The Last Of Us : Bad spores, good stories

One of the biggest announcements at this year’s VGAs – The Last Of Us. The surprise for most was that it’s being developed by Naughty Dog. That alone has put it on most people’s radars. Though gameplay is shrouded in mystery it looks like an action/horror game with ND’s expected level of characterisation, acting and attention to detail. If you can’t wait to find out more about the game there are at least some interesting movies, games and TV shows that have explored a similar premise of killer infections. Here’s a list of some of the more obvious ones, though I’m sure I’ve missed a lot!

NB: This list purposely avoids traditional “zombie” media. Obviously there’s a lot of overlap, but while zombies usually come in the virus/undead/parasite-infected varieties, fungal or spore-related infections are pretty rare in zombie lore. 


Planet Earth: Cordyceps

This one is obvious, and if you haven’t seen it in its original form already you have to as Naughty Dog themselves included an edited version on the Last Of Us website. It’s safe to say that a human-specific form of Cordyceps is responsible for the situation in the game. This fungus controls the host’s mind and causes them to act in a way most likely to infect the greatest number of victims. And it’s real, and not even that uncommon.

It makes me think that the few human survivors in TLOU must be immune, particularly if they’re going to be head-shotting the infected like he does in the debut trailer. It’s a shame if they are totally immune as it seems like avoiding infection from fungal spores make for some interesting scenarios. I’m getting bored of immunity!


Matango – Fungus Of Terror (1963)

Probably the least known entry on the list, but important all the same. As a 1963 Japanese film (from the director of Godzilla, no less!) it’s one of the earliest zombie-ish movies as well as being the only one I know of with “mushroom people” in. It’s quite stupid and has a mixed tone but still manages to be atmospheric and creepy at times. The enemies in TLOU definitely share some visual similarities with the Matango, and survival horror gamers will at least get a kick out of the setting.


The X-Files – Firewalker (S2Ep9)

Technically this is about an isolated research station probing a volcano and running into a previously undiscovered silicon based life-form. A lifeform that spreads by releasing spores and affects people in similar ways to Cordyceps, so it’s worth watching. I’m sure Naughty Dog have watched everything they can get their hands on, so it’s worth it to get an idea of how these scenarios can be portrayed in visual mediums.



Fringe – What Lies Below (S2Ep13)

Again, not about a fungus but a virus, but the means of infection is similar. The team have to quarantine a tower block once they discover it contains an ancient virus from deep underground. Sadly some of the Fringe team is in the building with the infected so they have limited time to come up with a cure, or other more extreme solution. The virus causes the victims to try and escape and spread maximum contagion by exploding into a puff of infectious blood. Mmm. A fun stand-alone episode.


ObsCure II – Wii/PS2/PSP

The first Obscure was based in a high-school where secret experiments were being undertaken using a strange plant spore, causing a load of plant/human hybrid mutants and associated craziness. Obscure II takes place two years later after the plants have been used as a recreational drug (duh?) and start runninh wild infecting anything in it’s path. We can only hope TLOU is nothing like the ObsCure games which are passable at best. They do have incredible music and funny-bad dialogue though so they’re worth a play through for laughs and atmosphere.


Final Thoughts

So The Last of us has piqued my interest more than any other horror-related game in a long time. As a massive Silent Hill fan who’s favourite single player action game is Resident Evil 4 – Surprisingly I’m much more eager to hear what Naughty Dog have planned for TLOU than either of those classic franchises. While Capcom and Konami have dropped the ball recently, Naughty Dog haven’t disappointed yet and it’s a long time since someone took a horror concept in a new direction. Everything they’ve revealed shows an intimacy and grittiness which puts things more in line with The Walking Dead than, say.. Dead Rising. It might even be less comical than Left 4 Dead, which would put it in a unique position in the genre. I’m hoping for a serious and emotional ride.

Fingers crossed. What do you think (and hope!) The Last Of Us will be like?