to say that, but the more you think about it, the more it starts to feel right. And I just can’t get out of my mind.
After some gentle persuasion, HBO told me to look for the light and I found it. I just didn’t expect it to be in the shape of mushrooms.