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The Last of Us Part 2's Combat Cycle: Beating Hearts and Butchery

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BatmanH

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Note: The following article contains NO STORY SPOILERS for The Last of Us Part 2. The E3 2018 gameplay reveal trailer for The Last of Us Part 2 promised a blend of stealth and savagery not seen before from Naughty Dog. Having now played this section myself, along with the surrounding hour or so, it’s clear to me just how much the combat system has evolved when compared to the original, not to mention how dynamic each fight can be. There’s a brutality, yet fragility to each engagement that make them a thrill to negotiate, but also intrinsically link to the larger themes at play. Staying hidden and striking from the shadows is heavily encouraged at the beginning of any encounter, but especially when you find yourself in an overgrown Seattle park surrounded by mysterious brown cloth-clad torch bearers searching the area for ‘stragglers’. Tall grass is often Ellie’s best friend, although it doesn’t make her completely invisible to enemies. The AI are smart, let them get too close and even if you’re lying down motionless, they’ll spot you and bad news often follows. Being proactive and constantly on the move proved successful for me as I bypassed some enemies before ultimately having to strike. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/2020/06/01/the-last-of-us-part-2-the-final-preview-no-story-spoilers"] In my time with The Last of Us Part 2 so far, I’ve discovered that if one thing is certain, it’s violence. It doesn’t want you to necessarily play it like a traditional stealth game as you ghost through the streets, but actively engage in the action and become a violent participant in its world. As I make my way through the park, I manage to isolate one enemy and grab them from the undergrowth. I then proceed to stab them in the neck as the camera hangs on both of our strained facial expressions; my victim’s eyelids poetically make their final few flutters next to the butterfly now tattooed on Ellie’s forearm. There’s no time to reflect though. The multiple bodies hanging from street lamps serve as a good indicator as to why. I cautiously press on, keeping my ear to the ground and my finger on R1, as listening mode paints white enemy outlines onto my vision. As one approaches I swiftly craft a silencer for my pistol using a rag and a canister in a familiar but more streamlined crafting menu that offers many more options than the first game, which directly influences your chosen playstyle. I then proceed to make my first mistake. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=The%20gunplay%20in%20Part%202%20feels%20majorly%20improved%20on%20the%20previous%20game%E2%80%99s%20efforts%2C%20with%20every%20pull%20of%20the%20trigger%20feeling%20hefty%20and%20purposeful."] I carefully aim at the oncomer’s head and pull the trigger, just after they make a sudden step to the left. Clearly alerted by the bullet that whizzed past their ear, they begin to look in my direction as the sound of Ellie’s heartbeat intensifies and a droning tone gets louder indicating I’m on the cusp of becoming exposed. Just before that moment, however, I manage to successfully hit them with my pistol as the splatter of the headshot brings a sudden end to the drone. The gunplay in Part 2 feels majorly improved on the previous game’s efforts, with every pull of the trigger feeling hefty and purposeful. All too quickly the noise returns again as another enemy gets closer. I quickly aim at them before making my second mistake. My bullet hits them in the chest but does not fatally wound, so I aim again and confirm the kill – but not without alarming every other enemy in the area. In the heat of the action I had forgotten that my silencer only lasts for three bullets, and so a full unsuppressed 9mm bang can be heard cascading through the trees. Whistles and shouts follow as I’m forced to sprint away and into cover, although not before a well-placed arrow is fired into Ellie’s right shoulder. I’m forced to tear it out of a grimacing Ellie to prevent the damage it will cause over time, but the few seconds that it’s grinded me to a halt has only allowed my hunters to surround me. It’s a desperate scenario that The Last of Us Part 2 seems to relish putting you in again and again. [widget path="global/article/imagegallery" parameters="albumSlug=the-last-of-us-part-2-new-screenshots&captions=true"] The time for subtlety is over as I am now forced to utilise the tools at my disposal. I count four enemies but only 3 rounds of ammunition. I peek over my cover with a hunting rifle and dispatch one as their friends cry out his name. The pain can be heard in their voice but not as loudly as when I approach them with my shotgun and promptly remove their head with it. The look, and in particular the audio design of the blood splatter is incredible and only adds to the already gruesome experience. There’s no time to dwell on that, though – a burly, bald man is running at me with an axe in his hand and hatred in his eye. I use my last shotgun shell on him and am now forced to improvise to remove the one remaining enemy. