Uncharted 2: Among Thieves multi-player preview

icon_previewThe sequel to one of the most highly rated games of the PS3, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, seems to be revving up for quite an impressive late 2009 release, as is evident from the mind blowing game-play footage shown at E3. However, the creative devils at Naughty Dog have blessed some of us mere mortals with a chance to get our hands on the zany adventurer a lot earlier, meaning at this very instance, in the form of the Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (UC2) multiplayer beta. Hallelujah!

The beta offers a full spectrum of the various multiplayer modes offered by UC2, which include co-operative play and two competitive modes – Deathmatch and Plunder. Before reviewing each mode, it would be unfair not to mention the fact that the game looks simply spectacular. The previous iteration of Uncharted was absolutely stunning and it seems like there is no stone being left unturned to make sure that the sequel is anything but the definition of the word ‘gorgeous’. The character models are top-notch and the animations are as varied as those of the first game. The world of UC2 beta consists of colourful levels reminiscent of the by-lanes of Old Delhi and Kolkata, the latter being no surprise since the game takes place in Nepal.

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Coming to the different multiplayer modes, the first mode offered is the co-operative game which must be played with 2 other players in the level called Nepal Warzone. This level is mostly based on the single-player level shown in the very first gameplay footage of UC2 which was leaked a few months ago; the one in which a truck comes crashing and blows up in the cramped city square (that doesn’t happen here though). The 3 players take charge of Drake and Sully from the first game and the new buxom brunette bombshell named Chloe, and start off in the direction of treasure as indicated by Drake.

There are times when the players will be defending off an onslaught of enemies coming in from all sides, as well as times when the players would be working together to advance further by either clearing up a blocked pathway or climbing up buildings to reach certain objectives needed to proceed further. The latter would last a small fraction of the 10 minutes needed to clear the level, the rest being utilised to duck, roll and shoot. Drake and the others can run ahead and beat up the enemies using melee attacks as well, which sometimes backfire when there is body armour involved.

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Adversaries can also grab players in neck holds, which can only be broken free by intervention from other players. Reviving fallen comrades before they die can also be done in a small window of time by going near them and pressing and holding the Triangle button on the controller. Strategy and platforming can play important roles in tackling the enemy AI by flanking them from different directions, which comes in handy especially for enemies carrying riot shields. As mentioned earlier, the fun lasts roughly 10 minutes, the time needed complete the level, ending at a cliff-hanger, which is rather unfortunate, since the retail release is still months away.

The other modes offered by the beta are the competitive standard Deathmatch and a Capture the Flag mode called Plunder. Both of these require exactly 10 players to be in the party, which is then split in two and assigned to play as either heroes or villains. Certain boosters like increased accuracy of certain weapons and an increase in ammo which can be carried or picked up, can be applied before the game begins to enhance the multiplayer experience. The player can also select their preferred hero and villain character.

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The standard Deathmatch mode is just that; where players attempt to get maximum number of kills and the team which succeeds in doing so combined wins. The Plunder mode is a whole new level of mayhem altogether, where teams without a gameplan are sure to go down. Here, treasures placed at neutral locations on the map must be carried off to the base to score points, the catch being that carrying one of these would make the player move a lot slower and be able to use his pistol only. He is free to drop the treasure or throw it a good distance, or even vertically to have it reach closer to the target point, which may be placed higher.

There are two maps to choose from in each mode – Village Ruins and The Plaza, with the latter being smaller than the former. Both levels contain a plethora of crumbling buildings and other structures, and look like they barely survived multiple air strikes. “Death from above” takes a whole new meaning with the vertical platforming abound in both levels. The ability to climb on and jump between rooftops provides the multiplayer modes with a new coating of originality rarely seen before. It feels like a whiff of fresh air and is exciting enough to make it almost impossible to stop playing.

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Movement in the game models is pretty slick with Drake and company being able to climb, jump over and latch on to just about any concrete structure. With cover and dodge actions mapped to Circle on the controller, escaping enemy fire is usually effortless if reacted to quickly enough. Of course, since not many would prefer to fire from the hip while in motion, the increased accuracy of aiming and firing does come at the cost of break in motion. The cover system is well implemented, so getting killed while standing in the middle of nowhere usually means the game is not being played the way it is meant to be.

Humiliating the opponent can be accomplished using a wide variety of guns ranging from light pistols and long range rifles like the AK47, to heavy hitters like Gatling gun and grenade launchers. Apart from carrying 2 weapons at a time, one of which must be a light pistol, the player can also carry a couple of grenades which can be flung at will using the L2 button. The grenades are possibly the most powerful of the lot, offering one-hit kills to multiple foes. Of course, the melee attacks made famous by Drake’s Fortune make an appearance in the multiplayer, albeit without any quick-time events accompanying them. The melee gives a whole new angle to the game play by introducing elements of stealth, where a player can bring down a Gatling gun wielding baddie by just a couple of hooks from the behind. Needless to say, it feels extremely satisfying.

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Worth noting is the fact that the game is completely lag-free, which might sound like a bold claim indeed, but one that was well tested for this review using all sorts of connections ranging from 256 kbps to 1 mbps, playing as host and non-host and having a combination of Indian and foreign players in the party. If the net code of the beta was this amazing, one can only imagine what the finished product will play like. There were a few times when matchmaking was taking its sweet time, probably due to the lack of servers allocated for the beta, otherwise finding players to play against usually took less than a minute. The beta has its fair share of graphical and game play glitches as well including the screen going completely yellow at times, walls becoming transparent, treasures disappearing from the Plunder mode mid-game and the console restarting itself on quitting the game. Hopefully, some of these would be fixed before the beta ends. Also, at the time of writing, certain modes in the beta were locked – custom games and the cinema mode – which could perhaps, be unlocked as the beta progresses.

There are some nice subtle touches in the game like the one in co-operative mode when Chloe ass-slaps Drake while he’s holding up a fallen pillar, halfway through the level. These little noticeable cues provide reaffirmation of faith in the developers paying enough attention to the multiplayer mode of UC2 to make it truly shine like the single-player campaign from the original. Even if it’s half as good, there would be more than enough engaging gameplay to make Uncharted 2: Among Thieves one of the best titles of 2009.

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