Naughty Dog has this weird knack for making unexpectedly good multiplayer experiences. I really don’t know if this was ever intentional on their part; I always felt like Uncharted 2 just plain worked because the game’s mechanics were already so great that they just happened to fit into a multiplayer mold really well. (Also, the netcode was phenomenal, which was probably was intentional.)
Uncharted’s multiplayer was great because it focused on the gameplay elements that gave the series its identity. Naughty Dog could have easily made a Call of Duty shootfest, but instead they created a deathmatch-style shooter that brought in the climbing and stealth kill elements of the single-player game and used them to great effect. It was incredibly fun to dangle from a ledge while an unsuspecting opponent stepped too close, only to grab them and pull them off the edge. Or to sneak up behind someone and snap their neck. I’m pretty sure this is why Naughty Dog gave players the ability to absorb so many bullets; they wanted to encourage the up-close-and-personal elements over gunplay.
They’ve done it again with The Last of Us. Instead of giving us a plain old tired deathmatch, they put a clever survival spin on the gameplay. You generally start a match without even a full clip of ammo, which means you won’t be running around shooting people willy-nilly. Every bullet has to count. What this also does is make the game’s scavenging and crafting elements more important. You’ll have to seek out resource caches and craft Molotovs and nail bombs if you want to stand a chance against your opponent. It works incredibly well, offering an experience that feels true to both the game’s universe and its unique gameplay mechanics.
There’s also a sort of minigame that goes on between rounds, which puts your in-game scavenging into a bigger context: You’re essentially scavenging food to bring back to your home camp of survivors. If you fail to bring back enough during a round of gameplay, some of your survivors will go hungry, get sick, or even die.
And, if you choose to link the game with your Facebook profile, these survivors are given names that correspond with your Facebook friends. You’ll even be given little updates about what those people are up to. It’s always hilarious to be told that your super nerdy basement-dwelling friends are trying to hunt deer in the wilderness. Or that super hot chick from college who you don’t really know that well but “like” her statuses every once in a while just to remind her that you exist? She’s usually eating raccoon or something. While I generally prefer to keep my gaming habits and my social networking habits separate, The Last of Us has managed to use its Facebook integration to unintentionally make me laugh on multiple occasions.
All of the unique gameplay elements of The Last of Us work together to encourage a more slow-paced, strategic game over trying to wipe out your enemy as fast as possible, and that’s what makes it so enjoyable.
But not everyone realizes this. In fact, there are groups of obnoxious little brats who insist on pretending this is Call of Duty. Those people are ruining the game for the rest of us.
See, it gets really damn difficult to feed your survivors when your teammates are running straight for the other team and getting themselves shot in the face. There are stealth elements here. The game’s maps are designed to give you sneaky ways to slowly feel out chokepoints rather than run in with guns blazing. If the enemy doesn’t blitz you right off the bat (which they shouldn’t unless they’re morons), you have time to scavenge at least two resource caches before getting forced into combat. If both teams are playing strategically, the game should slowly evolve from a hide-and-seek match to an all-out battle over resources as they spawn in.
Yes, this game is about resources, not KDRs.
I know I’m not the only one who understands this. I hear people complaining about it over voice chat all the time. The matches I’ve played that pitted two well-organized teams against one another (it does actually happen now and again) have been some of my greatest multiplayer experiences in recent memory.
It just sucks that the Call of Duty mentality tends to be so pervasive in a game that works so actively to discourage it. Especially when it's something as refreshingly strategic and complex as The Last of Us.