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=The%20look%2C%20and%20in%20particular%20the%20audio%20design%20of%20the%20blood%20splatter%20is%20incredible%20and%20only%20adds%20to%20the%20already%20gruesome%20experience."] I pick up the discarded axe and weave towards them. Not well enough, though, as a bullet hits me square in the stomach and I’m knocked down to the floor. You get a real sense of the impact as Ellie when you’re shot in The Last of Us Part 2, shots leaving you temporarily incapacitated and struggling to get back onto your feet. The heavier the calibre of ammunition, the bigger the fall as well. It’s another improvement on the original that further makes each encounter feel genuinely life-threatening. After gathering myself, I realise just how foolish an idea it is to charge headlong at someone holding a rifle. Instead, I equip a trusty brick that served me and Joel so well in the prequel – but this time around they have an extra use. Quick Throw allows you to use an object to temporarily stagger enemies, allowing you a brief window to go in for the kill. It’s particularly useful when faced with onrushing infected (more on them later). It’s equally effective on people holding rifles, so without further ado I lobbed the brick at them and promptly ran over and sunk my axe into their neck. Again, the sound design adds extra weight to these actions as you feel and hear flesh being hacked into. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/the-last-of-us-part-2-official-story-trailer"] A freshly blood-soaked Ellie is now free to scan the area for any items that will aid her in the next battle. I then clamber down to the next area where a new patrol is marshalling the area, and so begins the violent cycle again. Crucially, each of these encounters feels different to the last. Sometimes you just don’t have resources to go toe-to-toe firepower-wise, forcing you to slowly and silently take each enemy down one-by-one. The biggest variable, though, are the enemy types themselves. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=Crucially%2C%20each%20of%20these%20encounters%20feels%20different%20to%20the%20last."] In the roughly hour-long section I can discuss here, I fought two different human enemy factions. The aforementioned mysterious brown-clothed Scars, who favour crippling bows and arrows, and heavy melee weaponry. Coming up against these axe or sledgehammer wielders provide moments for the vastly improved melee combat system to shine. Through a series of well timed dodges and strikes you can eventually get the better of your opponent – they’re often bruising affairs, where you feel every punishing blow. The other human enemy group, known as the WLF, favour guns and utilise attack dogs that sniff you out by following your scent. You can distract the dogs, or if you can put your conscience to one side, eliminate them, making your life a lot easier. Again, I cannot stress how unpleasant a lot of this is. [ignvideo url="https://www.ign.com/videos/why-video-game-leaks-are-here-to-stay"] Most unpleasant of all though are the infected that roam the city. Even the previously tame runners seem a lot more threatening than before and require a good few punches into their fungal flesh to take down. The Stalkers also make their return after briefly appearing in the first game and are more terrifying than ever – a near-silent enemy that doesn’t show up when using listening mode, and hunts you down in enclosed spaces. [poilib element="quoteBox" parameters="excerpt=My%20meeting%20with%20Stalkers%20in%20an%20abandoned%20newspaper%20office%20transformed%20the%20game%20into%20a%20full-fledged%20horror%20experience."] My meeting with Stalkers in an abandoned newspaper office transformed the game into a full-fledged horror experience, feeling something like Resident Evil crossed with the velociraptor scene from Jurassic Park. There are different ways to deal with this scenario and if you feel compelled to fight them then I’d recommend coming armed with short-range, high-damage weaponry. Or you could just do what I did and sprint through the building screaming, desperately trying to find the way out while dodging grappling limbs. Enemy encounters are frequent, but it’s credit to Naughty Dog that each one feels different to the last. Whether that be down to the variety in enemy type, items at your disposal, or your chosen playstyle, every fight feels dynamic. You can go in with a plan, but have to think quickly on your feet as Ellie’s cover is blown or a new threat enters the scene. The combat of The Last of Us Part 2 is constantly rotating between heart-pounding tension and brutal butchery and forms a circle of violence that is wholly unpleasant, but necessary for the story it is trying to tell. Simon Cardy has so much more to say about The Last of Us Part 2 but can't until June 12th. Follow him on Twitter here.

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