Those still lamenting the shock execution of Zipper Interactive last March will find a lot to like about The Last of Us’ closely guarded multiplayer mode. Unlike the single player campaign’s strictly personal tale, the competitive component sees you cultivating a stronghold of survivors, fighting against enemy factions to provide your clan with precious supplies. You’ll do this by participating in a handful of white-knuckle game types. But despite the interesting premise, is the added option any good?
As already alluded, it’s immediately apparent that Sony’s ill-fated SOCOM franchise was a primary source of inspiration. There are two playlists available out of the box: Supply Raid and Survivors. Both are eight-player game types that operate on the same pool of maps, but there are some key differences between each mode’s rules. The former, for example, features respawns and allows you to hold onto crafted items between deaths. The latter, however, is far more ruthless, resetting your salvaged items should you peg it, and restricting you to a single life between rounds.
Despite these key variations, both options are significantly more stressful than your average third-person shooter. Much like in the single player campaign, resources are in short supply, and you’ll rarely have a full clip of ammo – even if you’ve just spawned. Similarly, you’ll have to manually loot the maps for resources if you want to add anything as extravagant as a Molotov cocktail, smoke grenade, or nail bomb to your arsenal. Each arena has tool boxes littered around it, which contain key items for crafting such as sugar, blades, and alcohol.
Of course, you won’t be the only one looking for these items. Each mode sees you divided into teams of four based upon your chosen faction. You’ll be able to play as either the ruthless Hunters or the more political Fireflies. Both have different motivations behind their causes, and these play into the overall component’s meta game. Your ultimate objective is to endure twelve tense weeks, and in that time establish a thriving community of survivors. Every match that you compete in will represent one full day, and during that time you’ll need to bring back a number of supplies to your camp in order to keep your refugees fit and healthy.
Provisions can be obtained by completing actions in game. Killing an enemy and looting their remains will give you valuable resources to take back to camp. You’ll also earn parts for any punishment that you dish out, as well as helping your team mates and crafting items. These can be invested into MOBA-like single round enhancements such as armour or weapon upgrades, improving accuracy, clip size, reload speed, and more. You can also purchase additional ammo with parts on the fly, which proves handy when your clips are empty (and they will be if you’re wasteful or a rubbish aim). [Update: Originally this preview mentioned that parts spent during battle are not converted into supplies at the end of a round. That is incorrect – any earned resources (spent or otherwise) are converted.]
It can take a while to wrap your head around the many systems involved, but it’s a fitting setup once you do. The single player campaign is similarly about compromise, and while the survival quandaries are inherently less pronounced in multiplayer, developer Naughty Dog deserves some credit for at least maintaining the same themes. You’ll still need to decide whether your alcohol and resources are best spent on medical kits or bombs, for example. You’re unlikely to ever agonise over these options, but they do offer a different dynamic to the classic online XP rat race.
The gameplay itself is perhaps a little less inspired. Stealth is a much bigger emphasis, with maps littered with deserted cars and derelict buildings. You’ll find yourself in a prone position most of the time, weaving around the extremities of the arenas in order to get the angle on your opponents. Without a true cover system – the game simply detects when you’re near walls and allows you to hug them tightly – it can be difficult to peak around corners, but with practice you’ll eventually learn the best method to position your protagonist in order to scout out adversaries without giving yourself away. As you’d expect, gunfire prompts you to appear on your enemy’s radar, so it’s best to be as deadly and quiet as possible at all times.
Of course, it’s impossible to avoid chokeholds, and when you’re caught in a conflict, you’ll have a handful of options. You can sprint away from danger to lose your pursuers or drop a smoke bomb if you’ve managed to craft one earlier. You can also engage in a fist-fight if you’re close enough to your opponent, with each successful brawl or firefight unlocking the prospect of a deadly execution sequence. Fail to follow through with the finisher, and your enemies will have a short window of opportunity to resurrect their fallen partner, making ruthlessness a key attribute in the wasteland.
You’ll be able to respawn up to 20 times as a team in the Supply Raid mode, where you’ll only have a single life in Survivors. The latter option is divided up into a series of short rounds, with the first team to successfully survive four waves scooping up the apocalyptic crown. Maps are varied, ranging from an autumnal university courtyard to a snowy residential area and a dimly lit high school library and indoor gym. The visuals take a bit of a hit when taken online, but the lighting effects and attention to detail are still impressive.
Similarly to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, there’s plenty of room for expansion too. You can completely customise your character with masks, hats, and custom emblems, while loadouts can be personalised to your own individual playstyle. As you progress, you’ll unlock more loadout points, which will allow you to carry more efficient gear at once. Every item that you attach to your character has a weight, meaning that you can’t simply wander into battle with all of the best weapons in your backpack.
You can carry two firearms at once and up to four survival skills. The latter are essentially perks with multiple levels that allow you to craft quicker, sprint for longer, or even earn more parts. You can also take a single purchasable weapon into battle, which will need to be bought during combat using any accrued currency. Finally, one-use consumables are items that only last a single match but provide you with some decent benefits such as reduced ammo costs. These are obtained by growing your clan or completing missions, which require you to achieve certain in-game objectives such as felling a particular quota of foes.
Despite seeming relatively shallow on the surface, there’s actually a lot to the multiplayer mode. However, its longevity remains in question. There’s definitely an appeal to the slower pace of the combat and the themed progression system, but it’s unclear if that novelty will persist. As an aside to the core campaign, though, this is a well-conceived bonus – even if it’s unlikely to prove the main draw of the overall package.
Are you looking forward to trying out The Last of Us’ multiplayer mode? Would you have preferred the developer to focus on the single player instead? Let us know in the comments section below.