Note: This article contains spoilers for The Last Of Us Part II, up through the beginning of Seattle: Day 2.
I round a corner and suddenly, there it is: a Bloater. Staggering around, periodically emitting a scream that never fails to convince me it’s on my trail (no matter how many times I hear it, I still double-check behind me to make sure it’s nothing but a random roar), my Listen Mode lets me know there’s two of them here. I’m in a set of rooms underground in the tunnels below Seattle, and luckily I’ve got the firepower crafted to deal with this. Lobbing a Molotov to light up the first one while setting a mine bomb for the second, I confidently take control of the situation, finishing off the first one with a bomb. But as it explodes, taking out the lumbering behemoth, the damn thing’s fungal pustules explode, blasting me with spores and taking me down, completely unawares. Oh, this isn’t a Bloater from the first game? This is some completely new thing called a Shambler that explodes when you kill it, you say? Cooooooool. Cool cool cool.
Alex McLevy: The Last Of Us Part II does some fantastic storytelling. The emotional beats of this story just keep coming, each one as rich and involving as the last. After Joel’s death, I had expected it to be a fairly straightforward revenge narrative—one complicated by the knowledge of Joel’s withholding what really happened at the Fireflies’ hospital, admittedly—but a revenge narrative nonetheless. Instead, the character of Dina has added surprising new layers of heart and ethical obligations to Ellie’s journey, the pair’s relationship serving as a means of helping Ellie process her grief and find renewed purpose. This situation ratcheted up a level last night, as not only did Dina learn that Ellie is immune to the infection, but Ellie got an even bigger shock: Dina is pregnant. The news prompted the most absorbing flashback yet: Three years earlier, with Joel taking Ellie on a birthday trip to the abandoned and decaying Wyoming science museum. The themes of what we owe those around us—and what we should do vis-à-vis the wider world—are starting to get compellingly complicated.
All of which is a welcome distraction from the fact that the game made my homework awfully difficult this week. In the previous installment of Campaign Coach, William instructed me to practice the basic act of dodging attacks from the infected. Not running away, but dodging: using that L1 duck-and-bob maneuver to evade swipes from Runners. He suggested I use any time I run into a solitary stray as an opportunity to take a beat, let them rush me, and spend a minute doing a little shadow-boxing, getting the feel for the timing of evading grabs while in a non-crisis scenario. This sounded like great advice, and so I set off, determined to find every last Runner hiding around each possible corner of the WLF- and cultist-controlled territories I found myself in this week.
Easier said than done. As it turns out, solitary Runners are a vanishingly small group. They tend to run in packs of at least two, if not more, making it a lot more difficult to carve out a little time in which I can just face one head-on and kill time jumping out of harm’s way, as more often than not such behavior would lead me straight into the gaping maw of its buddy. (For being fungus-controlled parasites with no motive but to spread their infection, these things are remarkably social. Perhaps when no humans are around, they wrap their gross little mushrooming fingers around a glass of rosé and host Bachelor-viewing parties together.)
But even when I use stealth tactics to take down a few Runners with the intent of leaving one alive to practice my dodging, a different problem presents itself: Dina. Ellie’s girlfriend may be making this a far more engaging story, but frankly, she’s kind of a pain in the ass when you’re trying to leave yourself open to attack. Dina is too good of a girlfriend! She jumps in nearly every time after a couple of evasive maneuvers, either to pop a few caps in the Runner’s head or rip the infected off of me and pin it down to deliver a fatal hit. (Or worse, wait for me to do it; honestly, I would feel way too guilty to even consider standing there while she helpfully pins a Runner back and looks expectantly at me to serve up the killing blow, only to see me twiddling my thumbs and waiting for the creature to rip free again.) So instead, the closest I got to a mano a mano dodging match with a Runner took place on a set of stairs, which made my attempts to master the timing a lot more difficult—and also, stairs have an unfortunate tendency to end when a wall appears. See for yourself:
Still, dodging is something I’m slowly getting a handle on. But there’s another issue that is causing me headaches in the game, and it’s connected to the whole “shooting people effectively” thing. A lot of my skill set lies in stealth mode; one of the reasons it takes me forever to get through games like this is that I’m incredibly good at biding my time and waiting for an opening to take down bad guys without drawing attention to myself. I’m proud to say that I got through the entire TV station fight (other players may remember it as the giant round building where various WLF members had been strung up in the middle of the ground floor circular room) without a single enemy even seeing me, let alone getting off even one round in my direction. But when it comes to a firefight, things get a bit dodgy. Once the bullets start flying and I’m in a new environment with a lot of rooms and/or floors, I have a bad habit of losing my shit. As The_Misanthrope put it in the comments section last week, it’s all too easy to see how “one screwup usually snowballs into a panic-driven catastrophe.”
