Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Multiplayer Impressions

With a pair of $800 sunglasses instead of an AK-47, Nathan Drake wouldn't have been terribly out of place on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, where Sony recently held a pre-E3 press gathering to show off Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.

But while Drake obviously wasn't there in the flesh, an army of his clones was present on a bevy of Bravias to demonstrate the new multiplayer and co-op modes in Naughty Dog's upcoming PlayStation 3-exclusive sequel. That's right, multiplayer.

Multiplayer is a distinct set of missions set apart from the single-player story. In co-op, you can team up with two friends to complete missions, all the while shooting bad guys, climbing around, and working together to take part in typical team-building exercises like moving large objects and boosting one another up to otherwise unreachable areas. I joined a group with two others to try out the co-op mode. I played as Sully, who returns from the first game. The other playable characters are Chloe, and of course, Drake.

At the start of the game we were dropped in the middle of a crumbling city full of cramped alleyways, decrepit buildings, and copious amounts of waist-high walls. The action picked up immediately, and the clatter of gunfire remained steady throughout the entire demo as wave after wave of enemies advanced upon our team.

I easily settled into the controls, which remain unchanged from the previous game--the shooting feels exactly as it did in the first Uncharted. You can hold L1 and use one analog stick to aim, while moving with the other. Taking cover is imperative to your survival, and thankfully there are plenty of columns, short walls, and other sturdy objects throughout the map that make for convenient bullet shields.

Pressing the circle button will make your character automatically take cover behind the nearest object or wall. This worked well most of the time, but occasionally Sully would snap to a different object than I had intended.

Exploring the environment, I quickly found scads of ammo and weapons, including an AK-47, SPAS Shotgun, M4, and rocket launcher. I also soon discovered swarms of bad guys around every corner just waiting to shoot me in the gut. As a result, I didn't often have time to experiment with the various weapons, and instead relied on the default AK-47 with a few grenades tossed in here and there for good measure.

One of the few gripes I had with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was the abundance of enemies that seemed to absorb ridiculous amounts of damage without dying. It's an issue that I encountered many times while playing through the co-op portion of the Uncharted 2 demo as well. Often it seemed as though I had to empty an entire clip into an enemy and, if I survived long enough to reload, a good portion of my next clip as well.

If you do get gunned down in co-op mode, the screen goes black and white and your character goes down to one knee and becomes immobilized. You don't die instantly though. Instead your partners are given several seconds to come to your aid and revive you. If you're not revived within about 10 seconds, you die and respawn. Although I died many times, I was rarely revived by a teammate. I chocked it up to a lack of communication, which made it difficult to coordinate our efforts.

Running and gunning in Uncharted 2 feels similar to Gears of War or any of its recent derivatives. The difference is in the way in which you can traverse the environment. You can climb up walls, dangle from pipes, scale ladders, and perform a variety of high flying stunts. The level I played featured a few apartment buildings to climb about on, but I was usually too busy fighting for my life on the ground to fully explore the higher reaches of the map. When I did climb into a second-floor apartment or up on a precarious ledge, the higher ground offered a negligible tactical advantage.

Scattered throughout the map are large red circles that indicate where you can team up with your allies to accomplish a given task. You stand in the red circle, hold triangle, and hope that your friends get the hint and come join you and do the same to complete the action. Standing in one of the circles under a ladder caused my character to boost the others up to reach a ladder and climb a building. Another co-op moment had two characters looking on as Drake performed a Herculean feat of strength to lift a steel girder out of the way of a hole in a wall so the party could pass through to the other side.

After dying so many times and failing to progress at all through the mission, I decided to try my luck at the team-based multiplayer game. I joined a 5 vs. 5 game of Plunder, Naughty Dog's version of Capture the Flag. I was on the hero team, comprised of Drake, Chloe, Sully, and a couple unfamiliar characters. We were taking on a team of villains clad in black combat attire.

We started on the Plaza map, a few city blocks filled with architecture in an advanced state of decay from what must have been one hell of a battle. The map is more or less symmetrical, and a relic spawns in a large empty building in the center of the map. The objective of Plunder is to grab the artifact and bring it back to the treasure chest located in your team's "base". When carrying the treasure you move much slower than normal, and you can't shoot while you're lugging the big gold statue around. If you're not the lucky person with the treasure, there are helpful icons on the screen indicating which team is currently in possession of the treasure, and where they are in relation to you.

The amount of detail in the environments in Uncharted 2 is impressive, though in multiplayer you won't have much time to stop and enjoy the scenery. The map is not large, but it's chock full of weapons, cover areas, and varying levels of terrain. The two maps we played were small, so the action was always on, and it never took long to find a good shootout.

Uncharted 2 also features Team Deathmatch, the bread and butter of any multiplayer shooter. Again we played on the Plaza map, and again with teams of five. As in co-op, I didn't see many people climbing around because they were all too busy erratically shooting one another. When you kill your enemies you earn money. The purpose of the money is for purchasing special bonuses like air strikes. For example, a combat helicopter that briefly flies over the map unloading on anything that moves.

Based off what I played, there's nothing especially remarkable about deathmatch mode. It's completely formulaic, but should be well suited to quick pick-up matches if you need a break from the single-player game and still feel like blasting something.

When I first learned of Uncharted's multiplayer support, I couldn't ignore the twinge of anxiety, the thought of leaving the comfortable solitude of a story-driven single-player experience for the profane disarray of online multiplayer. Those fears subsided somewhat as I played, but I couldn't shake the notion that a generic, if enjoyable, multiplayer mode has simply been tacked-on to a series known for solo play. In fact, I left the event exactly as I went into it--dying to get my hands on the single-player game.

Of course, there's a lot of time left between now and the planned fall release of Uncharted 2--including a multiplayer beta test starting June 3--so it isn't exactly a lost cause, at least, not yet. But in its current form, I can't imagine Uncharted 2's multiplayer being anything more than a temporary distraction from the main game.

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