Beta than the rest?
If you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber you should have noticed by now that the second Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception multiplayer beta is available for download. But after the un-quantified success of the first beta, “the largest in Playstation history” how is Naughty Dog’s multiplayer offering shaping up just weeks before release? Read on to find out.
It’s all in the feeling
It goes without saying that for any multiplayer shooter to be successful it needs to excel with gun in hand, and on that front Uncharted 3 certainly delivers the goods. There’s a pleasing feeling of weight to the gunplay, and it’s incredibly refreshing for a title not based entirely on hardened simulation to adequately represent recoil and the feeling of pumping your targets full of lead.
Visually, the gameplay is perhaps even more impressive, as the sprinting, running, falling and stumbling of player models is expertly captured. There’s been no drastic overhaul to the Uncharted 3 animation engine, but the introduction of subtle nuances in movement dependant on the situation, make for a deep and satisfying viewing experience.
The third-person camera and snappy cover mechanic are quintessentially Uncharted, and for success in the multiplayer arena, proper use of fire and manoeuvre are skills that need to be harnessed. There’s incredible variety in the play styles you can choose to adopt in Uncharted 3 multiplayer and whichever one you decide to go for, there’s never any lack options at your disposal.
My one complaint centres on the melee combat which can be fairly awkward and cumbersome in head-to-head confrontations. It takes two whacks of a rifle to down an opponent, and whilst this creates tension and drama, it can also lead to messy double kills as the melee blows invariably land in unison.
It’s a shame because if you manage to sneak up on an enemy unnoticed, a theatrical melee kill will be performed and these are portrayed brilliantly. The bone crunching realism displayed in some of these melee kill animations literally send shudders down the spine.
After I’d played my first few multiplayer matches in Uncharted 3 I felt instantly at home, yet still wowed and captivated at the same time. Familiarity isn’t normally seen as positive for most games, but for Uncharted 3’s new found depth in subtlety, it’s an overwhelming one.
Location, location, location…
There’s no point providing excellent tools for violently dispatch enemies online unless you have somewhere interesting to run around, and Uncharted 3 takes huge strides towards redefining multiplayer level design, with a fresh and dynamic approach.
One of the best levels in the second beta is without doubt London underground, which starts with both teams spawning on trains careering towards the main station. It’s a wonderful experience visually, but also in terms of tactical options, because the team which claims the carriage roof tops first, is usually gains the ascendency.
Just when you think you’ve got the opening part of the level figured out, Uncharted 3 throws a curve ball as the trains begin to move on tracks at different heights, changing your aerial dominance in to a dramatic weakness. It’s dynamic, thrilling, engaging, exciting and truly remarkable. Oh and that’s before you’ve even reached the main bulk of the level.
These changeable elements that are embedded in the multiplayer design make Uncharted 3 something quite special indeed, and they elevate the environments beyond anything I’ve ever played before. It’s the unpredictability which really grabs you, because every match is different, whether it’s the players or the ever evolving landscape driving it.
As you’d expect from Uncharted 3’s globetrotting locales, the variety of the multiplayer maps on offer is superb. Whether it’s the arid city streets of Yemen or the night time warfare of Syria, things always feel fresh and exciting. With more levels coming to the beta soon and the expected DLC content, this variety will only expand and improve over time.
What really makes Uncharted 3’s maps stand out though is the attention to detail shown to the vertical design. Multiplayer maps these days (besides buildings) are a very horizontal affair, but Uncharted’s wonderful climbing mechanics mean Naughty Dog are able to explore the vertical space, making it every bit as engaging as being on foot.
Every ledge has a purpose, every sniper roost a flank, every safe haven a back door which can be easily exploited. Never too big and never too small, the level design in Uncharted 3 is expertly balanced and nothing short of spectacular.
Variety is the spice of life
If there’s an area of limitation in the multiplayer beta, it’s the match types which are currently available. You only have Team Deathmatch, Team Objective, Plunder, Hardcore, Three Team Deatmatch and Free-For-All to choose from, which for a game so cutting edge in so many areas, is a little disappointing.
The most variety is found in Team Objective matches, but even then the mini-games on offer (King of the Hill, VIP, Turf War and Deathmatch) show an unusual lack of ideas. The matches themselves are always enjoyable when all the Uncharted 3 bells and whistles are factored in, but the match types themselves aren’t innovative in the slightest.
The saving grace though is the new Power Play system which radically changes the ebb and flow of multiplayer combat. If your team find themselves behind a Power Play, will be ready to hand a temporary advantage back to the losing team. Whether it’s revealing all enemy positions on the map or awarding multiple kills for downing VIPs, the Power Play system is a revelation, keeping matches engaging and competitive no matter the score.
