With everything you’ve got you pull yourself up and without looking back for a single second break out into a full sprint. Every sinew and muscle of your body crying out for a break, straining and bulging as you exert every fiber of your being to get yourself as close to the exit as possible. Skidding to a stop you desperately grab a hold of the valve and frantically begin to twist and turn until suddenly it snaps off and the gate ahead groans to life, creaking open. You look back, one of the fellow students is standing right next to you, two of you already lay broken below, and you can’t even imagine the state of the last one of you.
Out of nowhere you hear a scream and suddenly he’s here. You have enough time to see him snag the poor defenseless soul next you, hear the crack and snap of his bones and boom, like a bullet shot straight outta hell you blitz through the gate and charge desperately, maddingly ahead towards the exit. It is right there ahead of you, the narrow walkway above the school gym you find yourself on shakes and tremors with every madcap step and jump. It’s just you, just him, just the exit and it’s all coming to a head, his breath cuts right across the back of your neck and your heart all but beats right outta your chest and into the nearby county it’s going so fast. With one final mad push you hurl yourself forward towards the exit, towards safety, towards freedom.
This is every second, every scene, every moment of Last Year: The Nightmare the newest game by studio Elastic Games and a brilliantly realized love letter to the era of 90’s self aware horror stories, with films such as Scream being the most obvious and powerful inspiration. It’s not just Scream though, Last Year is a wonderful cocktail of of Wes Craven films, Michael Myers, Friday the 13th, and more recent tongue in cheek tales like Until Dawn which are very much in on the joke.
Last Year is a cooperative multiplayer experience in the mold of last years Friday the 13th or Dead by Daylight. Yet unlike those games which sought a realistic life and death gameplay system where once a player died they would be forced to spend the rest of the match on the sidelines, resulting in cases of waiting nearly 20 minutes before you play again, Last Year instead, to paraphrase one of the developers, chose fun over realism. Last Year has features to make the total experience more enjoyable for everyone involved. From an incapacitated feature serving as a sort of middle ground between life and death and also the ability to be able to be brought back by any one of the other teenagers still alive simply by heading over to a marked door on the map and opening it to allow them back in, Last Year never wants you to go to long without action.
This allows for any given player to never have to go long stretches of time without playing and also allows for a more constant pace of action then something like Friday the 13th offered. Teamwork is also a requirement in a way in which it never really was for Friday or similar games. Whereas in many cooperative multiplayer games the co-op section almost seems optional, here in Last Year it very much is required if you seek any hope of actually escaping. Different classes, roles, and responsibilities force the five teens to count and relay on each other with communication a key aspect of this. From a medic, to a more engineer role, to a stronger more brute character they all come together to have a cohesive and unified team with the collective goal of getting past the scary monster in the closet.
Actually playing as the monsters is a different experience altogether. Power runs through you as you smash through doors, shatter walls, and break, snap, and twist the poor motley crew in front of you. Whether as any one of the three monsters present in the game, the Giant, the Strangler, or the Slasher you present yourself as a terrifying entity, each with a different, diverse skill set and strengths and weaknesses. From a more lumbering but massive behemoth that is the Giant, to Slasher who is most classically designed horror film baddie, looking very much like a maskless Jason Voorhees, to the Strangler who is the quickest and most agile of the bunch, and also as an editor’s note the most horrifying to look at. The various monsters of the game are a gloriously gory delight to behold.
Yet, it’s working together as the five teens where the game really shines. Racing across the map to try to complete all the various objectives necessary to allow the final frantic sprint to the exit is an enthralling and utterly madcap ride one rife with cinematic and yet spontaneous moments. Speaking with one of the developers he specifically mentioned how he wanted the game to be cinematic and this is something that is absolutely nailed in the game. Each and every match of Last Year is unique and special precisely because of those tiny little moments that define and build an experience and story for every individual player. Whether it be my story at the opening or one of my fellow editors failed quest for safety or anothers pulse pounding slugfest with a giant Last Year opens itself up to be an experience chock full of deliriously goofy, bloody, and brilliantly cinematic gameplay and a story crafted out of the players own frantic actions.
Last Year: The Nightmare is a wondrously over the top game. One dripping with humor, sarcasm, and blood it is a lovely homage to decades of teen slasher films that kept generations of children awoke and lit their minds ablaze with ideas of Freddy, Jason, Michael, and more chasing after them. It is a smart, clever game as in on the joke as titles like Until Dawn or Scream and one that glories in rolling around in the classic high school stereotypes and then slyly subverting them. Above all else though Last Year is an unabashed joy to play, to experience, and to savor, one that will leave you laughing, shouting, and out of breath long after you sat the controller down and walk away.