The Last of Us multiplayer preview: survival games

By Andrew Yoon, Jun 03, 2013 9:00am PDT

Ever since The Last of Us was revealed, Naughty Dog has promised that its upcoming game would feature a multiplayer component. Yet, although we're just a week away from the game's release, there's been little revealed on what that would entail. In fact, we knew more about multiplayer DLC than how it actually plays.

Well, until now. Last week, Sony invited us to play the game's two multiplayer modes. We walked away impressed by how well the survival action gameplay of the campaign translates in a competitive environment. However, with only two modes, we're concerned about the longevity of the game's online offerings.

Called "Factions," The Last of Us' online multiplayer has you aligning yourself with one of two factions: Hunters or Fireflies (their roles are explained in the single player campaign). This initial selection is permanent, and cannot be changed until either completing the "story" that frames the entire multiplayer experience, or having your clan wiped out.

I put "story" in quotes because while there is a narrative that gives structure to what would otherwise be random encounters, it isn't particularly deep. Regardless of which faction you choose, your ultimate goal is to grow your clan and have it survive. To grow your clan, you'll need to win multiplayer matches, while collecting supplies and completing objectives. Every match progresses the "story" one day forward, and you'll see your population rise and fall based on your success and failure.

You can sign into Facebook and have the game auto-populate your faction with real-life friends. As your clan grows, you'll see various status updates: Bob is planting crops, Diana is learning how to play music, etc. However, during crucial moments in the twelve week story, you'll have to make key decisions--perhaps choosing if either Charles or Edna get to live, for example. It's largely cosmetic, but it's nonetheless a cute way of adding a unique personality to TLOU's multiplayer.

But, how does multiplayer function? Both modes--Supply Raid and Survivors--are, essentially, variations of Team Deathmatch. In Supply Raid, teams have a finite pool of respawns, while in Survivors, every player has only one life in each round--there are no respawns.

As we've noted in previous previews of the single-player campaign, approaching The Last of Us like an Uncharted game will result in utter failure. Multiplayer makes that even more clear. While TLOU has all the dressings of a standard third-person cover shooter, the limited ammo and lack of regenerative health force players to approach combat quite differently. Running and gunning almost certainly results in quick death.

Instead, multiplayer encourages the same kind of methodical play that the single-player does. Many of the systems are carried over into MP, including crafting. Having a molotov cocktail can significantly turn the tides of a battle--and you'll find yourself looking for drop points searching for the materials necessary to craft these valuable items. Shivs will let you instantly and silently kill opponents you sneak behind, while bombs can be strategically placed on the map to kill unsuspecting foes. Melee weapon upgrades are my go-to item to craft: it will give you the edge if you and another player are caught in a fisticuffs duel.

You'll want to crouch often and make your way through the environment slowly, as the radar highlights any sound that's made. And obviously, weapons are an obvious giveaway of your position. Like in single-player, you'll be able to "listen" to your environment using L2, which lets you see an moving player in your immediate vicinity. Because every player is keenly aware of sound and motion, it behooves you to be very aware of your own surroundings.

The meta game does add an interesting wrinkle to every multiplayer match, because there are always additional considerations to make in every battle. Oftentimes, there will be specific objectives you'll need to accomplish--like getting a certain number of kills by a certain deadline. In addition, you'll want to evaluate how you want to use your supplies. During the match, you'll collect supplies which can be used to buy upgraded weapons or one-time use items. However, you can also choose not to spend any of those supplies, to transfer them to your clan and potentially grow your faction. Of course, maybe having that upgraded rifle would give you the edge in battle…

Multiplayer in The Last of Us successfully captures the high-tension gunplay that defines the single-player campaign. However, it's bizarre that there are only two modes to choose from, given the many possibilities afforded by the world of TLOU. Most notably, there are no modes where any of the Infected are involved. There's no horde mode, there's no co-op mode, nor is there a mode where you can play as one of the Infected. Undoubtedly, more modes will be introduced via DLC, but with only two modes at launch, it begins to feel repetitive quite quickly.

The Last of Us will be available on PS3 next week. We'll have our review of the entire game on Wednesday.

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