Four years after being crowdfunded into existence, is Elastic Games’ asymmetric multiplayer horror a slash hit? Our Last Year The Nightmare review suggests the wait has very much been worth it.
Splicing horror with online multiplayer has become increasingly popular this past couple of years with Dead By Daylight and 2017’s Friday The 13th video game vying for control of this niche subgenre.
However, it was Last Year: The Nightmare that first pitched the idea of having one player adopt the role of a crazed killer, the others working together to escape them. Successfully crowdfunded in 2014, it’s been a long road to release but Last Year is finally here, launching exclusively on Discord with console versions also in the pipeline. Its thunder may well have been stolen, yet having that extra time has allowed developer Elastic Games to create a deeper, more rewarding multiplayer experience.
It’s Halloween night, 1996, and a group of teenagers awake to find themselves wandering the eerily quiet campus of East Side High School, a supernatural force lurking in the shadows, attempting to pick them off as they desperately search for a way out. Last Year presents you several playable scenarios, each taking place within a different part of the school’s sprawling campus such as the gym, library, and belltower.
The core setup will be familiar to anyone who has dabbled in either Friday The 13th or Dead By Daylight. Matches follow the same structure, tasking survivors with a series of objectives they need to complete before making a beeline for the exit. Meanwhile, the killer will need to use a combination of cunning, patience, and unpredictability to thwart their plans, wiping out all five survivors or keeping them distracted long enough for the timer to run down.
Trying to balance these two asymmetrical sides sounds like an unenviable task yet one Elastic Games has managed to pull off quite well. Survivors can select one of four classes with a cap on two of each per team. These include the Assault (doles out melee damage), Scout (highlights traps and other hazards), Technician (builds gadgets), and Medic (restores health) with players able to unlock bonus abilities by scavenging for crafting components strewn throughout the campus. You’ll each have your own role to play as part of a team though if the killer should catch you straying too far from the group you’re as good as dead.
While the teens have strength in numbers, the killer has a diverse range of tools at their disposal as well as a feature dubbed “Predator Mode”. This allows you to travel the map as if you were some kind of ghostly spectator, albeit one that can lay traps, teleport, and stage ambushes, stepping out from the shadows at any time.
There are currently three flavors of killer to choose from including the Jason-like Slasher, the hulking Giant, and the aptly named Strangler who can lasso survivors with his chain. You’ll get a chance to alternate between all three during a match because, unlike Dead By Daylight and Friday The 13th, Last Year’s killers aren’t invincible, and the game also features a respawn system.
If there’s one major downside to playing games in this tiny subgenre, it’s the permanence of death and how they force you to sit and watch the rest of a match or drop back out to the main menu. While respawns rub against the very concept of slasher films and how its heroes are often nothing more than disposable machete fodder, in Last Year they keep players involved with a chance to turn things around even if they’ve committed a devastating blunder.
Where the killer sits out until a timer expires, survivors will need to rescue their downed teammates from specific points on the map. Again, this helps create balance and while the act of busting out a fellow student requires a simple button press, there’s the chance that a killer may have booby-trapped the area in anticipation.
There’s a lot more tactical nuance to Last Year than meets the eye and it will be fascinating to see what strategies top-level players come up with. However, for those who are only starting out, there really isn’t much in the way of onboarding with zero tutorials or help screens on hand. Instead, players are left to learn everything themselves, from the basic control layout and general flow of gameplay down to the more detailed minutiae of various mechanics, upgrades, and abilities.
As a result, those first few matches are bewildering though everything quickly comes into focus. Even without stabilizers, it’s pretty easy to pick up and play and doesn’t suffer from feeling too cumbersome of choppy. Survivors will soon learn how to work together as a unit while staying clear of ambush spots. On the flipside, killers will hone their skills at using Predator Mode to quickly navigate each map, learning where best to lay traps and create chokepoints.
Last Year evokes a certain nostalgia for 90s teen horror with each of its survivors based on high school stereotypes and killers who generate terror through their seeming invulnerability rather than their appearance alone. Even though you are limited to one central location, each part of the East Side campus feels diverse and expansive even after repeated playthroughs. Elastic Games delivers when it comes to atmosphere, especially when you factor in the surprising level of detail within each environment, the great voice work, and a fitting soundtrack.
Despite being more than four years in the making Last Year isn’t quite finished, in the same way that just about every multiplayer game released nowadays is unfinished. The aforementioned lack of tutorials is something Elastic is surely looking to remedy, and Last Year could really do with a progression system. With only a handful of maps and nothing in the way of character customization, you may feel somewhat short-changed if paying the full launch day price.
These caveats are easy to overlook when the core game is this well put together. Elastic has really thrown down the gauntlet here and although fans have had to wait, Last Year: The Nightmare is easily one of the best, most inventive horror games of the past several years and one that will hopefully ply us with new skin-crawling content in the weeks and months to come.
Last Year The Nightmare review code provided by the publisher.
Last Year The Nightmare is out now on PC via the Discord Store.