Last Year: The Nightmare Review
Halloween may be behind us, but that doesn't mean there's no room for more quality horror gaming! We've had our eye on Last Year: The Nightmare (formerly known simply as Last Year) for years and just finally got the chance to jump in now that the Discord-exclusive release has arrived.
This 5 vs 1 horror outing sits in a very interesting position among its competitors, as Last Year was actually one of the earliest asymmetric horror games to be announced -- with a crowd funding campaign way back in 2014 -- but its also the dead last to see official release.
What you get here is a very different take on the style than either Friday The 13th or Dead By Daylight, but you can see pretty clear influence from both of those titles.
'90s Slashers Re-Imagined
Last Year: The Nightmare tries very hard to evoke the feel of slasher movies from a bygone era, taking its cues from the films somewhere between Freddy's Dead and Scream.
The setting is overall more bright and colorful than the relentlessly dark Dead By Daylight, but it avoids the neon kaleidoscope of colors you'd expect from anything '80s themed.
The game sits in a place of nostalgia where nerds use 3.5 floppy disks to hack computers, and there are definitely no cell phones to call for help or tablets to live stream your demise.
There's a fun variety of teenage slasher fodder, like the jock, the nerd, the ditsy girl, the cool kid, and so on, but at the moment there's no customization between them such as different outfits.
The only thing that sets one Quarterback Chad apart from another is in the four classes available to choose: medic, assault, technician, and scout. Those are pretty self-explanatory, with assault getting a melee weapon to start, medic healing other players, technician crafting turrets, and scout using tech devices to locate the killer and specific objects.
To properly create the slasher movie feel, the killer gets to pop in and out of Predator mode to turn invisible and move at greater speed. In this mode the killer can't attack, but can lay traps or hide in vents or skylights and then pop out to grab unsuspecting teenagers.
Predator mode is almost a sort of "dungeon master" view, which lets you zip around the map to terrorize the survivors, but you can't pop out of Predator mode while in line of sight or in close proximity to a player, so there's limitations to your god-like killer powers.
While the strangler, slasher, and giant killers all play differently, I do have one big gripe here with all three: I'd honestly like to see some improvements on the execution animations, which are alright but nothing special. There were way crazier kills in Friday The 13th, and right now Last Year is definitely lagging in that area.
Last Year's Gameplay VS. DBD or Friday The 13th
This entry in the asymmetric horror arena is unquestionably more newbie friendly than Dead By Daylight, which can be a little incomprehensible to players just jumping in.
There's no tutorial, but within a few matches you should have all the elements down (or you can get a leg up over the competition with our beginner guide here).
The developers have clearly seen what worked and what didn't with the competition, and they have mostly (but not entirely) done away with annoying stuff like the window juking from Dead By Daylight, where savvy players could keep the killer in an obnoxious endless loop.
One key difference between Last Year and other games of the same style is that the survivors can all fight back in one way or another, whether that's directly with a lead pipe as the assault class or with distracting turrets as the technician.
Players can also craft items and weapons by finding scrap, and its not uncommon for a group working together to turn the tables and kill the killer, who then re-spawns in a minute as one of the other two classes.
There is a clear emphasis here on working together, rather than running off and trying to survive alone. If you can avoid the overwhelming urge to do the stupid horror movie thing and scatter when the axe-wielding maniac appears, your team will get much better results.
The slasher motif Elastic Games is going for here is the high school, so there are only three maps at the moment covering different areas of the campus: specifically the library, gym, and bell tower.
While that's a very limited number of maps for an online game with only one mode, the maps all have really polished layouts, with plenty of secret passages, gated areas, windows and grates to be barricaded, shelves to hide behind, and so on.
As with the other games in this genre, your goal as a survivor is to open the escape hatch, but the method varies between each of the three levels, so you aren't interacting with the exact same objects every time.
Beta Or Full Launch?
As might be expected from a new online-only game, I experienced a fair share of bugs and disconnects in the first few days of the servers going online.
Most notably, the crafting wheel overlay can get stuck on the screen, which is very bad news. Several players in my first few matches dropped out because all they saw was a black screen while the rest of us were playing.
In a way, the Discord-only 90 day exclusive release feels a bit like the Early Access version where we are all the beta testers, while the Steam buyers down the line will get the full launch.
There are also some key features noticeably missing here that are present in Dead By Daylight and Friday The 13th. Critically, there's a complete lack of any sort of progression to keep players coming back after they've mastered all the maps.
Sadly, there are no skills and abilities to earn, no new characters to unlock, no skins or outfits to buy, and so on. For the moment what you see is what you get, although there are planned free additions slated to arrive later on.
The Bottom Line
Last Year is a game that's kind of hard to give a final rating right now, because so much depends on future changes and additions that may or may not come.
There's plenty of room for the game to expand. With the high school setting you could really do anything from aliens a la The Faculty to any number of supernatural killers who want the teeny boppers dead (hopefully not It Follows though, as that might be awkward to implement).
Ultimately, I've got to review what is available today and not what might be available three or six months from now, however. While this is a solid base of a game, I can't imagine continuing to play this version of it for months to come. With no progression and nothing to unlock, after you've played 50 or so matches this just becomes repetitive.
With some polish and additions Last Year: The Nightmare could easily be a 7 or 8 out of 10 game with an addicted base of players to rival Dead By Daylight. Right now though, I'd say it's an adequate game that won't last long without some fairly hefty additions.