There has been a lot of buzz about The Last of Us' multiplayer. From grand statements that it will 'change gaming forever' to more than a fair bit of intrigue from the wider community, Naughty Dog has deliberately remained quiet on what it had planned. The time has now arrived for the developer to lift the lid.
Tying into the single-player, The Last of Us' online offering sees you choose a clan and then join in the effort to stay alive in the game's post-apocalyptic world. In order to introduce a sense of tension, though, you're only given 12 in-game weeks to do this (each match corresponds to a single day).
It's not just as simple as shooting people in the face so you don't succumb to the worst fate possible, either. Above all else, securing and protecting supplies is imperative to the survival effort. These resources become yet more important as your group grows. While lodging a bullet between someone's eyes will help in your quest, so do assists, revives, crafting items and physically picking up supply drops, obviously. It expands further than this too: members of your posse can suffer from sickness or get mauled by a pack of infected between matches. Overcoming such obstacles requires you to engage in specific missions you'll be set in upcoming rounds, such as achieving a certain amount of melee kills or headshots.
It is, to be frank, a very intelligent and well put together idea, and one that – unlike many multiplayer modes – actually connects to what you've experienced with the game's core narrative. Whether or not the premise is as good as the execution is another thing, mind.
While short, I did enjoy what I played, and the survival-based concepts are far more fascinating than blasting someone in the skull. You can jump into a game of Survivor – essentially an all-out deathmatch but with no respawns – or Supply Raid – where you scavenge for items and have a pool of 20 lives - each restricting team sizes to four versus four. It's nice to have a new focus in terms of what you're usually asked to do in a shooter, and the foundations here do work. I just can't see it gripping me in the same way, as say, Gears Of War has managed to do on multiple occasions.
With that said there are mechanics in place that make for a more refreshing environment. Crafting items, for instance, plays a huge part in The Last of Us' blueprint. A constant battle against the odds as you desperately try to stay alive by fashioning a makeshift health pack, the panic that is rife in the main game has been transferred to online extremely well. During (and between) rounds you're able to upgrade your weapons, or add to your inventory as long as you have the right tools. Given that Naughty Dog has seen fit to be quite restrictive with the amount of ammo that's dished out, it adds a new layer to proceedings, one where if you try and rely on nothing but running and gunning you'll be killed.
This premise is largely a reason why sneaking around will serve you well. Full-on stealth would be taking it too far, but being able to activate Joel's 'listen mode' - which enables players to see enemy silhouettes through walls - for a set period (the gauge is recharged depending on how successful you are) means those who balance both will come out best.
To try and capitalise on this, Naughty Dog has made the maps quite large. Unlike your more traditional gun-inspired contests, there's an advantage to be gained from being patient - a bigger playspace gives you more room to be slightly more strategic. If you're smart enough, you can actually hunt opponents down, using the many buildings and pathways to creep up on foes without them having a clue you're there. It may be a tactic that appeals to less individuals, but those looking for a change may lap it up.
There are certainly smart, slight twists on the usual formula here but, much like the Uncharted games, The Last of Us' multiplayer feels like a pleasant aside rather than something you desperately need to involve yourself in. It's definitely an extra you should experiment with – I imagine a small, yet dedicated community will spiral out from this – but it's certainly the curtain jerker rather than the main event.
Still, it's hard to argue with an extension that wouldn't be missed if it wasn't there (such is the quality of the single player) and for all intents and purposes, it's not half bad.
Check out our The Last of Us review this Wednesday at 3pm.