Neil Druckmann on ‘The Last of Us’ maze at Halloween Horror Nights

Before The Last of Us was a hit HBO series starring Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, it was a video game — one hailed just as much for its brilliant storytelling and emotional resonance as it was for its monster design and major scares. Now, the world of The Last of Us video game has made its way to Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood for Halloween Horror Nights, allowing visitors to follow in the footsteps of Joel and Ellie… if they dare face the Clickers, Bloaters and all their other infected friends.

Neil Druckmann, co-president of video game company Naughty Dog, tells Yahoo Entertainment that the annual event, which celebrates the scariest things pop culture has to offer, is ideal for The Last of Us, as when you play the game, “you really see the influence of a lot of horror that came before it.”

There’s a lot of scares packed into The Last of Us, which is why this particular maze had to narrow things down a bit. Instead of doing a “montage” of moments, Druckmann says the creative team focused on creating a “journey” for guests, featuring the video game’s most iconic location from the first part: Pittsburgh.

“The maze is filled with horror, but you’re also getting moments with Joe and Ellie sprinkled throughout,” Druckmann explains. “It feels like you’re with them — entering the city, surviving it and then hopefully exiting on the other side.”

Threatening your survival are the creatures from The Last of Us. Though these creatures were once regular human beings, their brains and bodies have been corrupted by the cordyceps infection, making them ruthless killers — which Halloween Horror Nights visitors will get to see play out first hand.

“So much of what makes the creatures of The Last of Us so scary is what they do with their victims,” Druckmann says. “In the game, you’re playing as Joel, and you fight a Bloater, who is one of the toughest enemies in the story. If you fail, the Bloater can grab your head, grab your jaw and rip it off. In the maze, the team came up with something that’s pretty neat, where you see the Bloater do that to one of its victims.”

Many of the scare tactics that worked to unsettle people behind the video game controller also work for the maze. Druckmann says the team used a device that replicates a flashlight, like the one Joel uses in the game, as a way to build tension. In the game, “you might see something kind of horrific, that makes you jump,” Druckmann explains. Same goes for the maze, he says.

“They’ve built a unique mechanism where you’re with Joel, and you’re seeing a flashlight move across the scene and sometimes go out, sometimes come back on — using that as a way to sometimes misdirect the guests, so we could get the scare coming from a different direction.”

The visuals are a major part of The Last of Us, but the game would be way less effective if not for its unique soundscape — especially that of the so-called Clickers.

“For authentic tension and horror, audio is 50 percent of the experience. That’s how we built the game is making sure there are these intense, iconic sounds — like the Clickers — as well as these negative spaces where you’re building anticipation and tension, so you can get the contrast between the quiet moments and the horrific moments,” he explains, sharing that the sound of the Clickers was created for the maze using the original audio files from the game.

Fans of the game will also get to explore some of the most bone-chilling moments from The Last of Us — if they’re not too squeamish, of course.

“There’s a part where you’re in a flooded basement of a hotel, and there’s a generator — it’s one of the most talked about sequences for the first game as far as how intense and scary it is,” he says. “There’s another part where you head into a sewer outside the city of Pittsburgh, and you get to see a community that had survived and lived there. Their fate wasn’t very good — and there’s a lot of Easter eggs that were in the game.”

One recommendation? If you are heading to Halloween Horror Nights, you may want to bring a friend and hold on tight. Even Druckmann says he “isn’t brave enough” to go through the maze alone. “I’ve yet to have that experience,” he says.

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