Once again we’ve come to the slowest part of the year when it comes to video game releases: Summer. It’s a time to work through that backlog of games you’ve been piling up, buy some downloadable titles, and it’s the perfect time for a beta. Sure, you probably didn’t get into the Journey beta even after scouring the net for codes for the last week, but luckily there’s a less exclusive beta to take up all your time. The Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta is open to everyone after being exclusive to Playstation Plus subscribers for a week (which should have been everyone anyway). Uncharted has always been praised mostly for its single player campaign, but Naughty Dog has promised to throw out all the stops this year to make Uncharted 3’s multiplayer stand up there with the big boys. Can they deliver on such a lofty goal?
For those not in the know, Uncharted multiplayer is kind of like playing Gears of War with an added vertical element. Since Uncharted is based around characters that look a bit more like normal people and a bit less like refrigerators in body armor you’re able to change up the normal cover-based shooting with climbing up to different levels of the map. Once I got to know the maps inside and out I had a great time dropping down behind enemies for a stealth kill or climbing up towards them and pulling them down behind me. The bulk of Uncharted 3 is no different. There are a few tweaks here and there like the ability to aim and fire a pistol while you’re climbing and not just once you reach the wall’s edge, but for the most part if you played Uncharted 2 you’ll feel right at home.
So let’s get right into the big differences. Character customization is a big key point I see in a lot of talks from Naughty Dog and for the moment I have to say it’s somewhat disappointing from an aesthetic point of view. Messing around with different clothes for Drake and Sully is fun (although the beta has woefully few options available) but the real issue is that the pirates and treasure hunters have only one face. Sure you can change the skin tone somewhat but for now there is only one face available and it didn’t really give me the variance I’m looking for in a character customizer.
When you go beyond aesthetics the customization starts looking far better. Like in Uncharted 2 you can choose boosters for your multiplayer set up that give you slight advantages, like healing slightly faster or having steadier aim with sniper rifles, but now you also have a third booster called a kickback. While playing a match you earn medals for doing all kinds of things (I quite often get one called “Out for a stroll” which I would assume I got just for running around a lot) and if you earn enough of them you can unlock a kickback of your choosing, such as instantly spawning a rocket launcher or disappearing in a puff of smoke to get yourself out of a jam. It’s a great way to reward you for doing well, although sometimes it just makes losing that much more harsh when the entire opposing team spawns rocket launchers so they can make your online ass kicking that much more official.
Luckily there are benefits to being on the losing side as well. Every couple of minutes or so in Team Deathmatch, if one side is losing by more than 5 kills a “power play” occurs, which will in some way put the winning team at a disadvantage for about 30-60 seconds. These include making the entire team visible from anywhere on the map, giving the losing team double damage, or marking one person on the winning side that gives more points than he normally would if you manage to kill him. Normally the winning side is still going to be winning after all is said and done, but I have had a few matches where the losing side has been able to pull it out because of these power plays and I think that’s for the best. It helps add a sense of tension even if one side is getting creamed on the scoreboard. If all of this sounds terrible to you and you just want to get back to the good old days of a man and his gun without any of those damned kickbacks or power plays you can play hardcore mode where everything is turned off and it’s just you and the weapons you can find around the map. Weapon customization is also available in Uncharted 3 but again the limited options in the beta meant I didn’t play around with it too much.
The clothing options in character customization may not be fully fleshed out enough in the beta but what I did like was how you unlock some of these duds. During almost every multiplayer mode there is the chance that treasure will drop either in treasure chests randomly set around each map or off of killed enemies. Picking these treasures up not only gets you medals but it can also unlock an actual treasure for your collection, like a Jade statue of Vishnu or some silverware used by British Royalty. Collect a set of these and you unlock some new pants for Drake or maybe some shades for Sully. I really enjoyed the tension that came with everyone trying to run for a piece of dropped treasure even amongst a heated gun battle.
One addition to the multiplayer mechanics I love is the buddy system. When you come into a team-based competitive multiplayer mode you are assigned a buddy who you can respawn on as long as he isn’t currently in combat and you will always be able to see his name and symbol around the map. The best part about the buddy system is not just that it reinforces good tactics but if you and your buddy actually work as a team to kill someone you can high five over their body for a free medal. Not only is it hilarious trying to run through a firefight to knuckle bump over a dead body, but the other side is also funny as well. One of my best memories from the beta so far is coming up on two enemies who are trying to position themselves for a high five and stealth killing one right before shooting the other. There’s even a new competitive multiplayer mode which focuses on this buddy system by pitting three teams of two against each other.
Any new iteration of a multiplayer game has to come with some new modes and Uncharted 3 is no different. You have your modes from previous games, with a few changes, like the co-op arena that now has different objectives for each round. My only annoyance is that one of these objectives requires that all three players get in the same area and defend it for a certain amount of time to advance and sometimes my random online companions seem to have trouble with this concept. Also, I’m really hoping the full game has more than 3 objectives to cycle through for co-op.
You also have completely new modes like co-op stalker, where two teams of two play against each other. One team is basically playing your standard co-op mode with several treasures around the map that they are trying to get into the appropriate chests while fighting through waves of computer-controlled enemies. As the rounds progress the NPC enemies get tougher and tougher. What is different about this mode is that two of those NPCs are controlled by the other team. As the rounds progress they get access to better weapon choices to spawn with by spending medals. After spawning a couple of times as just some random goon with a pistol it’s quite exhilarating to spawn as one of the armored enemies with a shotgun and three grenades. Each team takes a 5 minute turn trying to capture as many treasures as possible and the one with the highest score at the end of both rounds wins. I was really surprised how well this mode worked because the thought of having actual human controlled enemies amongst the standard co-op opponents seemed like it would make it far too difficult to get any points, but because there are multiple treasures around the map instead of just one and you respawn infinitely instead of having a limited number of lives it wasn’t actually all that hard to score.
All in all Uncharted 3 is looking to have all the requirements for some great multiplayer: a plethora of different modes, a constant feeling of progression through earning medals, and unlockable customization to keep people coming back. High fiving over a fallen enemy’s corpse or dancing over them to replenish ammo helps to keep it feeling a little bit silly, which along with running into gun fire just to pick up an ancient Ethiopian toilet seat keeps it feeling like Uncharted. Only time will tell if all of these come together to garner the kind of community and long term support that a game like Halo or Call of Duty has, but at the very least I know I’ll be having fun come November.