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The Last of Us: Best Multiplayer Ever?

When a multiplayer component was first announced for The Last of Us, my eyes rolled so far into the back of my head that my pupils poked me in the frontal lobe. What followed the announcement of this unwanted extra was a void... Silence. Absolutely nothing.

Now, usually this isn’t a good sign - you only have to take a look at the Tomb Raider reboot to see a recent offender. I had already decided, it was going to be one of those ‘tacked on’ multiplayer modes: completely inoffensive and functional, but devoid of an identity of its own.

Then, suddenly, amid the sound of static from the radio silence, lead artist, Nate Wells, decided to put everyone’s fears to rest. He took to Twitter, and tweeted out the following statement: "I wish I could appropriately prepare you people for [The Last of Us]," he said. "But even if I were allowed to, I can't. And I really can't prepare you for the best [multiplayer] ever conceived."

Confident words indeed.

He was trying to explain that he wasn’t allowed to tell us anything about the game’s multiplayer section, by feeding hyperbolic information into the gaping maws of the internet. “I can’t tell you how great it is... It’s bloody amazing,” was the basic intent of his message.

It definitely felt like a case of ‘person who makes product is passionate about product’, and I still had my doubts about his claims.

The problem with Nate’s statement, was that it opened up the multiplayer to more criticism that, otherwise, may have been avoided. Yet, whilst it isn’t the best online component ever conceived - that honour belongs to Dark Souls - there’s still something about it that’s special, if you’re willing to give it chance.

With only a handful of maps and two game modes, at first, the game feels like a ready meal: it satisfies your hunger for a bit, but there’s only two pieces of processed meat inside, and they burn your mouth. The first of the two modes, Supply Raid, is a throwaway variation on the standard Team Deathmatch template - with the added distraction of collecting parts and building your arsenal.

My initial impression was one of ambivalence. It was just as I thought: completely functional, and also completely generic, with nothing setting it apart from any other third-person multiplayer mode. This all changed when I started to put my time into the second of these modes: Survivor.

This manages to adapt the most important aspect of the single-player, mutating its DNA into a competitive mode. The bone chilling tension of creeping around a Clicker-infested basement in the campaign is instead replaced with the feeling of being tracked by - and outsmarting - human intelligence. The fear of Clickers comes from the fact that they can kill you in one hit, just as a flanking human can do in Survivor mode. On top of this, you will sit the duration of the round out upon death, lending favour to the thoughtful player.

Sure, no respawns are nothing new, but the way the maps are designed - with multiple routes and masterful use of verticality - heightens the constant anxiety, and increases the heart palpitations. Everything moves along at a careful pace, with most players using stealth to either get behind, or at least get into an advantageous position on the enemy.

When you play well, you feel like a genius.

In one match, I managed to flank the whole opposing team, using shivs to silently take down two of their numbers whilst they were distracted by my allies. After they were despatched, a single sniper round to the head of the third saw him hit the floor, and try to crawl to his comrade. As his friend dutifully revived him, I ran up and bashed him upside the head with a plank of wood.

The ‘whooping’ sound of my teammates was one of the best multiplayer experiences I’ve had in a long while.

It’s not a game that relies on twitch reflexes, it’s about being tactical, and that’s what makes me love it so much. In another game, the opposing team was relentlessly aggressive, with all four of them moving together and using assault weapons to decimate our whole team within the opening minute. The same thing happened in the next round, and we didn’t stand a chance.

So, the next round started, and I switched my headset on, asking our team to form a defensive position near the spawn. Two of us took positions up by the high windows facing towards the enemy, and the other two took a closer vantage point with assault gear, covered by our rifles. It was a massacre.

As soon as they appeared, they were dead. This carried on for three rounds, holding a wall of death at different points of the map as the spawn location dictated, until... they rage quit.

Of course, your experiences will differ to mine. That’s what makes the game so good, it feels totally unique each time and it’s consistently surprising. These anecdotes are the best way to capture the essence of what makes it such an adrenaline-fueled joy. If this is what ‘tacked on multiplayer’ is, I hope it’s here to stay. As I said, it isn’t the best multiplayer ever conceived, but it is damn good.

kirkules | 1st July, 2013

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