The Last of Us and the remastered PS4 versions are almost universally regarded as excellent. Technically brilliant, engaging story, brutal but smooth gameplay and a fantastic musical score. But within this package lies a wonderfully understated component – the multiplayer mode.
Typically multiplayer modes can often by seen as tacked on. The examples of this are too numerous to mention; despite the fun to be had with it, Uncharted 2 and 3 didn’t quite manage longevity to any aside from the dedicated few, and the Tomb Raider reboot felt very much like a last minute inclusion. Be it unsuitable controls, poor net code, unoptimised gameplay or simply boring, multiplayer modes for classic story driven games are hard to do right, especially when they are third person shooters.
In terms of modes, TLoU is fairly limited. Standard deathmatch (20 lives per team, then it goes into sudden death when all run out), round based one-life-each survival, or interrogation – having to execute enemy team members five times before the location of their lockbox is revealed, then you must hack into it before they hack yours. Despite only three modes, each are similar yet unique enough to require different approaches, and it works well with different or variations of tactics deployed across each of the four vs. four modes.
Small lockboxes are dotted around the maps in which you can obtain parts to concoct weapons – the same as in the single player: nail bomb mines, Molotov cocktails, health packs, smoke bombs, shivs and upgraded weapons. These all serve as mini kill points or choke spots, sometimes dotted out in the open which only the brave will run for, and others are dotted behind buses or down alleyways which look safe but could be primed for an ambush.
This seems like a small aspect, but it adds a dimension to the multiplayer. At the core, you have a third person shooter with a lot of cover. However, ammo is limited and can be found in these lockboxes (as well as dead bodies) but it’s a mixed bag. Sometimes you could get a lot of parts and some ammo, others you might only get one small part that isn’t enough to craft anything. The next lockbox you see could make the difference between surviving an enemy attack or not – particularly if you are the last one on your team and there are three rivals hunting you down. A Molotov cocktail as you lure them down an alleyway can be very helpful.
Listen mode is also your friend that is carried over from the single player game. Its usage is limited though and the recharge time on it lengthy, so you have to use it sparingly and communicate with your team. Another consideration is reviving – a downed teammate back to life keeps one person in the mix without having to wait for the respawn timer and if you’re playing Survival or Supply Raid this could mean the difference between winning and losing. Although if an enemy is leaving a downed teammate without finishing him in the hope you will revive him… well it’s bad news for you.
The sound is particularly brilliant. The menu music before you get into game is bleak and sparse much akin to the main single player, but once you’re in the game, there is none at all. The noises you hear become vital in surviving and detecting where the enemy is – your teammates will automatically call out news to you based on if they are crafting, if enemies are near, downed, need healing etc. The wind howls, birds sing, generators buzz, and depending on your terrain footsteps make different sounds, be if sifting across a sandy beach, tapping on metal or crunching under snow. The sound design’s brilliance became really apparent to me when I plugged headphones into and set audio to come through the PS4 controller. It heightened my experience and found myself even more engrossed.
All of this adds up to an excellent addition to The Last of Us, one which I missed out on with the PS3 version through not purchasing the season pass, but the ability to play online along with additional maps are all included in the Remastered package. What takes Last of Us multiplayer to another level though, is the metagame.
The ‘plot’ behind it has you pick one of two factions, Hunters or Fireflies. From here, before you even launch into your first game you are informed of the situation – you have a small crew trying to survive and must collect resources for them to continue and maybe even grow. You receive notifications of who in your crew is doing what, so perhaps someone is out collecting wood, or starting a fire. Maybe someone is sick. These fictional non-identities can be a little more personal if you link your Facebook account to the game.
As you play, you collect ammo and resources from an opponent who you downed, help downed or executed. These remain on your map as small blue marks until you collect them, even after dying, and you have an amount you have to achieve each game to help your community. Each multiplayer match is set as one day, and you play a random character each time – the idea being the group have sent you out as a party to try and bring back enough resource for the rest. So, a standard team deathmatch reaches another level whereas you’re not just trying to win, you are trying to recover enough resources (or parts which are turned into resources at the end of the game) to help your crew survive, and grow. You receive notification at the end of each day (game) about how many are in good condition, how many are hungry and how many sick.
As your clan grows, so does the requirement for resources. As they become hungrier, you need to perform better in the next match to bring back the required amount. Added to this are special events – maybe a group of the opposing team is approaching your camp, or perhaps you have to raid a medicine supply. Here you typically have three days to achieve an objective. The objective is your choice, it could be achieve a number of downs with a certain weapon, heal a number of teammates, spot a number of enemies. There are three tiers to achieve of each, with the result being the success (or damage limitation) of the event. A couple of bad games could result in missing any objective, having a 60% fatality rate on your group and having the rest hungry as you didn’t get enough resource. The flip side could be a huge population growth and everyone healthy and happy.
This adds a new dimension to each match and your level in game becomes how many weeks you have survived. You’re faced with challenges in each match, do I go for the objective and win, or back to the alleyway where I was ambushed to pick up all the food where I killed those three guys? There may be another ambush but if not… well I could use that for my group. Ultimately if your entire group dies it’s back to week 1, day 1.
I probably shouldn’t really care about this. But it’s hard not to, and it adds something extra on top of an already solid multiplayer mode. You’re presented with a bigger picture, with each game feeling like a moment of survival with a real implication from your result. It isn’t an increase in rank, or experience – it’s a personal collection you have nurtured and grown from surviving attacks and throwing Molotovs at people. Of course you also unlock a variety of weapons, upgrades and perks of which you have a number of points to spend as you see fit, along with preset load outs.
I keep feeling like I need to go back and fight some more for my group’s survival. I am currently 9 weeks in (over 63 games) and my group is in good health but hungry. The resource requirement in each game is quite high now, and I’ve had a bad run lately meaning I need some good expeditions to feed them and bring them back up to health. This built in metagame is a reason for continuing to play, it gives the player another reward and persistence other than unlockables and continuing to level or prestige and goes as far as influencing the way you play as you claw and scratch to earn the spoils to keep everyone surviving. Cleverly, the urgency and dread is managed to be shared with the multiplayer mode and that is quite an achievement. I’m really interested to see if others take note, and particularly if this influences Uncharted 4 next year.