Preview: Uncharted 3 multiplayer

I remember two years ago, when a lot of people were skeptical about the multiplayer component in Uncharted 2. Yeah, that went well. Right now, Uncharted 2 has the most online activity out of any other Sony first-party game, and it was always Naughty Dog’s intention to take the multiplayer to the next level, or in their words “compete with the big boys”, in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

Let me be honest here, you won’t be blown away by the graphics like you did when you first laid eyes on Uncharted 2, and it’s mainly due to the fact that it hit the graphical ceiling in a spectacular fashion. Sure, the art design is lovely, but what makes Naughty Dog so great is their attention to detail; little things like when you reload your gun and the magazine falls down, it bounces around and can be shot to break it into little pieces, or the tire compression when a plane takes off. There are quite a lot of improvements, though. The fire effects are truly a sight to behold, slowly eating away at the wooden floors till they collapse, and probably taking an unfortunate soul looking for a Mag – 5 revolver cleverly placed there with it.

Naughty Dog has introduced lots of new gameplay mechanics in Uncharted 3, and to some extent, it can be overwhelming at the start. Most Uncharted 2 players know how the 1.05 patch divided the community, mainly due to a massive reduction in health, which made it a bit like the other dudebro shooters out there. The good news is that Uncharted 3 feels like a pre-1.05 version of Uncharted 2, so it doesn’t turn into a game of ‘who shoots first wins’ and you can actually escape alive from detrimental scenarios.

The first thing you’ll notice is the Uncharted TV feature. It’s a great distraction, streaming trailers, announcements, top kills by other players, and generously eating your bandwidth while you wait a few seconds to find a game. The presentation and user interface is extremely slick and functional, but I’m not really fond of the font, but hey, it’s insignificant, right? There are plenty of character and weapon customisations available, which you unlock by ranking up or finding specific treasures in the game, along with plenty of modes like the usual Team Deathmatch, Free for All, Team Objectives and the returning Plunder mode from Uncharted 2. There are also two co-op modes that pit you against hordes of enemies.

There are two maps currently available in the beta, namely Airstrip and Chateau, and a third one, Yemen, will be available in the later stages of the beta. The Airstrip map sports a somewhat dull color palette, and offers plenty of platforming opportunities. The Chateau features a multi-tiered worn out building, offering plenty of close-ranged action. If you’ve played the Uncharted 2 multiplayer, you will be familiar with most of the gameplay mechanics on offer here. There is a lot of emphasis on vertical traversal, which brings a lot of dynamism to the gameplay.

Naughty Dog has tried to weave their trademark cinematic sequences into  the multiplayer gameplay, resulting in some thrilling moments. When you start a TDM game in the Airstrip, you are put in a setting where several trucks are chasing a plane, and the firefight that occurs there in real-time is exhilarating. Before deploying, you can create your loadout and assign boosters to mold your character the way you see fit.

One of the unique features in the game is the Power Play, where the losing team gets temporary bonuses like, defend/kill the VIP, double-damage and wall-hack (okay, reveal all players), which helps them fight back and keeps the winning team on their toes, but can also be countered easily with proper teamwork. Then we have the medal kickbacks. You get medals by killing people, or picking them up from a chest, and once you’ve collected a specific number of medals, you can get a special temporary boost for your character; this can be anything from a rocket launcher to the fast sprinting ability.

To encourage teamwork and camaraderie, there is a new buddy system. You are assigned a buddy at the start of the game, and if you kill someone with a combined effort, you can perform a high-five, which gives you a small cash bonus. It’s always tricky trying that out, since you’ll be letting your guard down. So if you see a grenade coming your way, you’re nothing more than a deer in the headlights. You can also spawn on your buddy, when he is not facing heat himself.

I’ve sank an abnormal amount of time in this beta, which is probably the best compliment I can give to its addictive structure. It’s a combination of platforming, medal kickbacks, satisfying weapons, boosters, and the “ca-ching” sound when you kill someone that make the gameplay so enjoyable. Naughty Dog hasn’t tried to do something radically different, but built on what made Uncharted 2 multiplayer so accessible and fun. I believe it is the best way to go about it, since satisfying the loyal fanbase goes a long way towards maintaining an active community. There is a lot of replay value on offer here, and considering that the series originally started as a fantastic singleplayer experience, Uncharted 3 is shaping up to be the perfect follow-up to one of the best games ever made.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is scheduled for release on November 1, 2011 on PS3. It will be available in India via Milestone Interactive for Rs 2,499 (standard edition). Special edition prices are yet to be announced.

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