What’s most impressive though is how Power Plays affect the behaviour of your team-mates once they become active. If a Power Play initiates against your team it instantly galvanises you as a force, and you quickly realise that strength in numbers is crucial to fend off the opposition. When your team is in possession of a Power Play the opposite applies, as you enter an ultra offensive hunt to find the enemy, striving for that big match swinging reward.
Power Plays are a wonderful addition to Uncharted 3’s multiplayer, and in all honestly they save the unimaginative match types from being one of the only chinks in Uncharted 3’s online armour.
Guns and ammo!
Initially, another area of concern for me was the lack of options available in the weapons department. You have four customisable loadouts available for use, but there are only three types of default assault rifle and one sniper rifle to unlock. I was foolish to worry though because it’s actually a very sensible design choice.
Once you enter multiplayer matches there is a much wider arsenal of weapons on offer, they’re just dotted throughout the maps, rather than being readily available to equip. What this weapon placement creates is additional focal points for conflict as teams fight for control over the most coveted weapons. It also helps to maintain the balance of matches rather than everyone entering the fray and continually respawning with overpowered equipment.
Instead, Naughty Dog have decided to add variety to the loadout weapons by providing custom versions of each model that have perks already embedded in the weapon attributes. These are unlocked by completing Treasure Sets which randomly spawn throughout multiplayer matches. From Drake’s AK47 to Alena’s G-MAL, the performance of custom weapons can be stark compared to the default versions, which makes being an online treasure hunter absolutely paramount.
It’s incredibly fun to watch how team allegiance is instantly thrown out the window when valuable treasure randomly spawns on the map and once the mad rush is over, the ensuing melee fest perhaps even more so. The weapon placement and spawning Treasure Sets add another layer of depth to the Uncharted 3 multiplayer experience, creating fierce battles in areas where normally there would be none.
That little something extra
To give your character that cutting edge in the multiplayer arena you can apply Boosters (two slots) and Kickbacks (one slot). Booster slot one focuses mainly on physical enhancements like endurance and speed, whilst slot two caters for combat based improvements like faster reloading and steadier aiming. You can only apply one boost in each slot, but with four loadouts to customise, some really interesting set-ups can be invented.
Medal Kickbacks are undoubtedly the most impressive addition though, activated by collecting medals, the XP and cash staple of Uncharted 3 multiplayer. Medals are awarded for almost every action you complete in Uncharted 3, whether it’s killing enemies, staying in cover, assisting team mate kills or taking objectives, there’s always a medal just waiting to add to your coffers.
For example, collecting ten medals in a match could unlock you a deadly RPG Kickback, four medals temporarily doubles your cash earnings and seven medals plus a rank of 35 activates a deadly Carpet Bomb of three grenades. Once the medals have been collected you simply press up on the d-pad to activate the Medal Kickback and let the chaos begin. It’s a great system which rewards a varied play style and high kill count over one dimensional play.
Do I look pretty in this?
As well as dishing out pain and admiring your kill death ratio, it’s also important to stand out from the crowd online, and Uncharted 3 gives you plenty of options with which to do so.
Just like Uncharted 2 you can play as characters from the single player campaign, but this time you can amend colours and styles to put your own stamp on Nathan Drake. Some of the more elaborate accessories are only available by collecting Treasure Sets, which is pleasing because volumes of cash shouldn’t be the only way to obtain the best items.
As well as the well-known faces there are default villain and hero character models too, and all have even more scope for customisation. Simply put, if you want to create something representative of yourself in Uncharted 3, you have more than enough freedom to do so.
To add a further stamp of individuality you can also create your own emblem which acts as your avatar in online competition. The options here are again vast, but you will need to invest some major cash to get hold of the best looking symbols.
A really nice touch is that if you’re the top player during a match your emblem will appear throughout the level on walls, flags, doors and items. Running around a corner after downing three enemies to see your emblem emblazoned on the wall is a really nice touch, and acts as real motivation to stay at the top.
Multiplayer dark horse?
One thing you could never accuse Naughty Dog of is lacking strong ideas, and in Uncharted 3’s multiplayer that’s plain for all to see. The dynamic elements of the multiplayer maps are what shine the most, but when backed up by Power Plays, Treasure Sets and the incredible variety of the gameplay, it really is something to behold.
The wealth of options at your disposal is also quite staggering. By the time you’ve tailored four different loadouts with custom weapons, perks, boosters, kickbacks and customised your hero, villain and emblem, you’ll never be short of options to further extend the multiplayer experience.
The disappointments are small and easily masked by the wealth of outstanding features littered throughout Uncharted 3’s multiplayer design. It’s also important to remember that this is still just a beta right now, and improvements will definitely be made for the retail release.
The multiplayer emphasis during this year’s holiday period will quite rightly be focused on Modern Warfare 3 and Battlefield 3. However, if exemplary level design, expertly balanced gameplay, genre redefining features and hundreds of hours of fun are your thing, then Uncharted 3’s multiplayer is not to be missed.
Oh, and the single player looks alright too…