by Jason Parker (Ragachak)
It’s been pretty hard to innovate in the asymmetrical survival horror genre; most of the games feel and behave the same. You join a group of characters, and your ultimate goal is to survive (RE: Not die). In most of them, simply dying once is enough to put you out, but there is an occasional, limited-time resurrect/aid to be had. Then I tried Last Year: The Nightmare, which is a first-on-Discord title. That in and of itself is interesting because Discord is really starting to grow its product into what could be a contender for Steam. That’s another thought for another day. Today we’re here to focus on killing teens!
In Last Year: The Nightmare, players are transported back to 1996, to control either a murderer or a member of a group of teens. You have all the tropes you could ask for: Jock, Nerd, Girl with Braces, Cool Girl, Streetwise Teen. The 80s and 90s were rife with horror films, and it’s very important to nail the aesthetic. It’s got to feel vast, but also closed in and hopeless at the same time, and for what it’s worth, Elastic Games really hit the nail on the head there. They’ve missed the ball on a few other things, but we’ll get to it in due course.
In Last Year: The Nightmare, players either Quick Join a lobby, search for a Lobby, or Host their own games. One of the things that is definitely missing from Last Year: The Nightmare are tutorials. So far, the game is very bare bones. You can join matches, host matches, and check the leaderboards. The gameplay isn’t all that difficult, but I do think it would definitely be more welcoming with tutorials. Most of what I figured out that I could do came from playing other asymmetrical games. The teens’ goal is to get out, and the killer’s goal is to murder them in horrific, awful manners. The game picks who will be the killer, but you can vote on it if that’s your preference. Each map will have its own objectives, with the ultimate goal of reaching the open escape route before time runs out. They have 15 minutes to get out, and anyone who is left behind?
Well, the killer gets them. Despite only having a few maps to choose from, I will say they are pretty vast, and there are lots of items to scavenge from, and plenty of ways to approach each map. Even if there’s only one goal, there are lots of places to hide, run through, or get ambushed in. As a teenager, you have characters to play, and from there they pick a specialization. You have Assault (Bash ‘em with a lead pipe), Medic (Heal up those nerds), Scout (Detect evil killer energies and blind them), Technician (Build a turret to shoot the killers). You can only have two of these per team, so there’s tactical gameplay there, and figuring out exactly who is good at what. Honestly, the Assault felt kind of weak, and the Technician felt incredibly strong. The characters all have fun quips as they’re progressing through the maps, and it’s just as kitschy as I thought it might be. It’s all stereotypical and trope-filled, which I love.
As the teens scrounge through boxes and cans, they can improve their usefulness (a stronger weapon, better shots from their turret, et cetera). Should you die, you lose these improvements, so it’s very important not to die. But if you do die, it’s not the end of the world! This is something I definitely wanted to highlight. In every other game in this genre I can think of, if you die, that’s it. But this comeback mechanic is a great idea because if you are one of the people that die all the time (and early) like me, your team can bring you back as more cannon fodder, or for a moment of brilliance that saves the day. This forces both parts of the game to stop, and think about what their next plan is: Do you save your friend, or try and get out alive on your own? Remember, if time runs out, so does your life.
If you die, you get dropped in a room where the players can find you and rescue you. The killer, however, can trap these, or simply lurk in wait at them for you, then kill you. It’s important to note, even if the Killer is in his Predator Mode, he can’t leave it while he’s close to a teen; he has to get out of sight. On that gameplay note, let’s shift focus over to the Killer. They have access to (as of now) three different killers, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. There’s the Strangler, who pulls people with a chain and chokes them to death; the Butcher, who hacks people down Jason/Michael Myers style; and the Giant, who is a slow, rumbling behemoth who can throw people around.
These killers are not invulnerable, unlike other games in this genre, so that’s another fun moment. If a killer should die, you have a nice, long respawn timer, and then you can pick another killer. The ones that have already died (if you’re bad like me and have multiple killers die) will eventually revive and can be selected again. If the teens aren’t working together, they’re easy pickings. I’ve also noticed that there are some definite bugs here. I was able to hook people on the Stranglers chain through walls/around corner, missing them completely, yet still dragging them to their doom. And if I didn’t look up the keybindings, I would have had no idea what my buttons do as a killer.
In addition to the killer power, they can also enter “Predator Mode”, which makes them faster, and can teleport around. They can’t attack from this form, but they can’t be harmed either. This is where you can set traps on the ground – either shock traps or bear traps to clamp down on their legs. Did you catch a teen and want to lure them in? Set traps here at their door! You can also set out props for the teens to find (EG: gas for the lift in the Gym), and set traps around them and lie in wait for the foolish teens to show up. You’ve got fifteen minutes, make them count. I recommend almost always traveling in Predator Mode, it’s much faster. Especially the Giant, who moves remarkably slow. It seems pretty fair for both sides, which is nice. The killers aren’t invulnerable, but they are still powerful and you certainly have options. I’m hoping there will be more killer options added in the future, so you can select a load out of them.
You and Your Friends are Dead: 4/5
Remember when I said it was barebones? That’s a serious drawback to me. Most of these games are free-to-play and have some manner of unlockable cosmetics to pick up and work towards. All you get for winning these matches is the knowledge that you survived, and a place on the leaderboards. There’s nothing to work towards, and I can see people getting bored with that at some point. I’m not suggesting put lootboxes or anything, because as a retail game, that’s the last thing I want. I do feel like players will need something to try and earn in these matches because everyone loves a good reward. I’m glad they don’t have passive skills to upgrade, but cosmetics/some goal to work towards would make this feel far more enjoyable.
Thankfully, the actual gameplay is superb. The occasional poorly connected lobby does not in any way deter from the actual gameplay being sharp. Last Year: The Nightmare is a well-designed asymmetrical horror/survival title, that really captures the 90s aesthetic and all that came with it. The maps might be huge, but I feel alone in them, even with a team nearby. I tried to record video for this game several times, but each time it made OBS Studio freak out and wound up coming out useless. There have been people streaming it, but the video did not work for us this time. Still, this game has all of the old horror movie tropes without the killer being an impossible enemy. Make sure to find the game on Discord for $29.99.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.