Everyone loves a good public beta. Getting the chance to play the next big multiplayer experience, and knowing all the while that you’re helping mould the game into a better product is a satisfying endeavour. And it’s free as well. The only major problem is that there are often balancing and stability issues. That said, so far through the Uncharted 3 beta it is a solid and enjoyable product that is set to offer some of the most satisfying multiplayer yet seen on the PS3.
The first thing you’ll notice about the multiplayer of Uncharted 3 is the small interface changes. The multiplayer lobbies include some cool new features such as Facebook integration that makes getting into games with your friends easier than ever before. One of the things that really caught my eye though was a little section at the bottom right of the screen that plays a variety of trailers, game footage and developer diaries. Provided Naughty Dog keep this stocked with new and entertaining videos, this could alleviate the usual problem of having nothing to do while you wait to find a game. All these small additions add up to make a more complete package, and that’s even before we get into the specifics of the game.
The matches themselves will be instantly familiar to those who played Uncharted 2 online. The third person running, gunning and platforming make a return in style with smoother animations and graphics than ever before. I wasn’t sure if Naughty Dog would be able to top the visuals of Uncharted 2, but they have just about managed it. The animations and lighting are particularly impressive, and give life to the battles like never before.
What impressed me most though was the way set-pieces are incorporated into the matches. Little things like a few seconds of an opening and closing scene that shows you why you’re fighting the opposition, and what happens when either side wins or loses. These range from small animations as mentioned above to complete map changes. The Airstrip stage was a great example, with the first two minutes of the fight taking place on a cargo plane that is being chased by a series of Jeeps while it attempts to take off. Only when it takes off, do the players climb into the main bulk of the map to continue the fight. This kind of cinematic multiplayer is short lived enough to stay fresh on multiple play-throughs, and is just what the Uncharted series needs to make its online modes distinctive.
The map design itself is equally pleasing, with a decent mix between symmetrical and non-symmetrical level designs. My only criticism came in the form of weapon placement, as the power weapons placed on the map didn’t feel like they were at critical enough map locations to create really tense skirmishes for map control. That said, this is still a beta, so there will hopefully be some small changes like this made by the time Uncharted 3 releases in full.
The weapons themselves offer a decent variety, with your old favourites from the previous games in the series making a return. Newcomers arrive in the form of some new pistol and machine gun varieties, though we have yet to see anything wildly new and exciting. Hopefully Naughty Dog are saving the big guns (no pun intended) for the retail release of the game. More basic weapons can be assigned to a series of loadouts you take with you into the game, and players can now upgrade these weapons with sight, barrel and clip mods as they improve their ranks. Along with basic weapons, players can also choose perks (or boosters as they are referred to) that offers a series of varied and game-changing abilities.
This leads in to the paid boosters that players can choose to buy at the start of a game. You can pay out for these boosters to give you a big advantage, but they last for one game only. As you need to use the same money pool used to purchase more permanent upgrades you never get the feeling that these will become a too regularly used privilege, but the choice adds a layer of strategy to the game. Kickbacks are another element that’s new to the formula, basically emulating the killstreak system used in games like Call of Duty. You gain medals through various in-game accomplishments, and can redeem these to activate your chosen kickback ability. Some of these seemed a bit overpowered however. The Creepy Crawler kickback gained by pre-ordering with Gamestop allows players to turn into scarab like creatures that absolutely decimate the competition. They aren’t the most unbalanced powers I’ve ever seen, but Naughty Dog would do well to tone some of them down before Uncharted 3’s release this November.
When it comes to the actual gunplay there have been a variety of tune ups since Uncharted 2. The cover system and platforming elements feel quicker and cleaner than before, meaning you’ll be jumping and rolling through the maps like a flaming gazelle. The map design also helps with this, with careful platforming and climbing scoring you good vantage points at the expense of making you temporarily vulnerable. The multiplayer of Uncharted 2 felt like a third person shooter with some random platforming thrown in, but Uncharted 3 refines the two and manages to merge them into a cohesive whole.
Few competitive shooters can sustain their action with only one player though, so Uncharted 3 has made the awesome move of allowing two players to take the shenanigans online in split-screen. An annoying black border means you get a lot of dead zone between each player’s allocated screen space but, regardless of this, the best fun I had on the beta was with a buddy in tow. Co-op just has more of an edge when you’re buddy is on the couch with you. If you don’t have any real friends to high five after an awesome kill, you can now gesture to your online buddies with a collection of taunts. You can even do co-op taunts over your freshly slain victims to get extra medals in-game, though this does leave you vulnerable as a result. The taunts look a little lame if I’m being completely honest, though they do add a humorous and slapstick element to the game for those that wish to use them.
With in depth character customisation options (both in terms of equipments and aesthetics), shifting objectives in the co-op and competitive modes and cinematic multiplayer skirmishes, the Uncharted 3 beta went down an absolute storm. There is certainly room for improvement but, as far as betas are concerned, the problems present in the Uncharted 3 beta weren’t at all game-ruining. If some of the necessary tweaks are made by the time Uncharted 3 launches in November, it will be the best online PS3 game to date. It may well even go on to challenge Halo Reach and Call of Duty for online supremacy, but only time will tell if this will be the case. Either way, if you haven’t sampled the delights of Uncharted 3’s multiplayer yet, then you have something really special to look forward to this November.