Horror-centric multiplayer games have been commonplace for awhile now. From older games like Left 4 Dead (which somehow is turning a decade old this year) to more recent entries like Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th: The Game, the horror space has had some standout entries over the years that pit normal characters against those of monsters or slashers that are made famous from film.
Elastic Games is the next studio stepping up to the plate to deliver another game of this ilk with Last Year: The Nightmare, an asymmetrical multiplayer experience that pits a group of high school teens against that of stereotypical murderers you’d probably see in a scary movie. On paper, it’s very similar to games like Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th: The Game but what Last Year: The Nightmare does more correctly compared to its competitors is that it recognizes the longstanding tropes associated with horror and leans directly into them for an experience that is more wacky and fun than it is horrifying.
I played a round of Last Year: The Nightmare during PAX awhile back to get a better idea of how it will flow. Before a round begins, you get to choose which high school teen cliché you’d like to play as, with each class containing their own unique skills. The jock character, appropriately named Chad, is a more physically imposing character while the nerd character, named Nick, is better at crafting new items to use. Each match in Last Year: The Nightmare features 6 participants with 5 of them playing as these high school teens looking to escape the environment they are in with one other player taking control of the killer role, of which there are 3 different classes to choose from.
The biggest change between Last Year: The Nightmare and its predecessors is that you can respawn within if you are to get killed. It seems like a minor change at first, but being allowed to get back into the action if you get hacked to pieces within the first two minutes of a match is far less hardcore of an experience than something like Friday the 13th and for less of a stress-based vibe. Assuming your fellow players can come to your rescue, you can then hop back into the action and continue working on escaping.
What’s even more great about this is that it allows you, when playing as one of the teens, to even further enjoy your cinematic death. Much like its contemporaries, if you get attacked in the right moment by the player utilizing one of the slashers, a cinematic sequence begins showing your character dying in a gruesome manner. These moments are the highlights of each match and their over-the-top nature provides for more laughs than it does squirming. Being able to know that you can respawn a few moments after dying, it affords you to have a laugh at the expense of your own character and doesn’t require you to exit back to the lobby and begin searching for another match.
I also found the level design to be immaculate and really, much like the characters, leaned more heavily into the tropes associated with horror films. The level I played in was that of a high school but when I asked Elastic Games’ Justin Vazquez about other locations, he told me to just basically list any generic place you’d typically see in a horror film and said that those have all been considered as locations they want to add down the road. Some of the ones I mentioned were an old farm, a summer camp, a neighborhood, and a few others. Vazquez didn’t confirm that those exact locations would be arriving, but his face lit up when I began to understand more of what this game is going for and how much content it has to work with.
And that above all else is why I’m optimistic about Last Year: The Nightmare. It’s not only really fun to play, but Vazquez and the rest of the team at Elastic understand that horror movies, despite their serious nature a lot of times, are usually goofier than they are legitimately scary. They’re out to create a self-aware product that leans more into the stupidity of those classic films rather than trying to be overly serious and that shows in even the smallest amount of playtime within Last Year: The Nightmare.
Playing fast and loose with these tropes is a winning formula and more than anything is just fun. I know this is somewhat of a cliché in and of itself to use when talking about games, but it was hard not to just smile the entire time I was playing Last Year: The Nightmare. I can only imagine how much more amplified that enjoyment would be if I were playing with some of my personal friends.
Everything I saw and played of Last Year: The Nightmare seems very promising and I have no doubt that it’ll make waves in this “Let’s Play” and live streaming era that we’re living in. This is a multiplayer game all about moments and I’m sure many of those moments will ensure that this game finds an audience. I’m excited to see more of it when it releases later in 2018 and I’m hoping that it eventually can make its way to consoles. At launch though, it’ll only be available on PC and will come first to Discord as part of the app’s new game store initiative.