The Last Of Us – We all know how amazing the single player story is.
Those who have played it will know first hand how amazing it is, and those who have not played it, why not? Not really, those that have not played it have at least read or heard about how amazing the single player game is. The game is so good that I have even had some die hard Xbox fans telling me that they are a little jealous that it is PlayStation only. There is no doubting that what Naughty Dog have created is a beautiful, emotional, exciting and fun to play gaming experience. What I want to focus on here however is the multiplayer aspect of the game, something which has not been discussed in any great length, maybe because it has been overshadowed by the single player game.
I will admit when I heard that The Last Of Us would have a multiplayer element, I was hoping for the main story to be two player co-op, which given the two leads of the game sounded plausible. This idea was soon nixed by Naughty Dog. Keeping in mind this was a few months before the game release, it was about then I started worrying that maybe the game may suffer the same problem as Uncharted 3.
Although I love Uncharted 3, along with all three games in the series, my personal thoughts were that the single player may have suffered a little in comparison to Uncharted 2 due to the developers putting so much effort into polishing the multiplayer. The exact opposite seemed to be the case with The Last Of Us however, when we were given more and more details on the single player game, with any information concerning multiplayer scant at best. There was then a whole new set of worries – was The Last Of Us multiplayer going to be a rushed, tacked on affair, something which in my opinion plagued the new Tomb Raider game. In the case of Tomb Raider I thoroughly enjoyed the single player but unfortunately found the multiplayer aspect extremely poor.
It would be all too easy to use Uncharted’s multiplayer mode, which in my opinion pretty much nailed it when it came to a fun time playing a game online, as a comparison for both Tomb Raider and The Last Of Us. Uncharted showing us how a third person action game should be done online and sadly Tomb Raider showing how it shouldn’t. So surely with Naughty at the helm and with Uncharted under their belts they would have it under control and we could expect something similar? Apparently not as just ahead of the games release, details started to emerge promising something a little different to what we were maybe expecting. So how does it shape up? I am writing this after having spent about three weeks playing the multiplayer on and off and these are my thoughts on it.
What Naughty Dog have tried to do is bring basic elements of the single player into the multiplayer game, or Factions as it’s named. It’s all about survival and making the best of what you have to hand. On first starting Factions you choose one of two groups of fighters from the game, the Fireflies or the Hunters. From there you then choose which game mode from two you want to play. “Supply Raid” which, like both modes, is 4 versus 4 with each team having a shared respawn of 20 and plays much like a team deathmatch. The other mode, “Survival”, shares the same core gameplay though it is the best of seven matches with no respawn – once you die you are out for the rest of that match. Both modes, survival in particular, encourage teamwork – players will find going a lot easier if they stick together. The goal of multiplayer irrespective of which mode your are playing is to build a clan of survivors and keep that clan alive for twelve weeks.
Building your clan is done by carrying out numerous goals during matches – almost everything you do in a match results in you being rewarded parts and supplies. Scoring kills, executions, melee kills, head shots, healing and reviving team mates or marking enemy troops or even just scavenging parts from locations throughout the maps result in you earning both parts and supplies. The more supplies you collect in the game, the more survivors you earn – the more survivors you have, the more supplies you need to earn to keep them alive from game to game. Earning survivors and collecting supplies is also the way to unlock new weapons, perks and character customisation options. As mentioned before, the end goal is to keep your clan alive for twelve weeks with each match you play representing one day, so you play seven matches and that is one week.
Now that may sound easy, all you have to do is keep playing matches and ensure you collect enough supplies. Essentially that is what you need to do, but every three or four games you’re thrown a mission. These missions range from kill or execute a certain number of enemies with a certain weapon, revive a certain number of team mates and so on. You are given three days or matches to complete these and succeeding or failing to do so has either a positive or negative effect on your population. Easy right? Early on, yes it is. But as the weeks progress these challenges become tougher and tougher to deal with.
So with that said how does the game itself play? Again it’s easy to compare it to Naughty Dogs other hit game Uncharted. But other than them both being third person shooters, the similarities end. Whereas Uncharted is a fast paced run and gun experience, The Last Of Us slows things way down so much so that sprinting or shooting a weapon without a silencer equipped shows the enemy team where you are on their radar. This means that walking or crouching and moving are the safest ways of getting around – being slow and steady is the key to victory here as is sticking with your team mates be it all four of you or pairing up with at least one other member of your team. Players more used to playing Uncharted or Call Of Duty where going solo and rampaging through the map can be the key to winning, won’t get very far doing so here. Not only does playing as a team mean you have more firepower when you do get into a fight, you also have a better chance of surviving.
When you are shot in The Last Of Us you don’t automatically die, you go into a “downed” status for a few seconds. You can move, albeit crawling at a much slower pace, try to make it into cover and if a team mate can get to you in time they can revive you and save a valuable respawn – another reason to work as a team. While in this downed state a few more shots from the enemy or a special, and in some cases quite brutal, execution move can finish you off.
