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Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta preview

by Xav de Matos, Jul 12, 2011 7:00am PDT

With only a few days until the Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception multiplayer beta is scheduled to end, we thought it would be a good idea to weigh in with our impressions of the upcoming game's competitive and cooperative modes.

During the beta's three week run, developer Naughty Dog has updated the game multiple times. The most obvious of these rolling changes and tweaks have come in the form of new modes and maps. This week, for example, Naughty Dog added two new maps into the equation: a co-op adventure level taking place in Syria and a competitive level in Yemen. When it first launched, the beta featured two other maps: Chateau and Airstrip.

Airstrip and Chateau feature multiple events during gameplay. Of the two, Airstrip stands out for its dramatic opening with the heroes (Nathan Drake and Co.) attempting to escape in a cargo plane while villains (those pesky pirates) chase the plane down in a handful of trucks. At first, I thought the excitement would come from keeping enemies off the plane, but the real joy is attempting to leap from truck to truck to gain access to the plane.

The trucks speed behind and to the sides of the plane, inching up to each other and giving the villains an opportunity to leap from one moving area to the next. But the vehicles move at different speeds, with some breaking away from the pack, which can quickly turn hopping players into roadkill. The first dozen times, the event is exciting. After a while, while still fun, it becomes less exciting. The chase is over too quickly and the plane's takeoff pauses the action, forcing players to watch a cutscene of the plane taking flight and both parties arriving at a hanger bay. (Note: Depending on the selected gameplay type, the first part of Airstrip and all map cutscenes are skipped.) During battles at the hanger, an air horn signals the arrival of fighter planes that circle the area and attack players on the ground.

Chateau is more subtle. The map begins with a scene of pirates burning the chateau. This bakes the environment for a while before causing the top floor of one of the map's most contested interior areas to collapse. Though I wish these events would be more dynamic (Read: not doing the same thing every time), it's a fantastic way for the world to become a useful partner when looking for kills in the middle of a heated battle.

There are a number of gametypes available across these maps. Typical fare like Team Deathmatch and Free For All are included. Another mode called Team Objective includes an interesting dynamic element with Power Plays and tasks that kick in as teams battle for top spot. Some Power Plays can make one member of a team a Marked Man, who must stay alive and hidden, despite appearing as a waypoint to the enemy team. Also available is Plunder, Uncharted's single flag CTF variant, where one team attempts to grab and capture a golden idol.

Kickbacks debut in Uncharted 3, offering a new level of in-match progression. Kickbacks are special abilities players can activate for collecting a specified number of medals. One of the my favorites is the Cluster Bomb, which turns one grenade throw into a three stage explosion. I enjoy the realistic Kickbacks, like spawning a RPG for your efforts, but the Creepy Crawler kickback that turns a player into a swarm of spiders is silly and seems totally out of place. Boosters, which return, Kickbacks, and unlockable gear differ between co-op and competitive modes.

I tend to get bored with competitive multiplayer games over time, but I have found it difficult to put Uncharted 3 down over the last few weeks. The combination of gunplay Naughty Dog tweaked in Uncharted 2 and the traversal options throughout the well crafted maps offered in Uncharted 3 make the beta a lot of fun to keep coming back to. Each area breaks into multiple paths, sometimes venturing above or below ground. It never feels like you need to take the same path to get from one area to the next because there are so many routes at your disposal.

A few things need work, though. Melee battles often end in each opponent killing each other. Bungie used to have this issue with Halo and tweaked it by adding additional power to the first strike, perhaps that could help. I also found it difficult to assassinate some players. I'd run up behind a player and initiate a melee strike when I should have landed a one-hit kill animation. I also found some issues with player spacing when trying to land these strikes, often swinging wildly in some instances but landing a shot from far away in others. These problems may be due to latency issues.

Traversal throughout the environments works well for the most part but still feels a little too sticky in certain situations. When trying to roll into a room and out of the way of enemy fire, I often stuck to cover facing my enemy. As someone who prefers to survive enemy fire, this is not a good situation to be in. Some of the traversal in levels needs work too. Airstrip has a few choice spots where grabbing onto certain objects can be finicky, often leading to me being shot in the back while I try to scale an area. Embarrassing!

I've also come to really enjoy the (just added) co-op adventure mission: Syria. It's a combination of surviving waves of enemies while attempting to complete objectives. The key to the fun for me, however, is playing with people I know. Too often I was paired with fools that were more concerned with hitting the taunt button to thrust into my player's personal space than complete the mission. The reason I like co-op is because it allows me to play with my friends and not deal with unknown riffraff. For this reason, I'm not a fan of the game's Co-Op Hunter mode. Here, two teams are formed: two player-controlled heroes versus two player-controlled enemies and a wave of fodder.

Though the mode attempts to balance things by making it impossible for enemy players to pick up weapons in the environment, it begs for balance fixes and better indication of who is AI and who is not. There's a certain strategy that you can employ with AI that is not possible with human players. Not being able to clearly discern who is "real" and who is computer-controlled makes the mode--which combines the treasure capturing of Plunder--a battle of inches. Mostly, enemy players would hover around objectives, waiting for the distraction of their AI teammates to attack from above. It just wasn't fun.

I've only played half a dozen matches in Yemen, but it's probably my favorite map. The entire experience takes place in a town with tall buildings, ziplines, underground walkways, back alleys and more. It's huge and impressive, though you can sometimes run around without finding an enemy to attack.

When Naughty Dog announced multiplayer was being added to Uncharted 2, I was one of the skeptical ones. To me the "bread and butter" of the franchise is Naughty Dog's ability to tell a great, action-movie caliber single-player story. Uncharted 2 proved that Naughty Dog could easily tackle both modes--single- and multiplayer--with the same level of quality.

Playing the Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception multiplayer beta just makes me want November 1, 2011, to hurry up and arrive. Uncharted stands as one of the best franchises of this generation and, as proven by its previous releases on the PS3, Naughty Dog offers an exceptional level of quality to gamers. My hope is that the final version of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception lives up to and exceeds that standard.

The Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception multiplayer beta ends on July 14.





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