Don’t get me wrong, I think my basic strategy is pretty sound—find a narrow room with no entrance behind me that forces my opponents into a shooting gallery scenario—but basic elements of my fighting skills during a battle of that sort go a little haywire. I now present, for my coach’s consideration, the clip of my clumsiest fight over the past week. There are several things that go wrong here, but I’m curious to see what William’s analysis of just what went wrong, and how, reveals when it comes to my talents. Behold, one screwup snowballing into a panic-driven catastrophe. It’s a miracle I survived.
Coach, take it away. Let me know where I’m going wrong—and more importantly, with your knowledge of what’s coming, things I can do to practice and prep for my next major sojourn through Seattle en route to supposed vengeance.
William Hughes: The moment that made me actually laugh out loud while watching this—apologies, I’m a bad person—was when one of your WLF opponents barked out, “Keep up the pressure!” in the middle of the fight. Because, hey, no shit. That was pretty much all pressure, as I’m sure you’d be the first person to admit.
In a lot of games, Alex, your instinct to hole up in a defensive position and gun down the Wolves as they come would be a strong one. (Even if your choice of an awkwardly diagonal folding table as your go-to cover could possibly use some work.) But The Last Of Us Part II puts a huge emphasis on keeping your opponents guessing, which means it’s almost always a better option to be on the move. Enemies—who are pretty much all irritatingly accurate in a straight gun battle—will naturally keep their eyes and guns trained on your last known position. So don’t be there. Jump through a window. Dash back down a flight of stairs. Break line of sight. Ellie is badly outnumbered, and outgunned, in pretty much every single fight in the game (despite Dina’s invaluable assistance). Every enemy who doesn’t know exactly where she is at any given moment is another chance to use your top-notch stealth skills and quickly and quietly thin the herd. So there’s your main homework assignment this week: The next time you find yourself in a pitched gun battle, one that seems to be on the verge of going the wrong way, I want you to bail. Make them look for you. And while they’re doing that, you’ll be the one sneaking around and hitting them from an angle they never saw coming.
On that same note, while you did an absolutely commendable job of using nearly every tool in Ellie’s arsenal to dispatch her foes in this clip, you never once employed what is, arguably, her most powerful skill: the ability to see (or rather, listen) through walls. Listen Mode is most helpful during stealth sequences, sure. But being able to figure out where the other guy in a firefight is (or during a mad rush through an occupied building) is a huge advantage in these sorts of battles. It’s also a great way to slow the pace, stave off the panic, and take the bite out of that pressure they’re trying to force you to feel.
AM: My coach is definitely right. I feel pressure in these situations. (It’s too bad these clips don’t come with the ambient sound in the room when I’m playing, otherwise you could hear the hearty “fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck” I’m emitting as I’m racing Ellie up the stairs to try and escape those bastards.) Which helps explain my lack of using Listen Mode in the above battle; once you feel like you don’t have time to sit still, it’s all too easy for your brain to discard it as an option. During stealth takedowns, I essentially never leave Listen Mode until the second I go in for a kill. Here, I’m doing the equivalent of closing my eyes and hoping bad guys will be where I want them. So this week, let’s turn tail and run. Whether deep into the recesses of a department store or back the way I came to reassess my options, I’m going to try and turn every firefight back into my preferred tactic: waiting endlessly for my opening, like the world’s most boring assassin.