Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Last of Us: Factions Review

So I never gave The Last of Us' multiplayer mode ("Factions") any serious thought after finishing it in 2013. I guess previous games have taught me that online PvP experiences are drastically different than their single-player/story-mode counterparts. Maybe it's because you usually end up having to alter your play style; you can't try the same cinematic moves you normally do and have to rely purely on trigger reflex.

This can chip away at the integrity of a game's story mode since you're always comparing your online experience to what would have happened if that same interaction occurred in the storyline.

0.0001 seconds to pull that trigger or instant death

Well about a month ago after finishing the Left Behind DLC, I stumbled across some amazing youtube Last of Us reviews, including some that covered multiplayer. After watching a few I decided to give it a try and wow, it blew me away.

The Last of Us: Factions is, simply put, incredible. Why? Because it feels just like an extension to its single-player world. Not once have I felt like I needed to change how I think or move, simply because I'm fighting human opponents. Maybe that's just a testament to how good the AI is in Last of Us (that's likely part of it) but it seems more likely due to its design and structure. Here are some of my highlights.

Close Quarters Stays Cozy

Hand to hand fighting is just as up-close, violent, and desperate as in single-player mode. But those moments when you're out of ammo and decide to rush an armed opponent can still pay off, and boy are they satisfying as hell when they do.

I've never once felt like the game punished me for trying a brazen leap over a barricade to engage a pistol-wielding enemy with my 2x4, which is something I would often try as Joel.

Should've stayed home today

Crafting Under Fire

A big part of Last of Us is crafting items and weapons "in the moment" while you're constantly looking over your shoulder for trouble. This doesn't change at all in Factions. Items play a key role in winning but you're almost always sweating your way through it. It is possible to speed it up by taking certain skills but as with everything there are tradeoffs.

Also because craftable items are so powerful, you're constantly on the lookout for supply drops on each map (very much so like in single-player).

Crafting a shiv to use on the hunter around the corner

Listen For Your Life

Listening for enemies is still a crucial element in Factions. I remember so many times in single-player where you're holding your breath, praying that a nearby enemy will pass you by. They've preserved that element beautifully here and I've yet to play a single match that doesn't have one of these nail-biting moments.

Go left, go left, please go left...

Only the Strong Survive

The world in The Last of Us is immensely dark and gritty. It's dog eat dog and the match types offered in Factions are a perfect fit. There's Supply Raid, Survivor, and Interrogation. Supply Raid and Survivor are super fun and are the closest to the traditional deathmatch/attrition mode that most online PvP offers.

My favorite type however is Interrogation. Normally when an enemy is wounded they go into a "downed" state where they crawl around on all fours and from there you can perform a brutal execution on them by getting close. But in this you interrogate them instead to find the location of a hidden lockbox somewhere on the map. After five interrogations the location is revealed and it's a race to see which side can unlock the enemy's first. The closest game type I'd compare this with is Capture the Flag and it fits so well with the survive-at-all-costs mentality of the Last of Us universe.

Shivs make for a faster interrogation

I feel like it would be unfair for me not to mention a weaker part of Factions, namely the "clan" component:

A little soulless

In Factions you play a hunter trying to salvage supplies for your clan, an unseen group of survivors presented to you in the form of roving red and blue dots on a mini-map in the matchmaking lobby. Clan members can get sick or hungry, give you missions, or just idle around and do clan-member activities (presented in text form, "Billy Joe is going fishing at the creek").

I feel too much here is left to the imagination and they should've either removed this piece entirely or doubled down and made the entire online lobby an explorable survivor's camp (similar to Uncharted's Tibetan village experience)

No Fireflies here

How cool would it have been to be given missions by survivors who approach you or to see your clan grow by the number of wandering members as opposed to a simple number increase? Or if the method to initiate a match was by walking out the front gates into the wilderness instead of simply selecting "Find Match"?

I feel like that would've done more to create a believable and personalized bond between the player and their clan and was slightly disappointed with the dynamic we were given, especially from a game that did such an amazing job of making me attached to its characters. But I understand that building all that would've practically been an entirely new game in itself.

***

All in all, The Last of Us is by far one of the best stories that I've ever experienced, in any medium. But Naughty Dog has not only raised the bar on how well a game can tell a story, but also in how we play that game with each other while still preserving said story.

Factions doesn't take anything away from its single-player world and I'm eagerly looking forward to future titles that combine their story/online game modes so well.

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