It’s no secret that Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us was built as a single player experience from the ground up. It looks like a single player game. It feels like a single player game. Hell, it even tastes like a single player game (om-nom) and in that sense it shines.
But has Naughty Dog brought this same greatness to the multiplayer aspect? Or is this just another tacked-on multiplayer to widen revenue streams and please publishers? I’ve had a bit of time with the game now and I’m here to tell you.
At first you might think that the very idea of multiplayer in a game like The Last of Us feels a bit like a square peg in a round hole. However, Naughty dog has put some effort into making multiplayer a real and viable experience and it’s clear they learned a lot from the uncharted franchise. The tone of the single player campaign is beautifully maintained with minimal music, gritty environments borrowed from the single player campaign, and a crawling pace that leaves you sweating. The sense of pace, brutality, and even some of the minor horror elements are just as present here as anywhere else in the game.
Much like the single player campaign, multiplayer takes time proven tropes, like deathmatch, and attempts to remix them with a slower pace and an emphasis on strategic and smart play.
Multiplayer in The Last of Us is called Factions, and has two modes of play; supply raid and survivors. Supply raid is a team deathmatch with a limited number of respawns being shared by the entire team. Survivor is a best-of-seven team deathmatch in which each player has only one life. These elements are tied together in an interesting meta-story in which you are tending to your own group of survivors. The basic premise being that you choose a faction to play as over the next “12 weeks”. Each match you play counts as one day and during that match/day you gather supplies that are then returned to your group. If you have a surplus of supplies your group stays healthy and even grows. If, however, you don’t do well your group can become sick and die.
This is an interesting way to map your general stats throughout your play. Though it can be a bit confusing at first, it’s a much friendlier interface than your standard KDR, and provides a bit more of an overall “how am I doing?” stat.
The game even takes this meta-story one step further by giving you multiplayer missions where you choose a task such as downing a set number of enemies with a certain weapon, or at a certain range. The rewards for completing these missions if always tiered and can run the range of limiting the casualties of an upcoming encounter to stemming a dysentery outbreak. This can lead to some interesting match dynamics where players have certain hidden objectives other than just winning.
As for the gameplay, matches aren’t the fast spastic run-and-gun you may be used to, and as a consequence may take a little getting used to depending on your niche. Bullets are still scarce, health still drops quickly, and you run a definitive risk of catching a shiv to the neck at any time. Listen mode is also carried over, but with a time limit and recharge and—Oh, did I mention that firing or sprinting shows your location on enemy radar and gives away the position of you, and by proxy, your whole team? Yeah, that too.
This leads to a necessity of team mechanics that only really works if both teams are playing together, and leads to a very immersive experience when all the stars align.
Environments are built well with gritty locations straight out of the game, and an emphasis on stealth and cover. There are almost always diverging paths, and there is almost nowhere on the map that doesn’t have at least two points of entry (for the shivvers) along with blind spots, and continuous cover by which to sneak.
Overall the multiplayer (much like the single player) provides a welcome relief from the shoot-em-up frenzy that permeates most titles these days.I found it thrilling and tense sneaking around corners and plotting my next route, always knowing an enemy could be behind any cover, waiting.
More than once I was caught away from my team and cornered. While laying down fire and quickly running out of bullets, I realized just how alone I was. Suddenly BAM! I’m downed from an enemy who snuck around behind me while his friends distracted me from the front. The feeling of crawling away slowly, bleeding, while armed strangers quietly emerge from the fog to brutally execute me leaves me with a profound sense of helplessness. Just what I was looking for.