Last Year: The Nightmare Review
by: Stephen Machuga
For the better part of a year, since I saw it at Penny Arcade Expo in Boston, I have been somewhat fascinated with the 5v1 horror survival game Last Year: The Nightmare. I love asymmetrical games: Evolve, Left 4 Dead, Dead By Daylight. Anything where I can group up with some folks and take down a single overpowered character, or reverse it and play as the big bad guy and stomp some random player groups.
Last Year, created by Elastic Games out of Canada, marks popular chat client Discord’s first stab into larger exclusives. Only purchasable right now on the Discord game store, I greedily downloaded Last Year last night and played until my eyeballs bled. I’m here to give my thoughts on the game for those of you on the fence about purchasing the new asymmetric horror game.
The concept of Last Year is smile-inducing. The heroes play as a “Breakfast Club” team of high schoolers: the jock, the geek, the cheerleader, the nerdy girl, and the…ahem…token black kid (yes, that’s one of your archetypes) who get locked in their school campus with a trio of psycho killers. Each of the five kids can take one of the four class roles: assault, technician, medic, scout, and they come up with a wild plan of escape which usually involves taking X widget to Y spot on the map, holding down a button, and moving to the next area of the map.
For a first game, Elastic Games has done quite the job in putting together Last Year. First off, private servers are available, something that has long evaded other 4v1 killer game Dead By Daylight to the pain of most players. Secondly, when I logged in last night, the game worked as intended: no wild lag monsters, no randomly getting stuck in the environment, or random game glitches. A strangely polished first night out for Last Year.
As our team of streamers all played the game together, we were all figuring out the controls and in-game mechanics together. The four classes are fairly simple: assault takes baseball bats and pipes and hits the killer repeatedly. Medic heals kids grabbed or injured by the killer. A technician can create turrets (yes, you read that correctly) and build an upgraded flamethrower device to take on the killer directly. Lastly, the scout, who has the most utility on the team. They carry around this weird detection device that allows him to track if the killer is close by, with the push of a button, you can shoot out a blinding flash and blind the killer for a short amount of time, and last but certainly not least, putting him in front of your team, he can identify trapped pieces of the environment and traps that the killer is putting down on the ground. The kids can “kill” the killer, which disables him for about a minute before he comes back to life and proceeds the chase again.
The killers, on the other hand, are fairly straightforward. The game has a 15-minute clock, and your job is to delay the kids from escaping, or simply just murder everyone. From weakest to strongest, you’ve got the strangler, which has a chain whip that can be used to grab and pull trailing group members away from the team. You’ve got the slasher, who has no real utility, just a giant fire ax that can knock down a player in 2-3 hits. Lastly, you’ve got the tank, who stomps loudly and slowly, can do shoulder charges and pick up players, chucking them literally across the map. I had my ass thrown off the top of the belltower by one of these monsters to a laughably far distance away from my group. If the killer does enough damage, they can perform a finishing move and “kill” the player, taking them out of commission for a minute until they pop up somewhere else on the map where the rest of the team can “rescue” them from and get them back into play.
What makes the killers even more deadly is that at any point, if none of the survivors have eyes on the killer, the killer can teleport to almost anywhere on the map, as long as the kids don’t see them do it. It makes for some really great jump scare moments, where you’re running away from one of the killers chasing you, you lose them behind a wall or turn in the corner, and next thing you know, he’s in front of your group.
So far, the balance of Last Year is pretty on point. If the team stays together as they should, they become an unstoppable force of nature that the killer will have a hard time dismantling. The problem there then becomes people run off and do other things. Kids get grabbed by surprise traps, they run off to salvage scrap so they can build better equipment, they sprint down the hall to go rescue a downed teammate, and next thing you know, your fragile ecosystem is missing a key component. Assaults are great damage dealers…as long as they have a medic healing them, a technician dropping turrets, and a scout blinding the killer. Take any one of those away, and you’re severely hamstringing your ability to take on the killer. You can see where you’re team is at through walls and their health level, and the instant anxiety I felt anytime I looked around and realized we were in three separate small groups was surprisingly sweat producing. I lost count of the number of time I yelled out “WE’VE GOT TO STICK TOGETHER” seconds before the killer would pop out and murder one of our lone wolf teammates.
Speaking of yelled out, thanks to the magic of the Discord partnership, all players have access to pretty solid voice communications through the Discord platform, which is crucial to Last Year. Pretty clever. Less clever? All players, including the killer, being on the same channel. So you’re planning loudly and verbally in voice chat with the rest of the high schoolers, then someone goes, “Ah, crap, I got separated” out loud and the killer realizes a lamb has become lost and goes to murder them. Or you yell out to your scout to get to the front because for some reason he’s at the rear of the group, so the killer zooms ahead to set up an insta-murder environmental trap (which only the scout can see).
A few things they need to work on, which I imagine they will get it there eventually, but some sort of storefront (I can’t believe I’m saying that, but here we are), or some sort of in-game unlocks that drive me to keep playing. Dead By Daylight has its “Bloodpoint” system, where you’re unlocking various levels for your individual survivors to make them stronger. I love unlocks through gameplay, and Last Year has none of that baked in right now. I also look at Dead By Daylight, which came out over two years ago and everything that Behavior Studios has bolted on to the game over time. More survivors, more killers with different techniques, more maps, more cosmetics, more leveling up, etc, etc. As much fun as I was having playing the three maps we had at the start, there definitely needs more maps. After about 4-5 hours, I was ready to call it a night because I wasn’t really getting anything for my wins and losses and I’d played through the three maps a whole bunch at that point.
God, I hate that my brain has been retrained by microtransactions and all games having role-playing game elements attached to everything. But I need my fix.
However, for what Elastic Games has put out, they should be completely proud of the work they’ve done. What an amazing debut title for them to put out. The game works, it’s a hell of a lot of fun, the servers work, there were no connection issues, the communications that come included through Discord is genius…overall, I’m extremely impressed and had a hell of a lot of fun with Last Year: The Nightmare. I can’t wait to see what comes next!