Uncharted 3 Beta Impressions and Video

I held out on the HD console era for almost four years. Through late 2009, I was happy owning only a Wii, with its quirky niche titles and dependable first-party franchises. Sure, modern online features and the robust third-party support made the HD twins appealing, but I abstained admirably. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was the game that finally forced my hand.

I don't know why, but I had to have it. Whether it was the tone, the hype, or merely the timing, something about Uncharted 2 commanded me to buy a PS3. Weeks before the game launched, Naughty Dog held a public multiplayer beta; I bought the newly slimmed PS3 and jumped in. I had a great time in the trial, bought the full game, loved the singleplayer, and the rest is history.

Two years is the standard wait for a sequel anymore, and in 2011, we have Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception to look forward to. Once again, the developer has opened a multiplayer beta to the public, five months before launch. Naughty Dog has said their goal is to make Uncharted 3 THE multiplayer game for PS3. Based on my time with the beta thus far, its candidacy can't be denied.

As I did for the Killzone 3 beta, I will outline the Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta's game mechanics and feature set. I've also included clips from a few matches I played on the beta's second day (day one was a mess of empty matches and game crashes, later fixed through a title update).

For the uninitiated, Uncharted is a cover-based third-person shooter with an emphasis on mobility. Much like Gears of War, players can cling to sturdy objects and peek their guns out to fire on the enemy without exposing their entire body. Unlike Gears and most other shooters, players in Uncharted have considerable freedom of movement, and the stages are built to allow for plenty of wall-climbing, chasm-leaping, and edge-hanging combat. Up to ten players can engage in a variety of multiplayer match types, most of them team-based.

Uncharted 3 Airstrip

There are five game modes currently available in the beta.

Team Deathmatch is a standard five-on-five killfest. The first team to reach fifty kills is the winner.
Hardcore is the same as above, but with all special Boosters and Kickbacks disabled, evening the playing field between veterans and newbies.
Three Team Deathmatch is a more intimate six player affair, with three teams of two racing to twenty kills.
Free For All eschews the team format for a ten player skirmish, every man for himself.
Finally, Co-op Arena tasks a team of three humans with shifting objectives against waves of AI enemies.

Customization

Before you jump into the fray, you've got to customize your character. And there is plenty to tweak, both in appearance and abilities. Character customization was a factor in Uncharted 2's multiplayer, with its unlockable weapon and ability boosts to install on your characters, but the Uncharted 3 beta hints at even more options to support your preferred play style.

Your character models can each be individually accessorized this time around. Change Drake's jeans, swap Sully's shirts, and make your generic Mercenary and Pirate characters a bit less so. You can also create a personal emblem from a list of stencils and frames; if you perform well in a match, your logo will be featured around the map to signify your dominance (you can briefly see my crown and bloodpool emblem adorning the walls in the following multiplayer video). More articles of clothing and stencils for logos are unlocked by collecting treasures, randomly dropped by killed enemies. These treasures are only seen by you, so you don't have to worry about some opportunistic thief stealing your fashion booty.

After assembling your look, it's time to choose your arsenal. A loadout in Uncharted 3 consists of five pieces.

Your long gun is your bread and butter, the gun that will yield most of your kills. Your initial choices are the versatile AK-47, a longer range three-shot burst G-MAL, or the booming Dragon Sniper. Each can be customized with weapon mods that are unlocked by level and purchasable with experience points. The mods tend to be your standard clip augmentations and hastened reloading.

The sidearm is to be used in special situations: hanging from ledges, behind a riot shield, and on the rare occasion when long gun ammo is nowhere to be found. Your initial sidearm is a standard pistol, a capable little handgun with the power and accuracy to win a mid-range duel but a clip size that leaves no room for error. An uzi can be obtained after gaining some levels and serves as an excellent short-range counterpart to a sniper rifle. Sidearms can upgraded with weapon mods, just like long guns.

Two of your loadout slots are occupied by boosters, which provide a myriad of enhancements. One makes your movements quieter, a boon for those who like stealth kills. Another allows you to see your most recent murderer through walls for a short time, which is perfect for someone like me who spends plenty of time dying. Like weapon mods, boosters are unlocked by level and then purchased with experience points. Boosters themselves can be upgraded by levels as well: by equipping the sneaky movements booster and snapping plenty of necks, you will be even harder to hear as the booster gains levels, catering to your play style.

Finally, you get to pick one kickback, which is an instant reward for playing well in a match. In Uncharted, you earn Medals when you do anything notable (get a killstreak or end someone else's, kill someone while hanging, walk a certain distance). You can exchange a certain number of Medals for your kickback. For example, the RPG kickback instantly grants you an RPG with two rockets in exchange for fourteen medals. In the Team Deathmatch video above, I use the Smoke Bomb kickback to escape a rough situation. Kickbacks are surprise maneuvers that can steal you a couple kills or deny one for the enemy, but I haven't come across one that seems overpowered yet.

Uncharted 3 Chateau

That's the extent of your loadout, but there's one additional special ability type to be outlined: the Paid Boosters. Before a game begins, you have the option of purchasing a one-time upgrade that lasts for that one match. Maybe you're matched up against a high-level team and want to release a pack of grenades when you get shot up. Perhaps you aren't comfortable with the map that was voted on, and you want your Kickbacks to require fewer medals. Either way, it's going to cost you about as much experience as a mid-level weapon mod or booster, so these aren't expenses to take lightly. You can also grab a Paid Booster during a match if you need that extra oomph to lift your team to success.

