New, yet still familiar
Survival is a theme that permeates every facet of The Last of Us. This is especially true of the oft overlooked multiplayer component. Eschewing the heartfelt tale of the campaign, it pits two warring factions against one another in a bitter conflict over the last vestiges of supplies in Naughty Dog's post-apocalyptic world.
Small teams of scouts compete across three game types, venturing outside their communities to bring back enough parts to keep their jury-rigged machine of a society running. As these groups become more desperate they venture further and further away from home. In doing so they eventually cross paths with similarly bold and determined individuals -- people more likely to give you a bullet in the skull than a can of beans.
The Last of Us: Abandoned Territories Map Pack (PlayStation 3)
The Abandoned Territories Map Pack arrives with four new theaters to complement the seven that came equipped with the base game. And for players like myself that have been actively competing in the same arenas since launch, the added sense of variety from a clean slate of new environments is definitely appreciated.
Much of what makes The Last of Us such a unique competitive online experience is pulled directly from the campaign. Life is precious. Ammunition is limited. And you're always going to be scrounging around for some random objects to fashion into a weapon.
Teams start out on opposite sides of the map, but will eventually be forced to converge out of necessity. Players that hole up in one spot will eventually run out of ammunition, while their opponents and teammates acquire Molotov cocktails, shivs, and valuable parts necessary for fashioning powerful weapons like shotguns, flamethrowers, and machetes.
The layout of the maps is critical in this regard. A huge aspect of the mutliplayer just comes down to learning about your surroundings, puzzling together the most efficient routes to supply-laden toolboxes, and finding all the myriad of little nooks and crannies where deadly bombs or lurking foes might be hiding.
That makes the prospect of new locations both exciting and vexatious. This is a nuanced and abrasive experience. And as ready as I was for a breath of fresh air, it took a couple weeks to get comfortable and familiarize myself with the intimate details and minutiae of these new playgrounds.
The Bookstore takes place in a single darkened building with some outdoor areas around the perimeter. Naturally, there's plenty of large bookshelves and leaves of paper strewn about the place. Quarters are cramped for the most part, with combat taking place in small rooms, long halls, and on catwalks. However, some of the exterior spaces surrounding the shop (in addition to a large atrium in the center of the map) afford a bit of breathing room.
This little neighborhood sports a lot more open space but has some claustrophobic areas as well, featuring a number of derelict houses separated by a central road with spacious yards on the flanks. Abandoned cars provide plenty of cover, preventing would-be snipers from having too much of an advantage. In contrast with some of the other arenas, it would almost be a cheerful idyllic spot if you didn't know any better.
My favorite of the bunch, this map vaunts a long stretch of road. The scene is dotted by cars and partitioned by a heavy iron gate that's cracked just wide enough for a single combatant to slip between at a time. Two networks of multistory buildings run parallel to the street, accommodating teams with plenty of routes to move around the wings if things are getting too hot up the middle. There's even a pipe serving as a crawlspace that charmingly triggers the sounds of barking dogs.
This map is reminiscent of the Downtown map from the initial set multiplayer veterans are sure to be familiar with. It's dark and eerie with trashcan fires aplenty. There's an inordinate amount of debris and rubble littered about the ruined streets and buildings, offering plenty of cover and modes to sneak up on unsuspecting opponents.
Because these environments are inspired by locations Joel and Ellie visit in the story mode, the maps all feel fairly familiar and uninspired. All four take place in urban areas with plenty of overgrowth and wreckage, meaning the package lacks the diversity seen in the original set with the Lakeside and Dam levels. It might have been nice to see Naughty Dog go the extra mile and craft something unique like a desert or coastal locale.
As it stands, the Abandoned Territories Map Pack does an admirable job at injecting some viridity into the online experience. It just seems like the developer is biding time until its ready to reveal new pastures, rather than merely reminisce in ones we've already left behind.