With its rich narrative, intense gameplay, and grounded characters, The Last Of Us is easily one of the best games we’ve had all year. Even with next-gen platforms and a slew of bold new titles on the horizon, it’s hard to imagine Naughty Dog’s latest being thrown from 2013’s pantheon of gaming greatness.
Though overlooked by some, part of what made The Last Of Us so brilliant was its unique take on competitive multiplayer. As with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Naughty Dog took the game’s core template and reworked it to suit online play perfectly, defying cynics in the process. Multiplayer in The Last Of Us is best described as tactical or, even better, intimate.
Two teams of four go head to head in a small cluster of game modes, where teamwork, stealth, and salvage are king. There’s no run and gunning or cover-snapping and, unlike most online shooters, health and ammunition come at a premium. The Last Of Us is a clever third person shooter that rewards both co-ordination and preparation as opposed to Rambo-esque rampages.
Part of becoming a proficient player is learning the game’s various maps. Each one has a handful of resource points connected by derelict building, winding alleys, and open roads. It may sound a bit cliché but very rarely are two online matches the same in The Last Of Us. With each corner potentially masking a bomb or ambush party, learning to traverse the game’s online environments is sometimes even more important than honing your shooting skills.
This much became clear to me (again) as I fired up the all-new Abandoned Territories map pack. It’s the game’s first major content drop and, for £7.99, serves up four new online arenas to play in. Saddling up with fellow TSA players, I soon found myself decorating the DLC maps with my own blood, falling victim to nail bombs, molotovs, and improvised spiked clubs as I steadily began to familiarise myself with them.
First up, we have Bookstore. As the name implies, this map is centred around a single building, adorned with huge wooden shelves and a smattering of blackened pages. The ground floor consists of two exterior spawn points, one small and barren, the other well covered yet accessible through various points. Inside, the Bookstore tells a completely different story: walls, partitions and debris result in a completely asymmetrical, sporadic area with a large atrium situated in the middle.
The level above – accessed by a number of stairwells and catwalks – is less cluttered with benches, barrels, and other objects strewn in tactical locations. Though firefights can easily break out on the upper level, it’s mainly used for quickly sprinting from one side of the map to the other. This allows sneaky players to flank hunting parties or even pick them off from the gallery above.
Based on one of the later portions of the singleplayer campaign, Bus Depot is slightly bigger, echoing the urban decor of Checkpoint. Two networks of building run parallel on either side of the map, the void between crammed with overturned vehicles and cover spots. On top of that, there is a large metal gate, partitioning the map even further.
The left clutch of buildings offer two floors, the top one adjoined by a small overpass. Combining open areas with smaller, tighter corridors, this half of the map alone provided plenty of gameplay opportunities. Meanwhile, the right side presents a couple of large rooms connected by two door frames (read: choke-points.)
Bus Depot’s size and complexity can often leave players feeling disconnected at times. By the time they hustle their way over to a gun fight, chances are, action will start to erupt elsewhere. It’s still fun, mind, and definitely suits the game’s newest online mode, Interrogations.
With its darkened skies and burnt out buildings, Hometown can be likened to the similarly-named Downtown, but only in terms of appearance. Though both are mainly exterior environments, Hometown comes across as the strongest of the two, Downtown often suffering from its reliance on verticality and open space.
Ignoring conventional, symmetrical design, here we have a cluster of derelict houses and store fronts illuminated by small pockets of fire. Though one building offers a resource drop and vantage point, fire fights crop up just about anywhere and rarely gravitate toward one central area.
Each of the burnt out husks is spotted with knee-high walls and other, less obstructive cover points. This results in tense stand-offs in which teams will often call for their team mates to wheel around and take their enemy in the flank. Even the outside areas are densely populated, making it easy to set up an ambush on your opponents.
Finally we have the Suburbs which will no doubt prove a favourite for some. Here, Naughty Dog has effectively isolated an entire neighbourhood, featuring both open spaces and enclosed interior areas.
At the very top of the map we have a row of multi-storey buildings, some of which have garages and balconies. These can be used to scout the area on the opposite side of the street, a smaller pocket of one-level houses with far less cover. In between the two distinct areas is an open road, partially covered by fencing and the occasional vehicle.
As with any of the game’s multiplayer maps, there is no set way to approach the Suburbs. The hunting rifle is by all means a viable choice in weapon though the semi-auto, burst rifle, and shotguns all have their place too along with side arms and crafted items. Cluttered interiors makes it hard to avoid both molotovs and bombs, whilst running out into the street could mean a quick and painful shot to the head.
Abandoned Territories definitely adds a refreshing dynamic to the multiplayer experience. Though it would have been nice to see Naughty Dog try something new, each map gels with the mechanics and game modes on offer.
Still, one could argue that a map pack isn’t what The Last Of Us needs at present. There’s still a noticeable lack of objective-based modes. It’s shocking, considering how heavily featured they were in both Uncharted 2 & 3. Also, unlike Naughty Dog’s treasure-hunting flagship, customisation is scaled down to a minimum and co-op is nowhere to be seen.