It’s not just the backup and medical help team mates can offer. When it comes to perks in the game there are quite a few which can benefit not only yourself but help your team also – quicker revives, the ability to heal (there is no auto heal here, when you take damage you are hurt until you use a health kit or are healed by a team mate), or my personal favourite perk Hawkeyed. Every player has the ability to, at the push of a button, mark an enemy player. When marked, that player has a red marker above their heads for a few seconds, allowing not just the person who marked them to see where they are, but the whole team to see their location. With the Hawkeyed perk active, not only does the mark last considerably longer, but do away with the red mark and show the marked player as a red glow even through walls. At the highest level this perk even shows enemy players in close vicinity to the originally marked player. Team work is the way to go here.
When it comes to the actual shooting in the game things don’t get any faster, taking it easy here also helps. This is not a run and gun game like Uncharted, Call Of Duty or many other multiplayer games. The gunplay is set to a much slower pace, and this is stems from two main factors. The games guns are extremely inaccurate on the move, so much so that I have had enemy targets directly within my sights and fired several shots at them, hitting only a couple of times, and this was down to a panicked run at the enemy player. Shooting while sprinting or moving fast in this game does not pay off. On finding the enemy team it’s best to take cover and figure out what you are doing, chances are they are doing the very same thing. Running in will end up in a death for you and your team. Shooting at a target from a stationery spot standing or crouched always offers better results with any movement kept to small strafing steps left and right to throw off any incoming fire. And this is only the first reason slower thought out fighting works, the second is even more of a game changer.
The Last Of Us multiplayer tries to bring some feeling to it from the single player story in that you are all scavengers living in a future where supplies are in short order. This includes ammunition and supplies. At the beginning of the match you spawn with a very small amount of ammo for both your primary weapon and sidearm. When it comes to some guns, this means spawning with only seven rounds and with a single kill taking roughly half that away your starting supplies won’t last long at all. As I mentioned before, throughout matches you are collecting parts and supplies to keep your clan alive. The parts play an important part in the gameplay acting as a kind of currency with which you can purchase ammo, gun upgrades and or body armour which last only the length of the match you are in or until they are depleted. This element reminds me in a way of playing Counter Strike many years ago – your ammo and equipment purchases are made on the fly mid-game however, so it pays to make sure you’re safe before doing so.
Something else the game brings to multiplayer from the single player games is the construction of equipment such as grenades/mines, Molotov’s, first aid kits and melee weapons. Throughout each of the maps are four lock boxes which not only contain aforementioned parts, but also a smattering of objects which when combined in the proper combinations create these items. Because these boxes are in the same location for both teams, they are usually the hotspots for firefights. Again, like buying ammo, these items need to be created mid-game with each taking three to four seconds to create. This doesn’t sound long, but that’s four seconds you’re vulnerable to attack, so using cover is always essential. All these elements come together to make a multiplayer game that is actually a lot of fun because it dares to be a little different from the plethora of other online shooters on the market right now. This is not to say however that the game is perfect and does have a couple of minor flaws.
The two main problems I have with the game are not huge or things that would make or break the game. They can be overlooked or, as we are told by Naughty Dog, fixed in time. The first problem I have noticed with the game is that it focuses a lot on team work and therefore team mates who recognise this are always going to have the upper hand. I almost always play online with at least one friend, so I at least have one person in-game I can count on. The problem arises when you are teamed with other players who really have no intention of working as a team. Granted, I am not the kind of person to tell someone else how to play a game, playing a game is essentially a way to have fun and if a player is having fun then the game is doing its job. It can however be extremely infuriating when random team members see you are moving slowly to position in the hope to take the enemy by surprise, only for them to sprint in guns blazing giving the whole element of surprise away. Even worse when you are shot and in the downed position in a well covered spot for your random team mates go for a kill or execution before attempting to resuscitate you, or even worse ignore you altogether. This is easily fixed however by playing with three people you know are going to help. As we all know however, this is not always possible.
The second problem is the selection of maps, of which there are seven at launch. The maps are kept not small, but not huge. Considering the games are four versus four this is a good thing. The problem arises when two of the maps are not great, with the biggest offender being Downtown – a collapsed street and destroyed subway. It sounds fun, but in reality is a bit of a messy effort. The second of these is High School – it has the makings of a good map, but this is sadly not the case with the map being one of the biggest in the game area wise and spread over two levels, giving too much space for a small four on four fight. This leaves five maps – not terrible I know. But when two of the remaining maps, Checkpoint and Bill’s Town, have more or less the same street layout with a different setting and matches on them play out more or less the same, it essentially means you have four fun maps when you count the later two as more or less the same thing. This problem although has an easy fix with Naughty Dog already telling us that there are at least two DLC map packs in the future for the title, and in my opinion the first one can’t come soon enough.
The Last Of Us – we all know by now that it has an amazing single player story to tell. But in the run up to the games launch, and even now after release, Naughty Dog were tight lipped on the multiplayer side of the game. Those buying the game however will mostly be pleased by the multiplayer mode which dares to be a little different. It is a lot of fun to play because of the differences, even with it’s shortcomings, and it’s a game I can see myself playing well into the future. Give it a try.