Weapons

You aren't limited to your loadout, however: there are plenty of other things to kill people with. The blinking grenades from Uncharted 2 return, though they've thankfully been nerfed. They no longer dispense death as dependably, and you can only hold one at a time. If you're quick enough, you can even return one to its sender with a quick tap of the triangle button. Spare grenades are scattered around the map, as are other power weapons: bolt-action snipers kill in one shot (but require a reload after every bullet, like the Golden Gun), and grenade launchers and RPGs do their thing. Armored turrets are also available, overlooking open areas but vulnerable from behind.

Melee attacks work much as I remember they did in the previous game, which is the biggest offense in my book. Melee an opponent from behind and you will perform a stealth kill; that works fine. Fisticuff duels aren't so ducky, as the stilted slap-fight between two players at full health will result in mutual death after two simultaneous blows, every time. I don't know what changes I would make, but I know that I hate melee as it has existed in Uncharted multiplayer so far. You can also tango with opponents while climbing. When hanging on a ledge, you can grab an enemy above to pull them to their death. If hanging above another climber (or standing atop the ledge), you can kick them down. New in Uncharted 3 is the ability to kick sideways at other climbers, though two-lane climbing surfaces are rare in the maps available, so I haven't had the opportunity to try that.

Pace changers

Where many games strive for fairness through subtraction, Uncharted 3 seems to prioritize an exciting, evolving experience for players and has implemented plenty of features to keep you on your toes. In Team Deathmatch, this takes the form of power plays that give the losing team a helping hand. A team's power play can mark one opponent as a VIP to kill for extra points, allow sight of the enemy through walls, or even grant a double damage bonus. Power Plays are a great way to give an outmatched team a chance to save face (or even pull off an upset) or to present the winning team with an extra challenge. Having seen both ends of it, I do like the curveball that a power play throws at both teams.

In co-op arena, shifting objectives provide the dynamism. Each wave of AI enemies is accompanied by a new objective: The first wave may be a simple game of survival, holding out for a short period of time. The second wave may be a Siege, forcing the trio to scramble to a certain area of the map and kill X number of approaching enemies. The third wave may require you to carry a treasure from one end of the map to a chest in the other. The roaming nature of the match keeps players from getting too comfortable with one strategy or in one spot. And the tougher enemies certainly ramp up the excitement as well: by the tenth round, you'll be dodging several rockets a minute.

Even the maps are built for evolution. As seen in the Team Deathmatch clip earlier, the Airstrip begins with Drake and friends aboard a departing cargo plane, while the bad guys must leap between moving trucks to approach the plane. After a few minutes, this scene makes way for a more traditional stationary map, though fighter planes occasionally strafe by and fire at exposed players. The Chateau map features a spreading fire that cuts off areas of the map as it spreads. Even in the static parts of the map, you can never really stand still: there is no worthwhile area with fewer than two entrances, so you've got to be watching your back at all times. I definitely haven't had any luck camping; on the flip side, I've picked off my share of predictable prey.

Neat features

There's one crucial weapon I forgot to mention earlier: your buddy! At the beginning of every match, you are randomly assigned a buddy. You can team-spawn on your buddy (rather than randomly spawning away from the action somewhere), high-five your buddy after certain kills for a medal, and pick up treasures for your buddy. The buddy system doesn't really offer game-changing benefits, but it does create an extra sense of cooperation and a brief personal connection with a teammate. I approve.

Uncharted TV is a streaming feed in the bottom right corner of the menu screens that plays trailers and tip videos while you're waiting in matchmaking or customizing. You can unmute and expand the feed at any time. I think I remember reading somewhere before that this feature would stream random or notable matches in the full game.

Uncharted 3 Leap

Splitscreen, dual PSN sign-in is a godsend. Splitscreen multiplayer alone is an afterthought to most developers these days, so it's great to see that Uncharted 3 allows two players to play online on the same console. Even better, each player can sign in as his or her own PSN ID. It is a bit of a hassle to set up but a welcome addition nonetheless.

Facebook integration isn't just for displaying your achievements alongside your drunk pics. If you register your Facebook account, you can play Uncharted 3 with any of your Facebook friends who have also registered, even if they aren't in your PSN Friends List.

Finally, the Uncharted 3 beta also features a cinema mode. Uncharted 2 had a fairly robust video editing mode, and the Uncharted 3 beta allows machinimatographers to mess with lighting, fog colors, and other things beyond my grasp to get their killstreak videos ready for art house productions.

The Uncharted 2 beta was what convinced me that my PS3 purchase wasn't a huge mistake. It was an addictive multiplayer mode that was merely a nice bonus in addition to the excellent singleplayer campaign as far as I was concerned. Uncharted 3's multiplayer beta isn't perfect -- though it's certainly not far from it -- but it's got my faith in Naughty Dog at an all-time high. They've got four months to clean this up into a contender for the PS3's top online shooter, and I don't doubt their ability to do so. And if they don't? Well, I'll just have to be satisfied with what's sure to be a stellar solo experience.

Uncharted 3 Desert Concept

Comments

Jennifer Hale

as the multiplayer announcer... gasp

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