The grim, taut world of Sony's landmark 2013 video game "The Last of Us" will be open to tourists this fall as an explorable, walk-around physical environment. The video game that inspired the hit HBO series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey is coming to Universal Studios as part of the multimonth Halloween Horror Nights event, which launches at the Los Angeles park on Sept. 7.
The maze-like haunted house inspired by "The Last of Us," developed by local game studio Naughty Dog, also will be available at Universal's Orlando theme park. The walk-through attraction will follow the lead of the game rather than the HBO series, although the latter hewed closely to the game's interactive text.
"The Last of Us" was a pivotal game for the way it explored the relationship between hardened survivor Joel and the teenage girl, Ellie, whom he was hired to protect.
As a game and a series, "The Last of Us" was as much marked by action as it was a deep dive into the lasting effects of trauma. The game and series delved into the emotional sacrifices and personal betrayals one will justify and endure to survive in a postapocalyptic world ravaged by a fungal infection that turns humans into zombie-like creatures.
Universal Studios' take likely will lean more toward visceral scares rather than existential ones, as a release from the theme park notes that multiple video game locations from in and around the Pittsburgh Quarantine Zone will be featured in the environment. Among them: the Hotel Grand and a series of tunnels and labyrinths in which guests will encounter both the infected and hostile humans.
"As a massive fan — and frequent attendee — of Halloween Horror Nights, we are honored to have 'The Last of Us' included in this year's lineup. It has been an incredible thrill for us at Naughty Dog to collaborate with Universal, bringing the world of the game to life, focusing on even the tiniest details that our fans know so well," said Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann, who is also the writer of the game and co-creator of the HBO series, in a release. Druckmann notes guests will "team up with Joel and Ellie and come face-to-terrifying-face with Clickers, Raiders and much more."
This isn't the first video game that Universal Studios has brought to its various Halloween Horror Nights events — Capcom series "Resident Evil" was earlier interpreted by the theme parks — but Universal Studios has in recent years been increasingly looking beyond film. Last year, for instance, saw the debut of a maze inspired by the hedonistic hellscapes of songs and videos from pop artist the Weeknd. And Universal hasn't shied from taking on more cerebral horror, such as Jordan Peele's film "Us."
John Murdy, one of Halloween Horror Nights' chief architects, has said the park is simply trying to reflect what people are scared of today, be it the fears and insecurities of an appearance-focused culture explored in the songs of the Weeknd or larger topics affecting America. Last year, for instance, saw a haunted house called Scarecrow that dipped into themes of climate change.
"If you go back to the '50s, the movies we were making as a studio at the time were giant atomic mutated tarantulas," Murdy said in an interview last year. "Or at Warner Bros., 'Them!' Or in Tokyo, 'Godzilla.' Those are born out of our fear of nuclear annihilation. ... Very intentionally, we have an original house called Scarecrow. It's our ecological horror story. It's set in the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but it's about climate change."
To Druckmann, the story of "The Last of Us" was always personal. He began developing what would become "The Last of Us" while a master's student at Carnegie Mellon University. Long before pitching it to Sony-owned development studio Naughty Dog, at the time known best for its "Indiana Jones"-inspired "Uncharted" series, Druckmann had tried to spin the story into a comic.
"It was always about the sacrifices my parents have made," Druckmann, an Israeli immigrant, told The Times. "As I got older, and came closer to making it as a game, I started thinking about having my own kids and the fear of raising a kid and what could happen. While making the game, my daughter was born, and that added another layer of complexity to how I approached those characters. There's something about living some of the experience that your characters have, to imbue it with more authenticity."
Halloween Horror Nights will run select nights through Oct. 31. Tickets are on sale via the event's official website.