‘Last Year’ is the Best Nightmare from PAX West 2018

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Whether it’s Jason, Ghost Face, or Freddy, we’ve all had a moment of “STOP!” followed by, “I wouldn’t go that way.” In Last Year: The Nightmare, an online action horror game published from Elastic Games, you play one of six characters attempting to escape a killer or in one person’s case, attempting to outsmart your high schooler prey in true slasher fashion.

The backdrop of the game is 1996, as you play horror movie tropes brought to life as a group of teenagers who wake up and find themselves trapped in their high school being hunted by a supernatural killer straight from your favorite 90s slasher. The game itself is based entirely around team-play, if you attempt to go it alone, as one of the members of my demo group did during PAX West 2018, you won’t make it, and neither will your team.  With five distinct and unique classes, each member of your group must plan a strategy that uses each other’s strengths, compensates for the weaknesses, and ultimately communicates when the chips are down and the sixth player spawns into the world ready to hunt you. There are currently three maps, which are are different locations in the high school and they will all be available at launch. But don’t worry, there are additional levels planned as part of The Nightmare‘s “evergreen content strategy.”

At the beginning of each 15-minute round, those playing the students will choose a survivor as well as one of the four currently available classes: Medic, melee, scout, and technician. Like most games, the class dictates what role in the team you play.

During my playthrough of the demo, I was a medic — which if you’ve played games with me is a class I am not that great at. Unlike other games, once your class is locked in, that is the only action you can perform. To contextualize this, as a medic, it wasn’t my role to run in and pound on the killer to release my teammate. Instead, my lack of being able to do any damage meant I needed to stay close enough to my team to not get picked off but far enough out to rush to their aid when the killer inevitably got to them and left them for dead. By healing them I could keep them in the game.

With one specific role and a few actions, team communication is key. Your technician needs to strategically place their turrets, your scout must make sure to be your eyes and ears, and your melee must be ready to take down the killer when the time comes. Not playing in unison and not communicating will result in nothing but disaster for your team.  You’ll have to make decisions on how to progress in the objectives because once you kill the villain, he’s just going to come back. Who runs sets up the escape, who recovers the materials, when do you split up, and how?

But as much as the failure of the team will land on the one person who tries to escape instead of respawning you — which involves finding you trapped in a room and releasing you — it is also because of the mechanics behind the killer. With three different killer-types released so far, the odd-person out will be able to jump between different killers with unique skill-sets. Similar to the class system with the high schoolers, each slasher has their own sets of strengths and weaknesses. Now the fun part of this game is learning what killer does what so I won’t spoil that here, especially since their identities aren’t even listed on the game’s site.

While the constant jumping between killers can get frustrating for the prey, and limiting the jumps would be one way to improve the gameplay. However, the need to be aware of the change as well as the traps littered around the high school was an element of danger and escalated the need for communication. But with the game still in development and listening to the community through there Discord, I’m sure they will attempt to find that sweet spot.

As the horror game genre has expanded over the last year with titles like Friday the 13th: The Game and Dead by Daylight, it’s easy to say that The Nightmare is picking up their baton and running with it, but you would be wrong. The Nightmare was actually in production before the aforementioned horror games and began it’s crowdfunding campaign all the way back in 2014.

Fans at the intersection of horror and gaming have been waiting. The Nightmare will be one of the first games coming to the online community platform Discord first before other platforms. If you haven’t heard and did a double take at that sentence, Discord is expanding its foothold in the gaming community by launching a store, similar to Steam, launching into the distribution service, starting first with Discord Nitro members.

Announced immediately before PAX West 2018, the game’s developers are looking to put community first by looking to its players to fuel ideas for expansions and patches. After speaking with Justin Vasquez, the executive producer of Elastic Games, the commitment to community is clear and the horizon is as gory, tropey, and nightmarish as the community can come up with.

Last Year: The Nightmare is set for release in the Fall of 2018, coming first to the Discord store.