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Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - Multi-Player Beta Overview & Impressions

Feature; Jul. 19, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Tyrone M. Cato
Subtypes: Opinion, Preview
The Beta is over. What was the good, the bad and the ugly?

My footsteps echoed through the alleyways of a nondescript city in Yemen. The old Arabian architecture encircled me, its brick archways and buildings casting long shadows across my path. I ran past quaint homes and vegetable stands which were deserted, yet they didn't look abandoned; it was as if the owners and residents had left in a hurry, perhaps because of the large-scale gun battles that were taking place.

Airstrip Explosion

The gunfire sounded distant, so the action was currently on the other side of town. Pistol with an extended magazine in hand, I made my way up a nearby tower via a ladder. After glancing around to make sure no one was about to shoot me in the back, I carefully reached the top. Curled up against the wall of the tower's bird nest was an enemy sniper.

I sneaked up behind him and opted to shoot and then pistol whip him across the head to finish him off. I leapt for the zipline that connected the tower to a balcony across the courtyard. It was after I began sliding down it that I noticed the enemy armed with an RPG below.

He was aiming up. Without time to think it through, I let go of the zipline and tossed a grenade at him while still in free-fall. The foe's rocket streaked past me. Its smoke trail and I lingered in the air for the briefest of moments above the city. I hit the ground, rolling past him just as my grenade landed at his feet (which, at that moment, I didn't notice). He was reloading, and we were both turning to face one another; I was ready to take aim with my pistol in the hope that I could take him out before he blew me away.

The explosion sent his body up into the air and then at my feet. I stepped over him while reloading. There was no time to process the last 20 seconds, for more danger lurked just around every corner -- of which there were plenty. I rushed forward, enveloped in the alleyways once more.

This small moment of action had me at the edge of my seat in a way few other action games or films have. Naughty Dog (ND), developers of the Uncharted series, have strived to allow the above situation, and countless other unscripted action-sequences, to happen in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception's (UC3) multiplayer environment. With the positive reception of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (UC2) action-packed single-player, ND has voiced the desire to make UC3’s multiplayer as cinematic as the previous game’s campaign.

That's a considerable challenge, considering how many of UC2's best moments were made exciting because of how well they were scripted; trying to bring the cinematic action of single-player to the almost entirely unscripted world of multiplayer is the feat ND seeks to perform.

As with UC2, ND has held a beta for the game's multiplayer component before release in order to work out kinks/fix balance issues/give PS3 owners the taste of game developer's heroin in order to make them hopelessly addicted to their product, etc.

ND's first foray into online multiplayer world with UC2 was a surprise success. While barren compared to other more established games' PvP modes, UC2's had fundamental appeal because of its emphasis on travel. Feats such as climbing up uneven bricks in a wall in order to pull an enemy down and then firing at another while still hanging off the edge of a railing was a tactic that was not offered in other mainstream multiplayer games. For the most part, ND was able to craft an awesome multiplayer that kept people playing long after they finished the main campaign.

With the close of the UC3 multiplayer beta (which also happened to be the most active PS3 beta ever), there’s a lot to think about before the final game ships.

Modes

Team Deathmatch:

This mode used to be "deathmatch" in UC2 because there was no free-for-all mode, but it's now the quintessential Uncharted multiplayer mode. Two teams (heroes and villains) made up of five people each face off. The first side that gets 50 kills wins.

Team Deathmatch

Before, if players left a game, the teams would end up lopsided, and there was nothing to be done about it. Now, ND has allowed for people to join games already in progress (and that goes for all multiplayer modes, co-op or competitive).

Each level, when played in Team Deathmatch (TDM), starts with a cutscene that's different depending on the level itself and which team you're on (heroes or villains). 

Team Objective:

The two teams receive various objectives (gasp!) that must be completed. The first team to win three objectives, such as king of the hill (players try to take control of a hill for their team) or chain reaction (five areas each team fights for control of), will win.

Three Team Deathmatch:

Three teams of two. You and a partner versus two other pairs. An interesting change of pace. Much less hectic than some of the other modes, yet the confrontations tend to be all the more intense because they're much more intermittent.

Free-For-All:

Every man for himself. This mode is brand new for the series. The first player to reach 15 kills wins. Sometimes it was fun.

Plunder:

A variant of capture the flag. A gold idol is fought over by two teams of five; each side has a treasure chest. Each team must get the idol to their chest to score.

This mode was as intense as it was in UC2. The only thing that hindered the experience was a glitch that got the idol stuck outside the Chateau map (which was usually done on purpose in order to lock the current score in place, turning the game into Team Deathmatch).

Hardcore:

No boosters (tweaks to the player's abilities assigned on the loadout screen), kickbacks (special abilities the player can activate depending on how many medals they get from kills or other achievements during any given match), or power plays (events that occur when a team is behind by five or more kills that give the losing team a temporary advantage). It's just straight-up, balls-to-the-wall (considering the climbing mechanics, this is literally the case at times), gun-battling, explosive-dodging, neck-snapping goodness.

While this was a refreshing departure from the intensity of regular TDM, it could feel bare bones at times. It was closer to UC2's style of multiplayer and felt less interesting; if someone were in the lead, there were generally no upsets, and they'd just stay at the top. 

There was also the matter of health actually being increased. I never minded the extra health, but it was odd that was tweaked.

Co-op Adventure:

A returning mode that has you playing as some of the main characters and locales from the single-player campaign, but with unique mini-stories that are only loosely tied to what goes on in the campaign. In this one, the players take the roles of Nathan Drake, Elena Fisher, and Victor Sullivan who are faced with scaling a Syrian castle filled with deadly mercenaries.

It starts out with our heroes being tossed by an explosion caused by helicopter fire into the water-filled aqueducts of the castle. They swim out and make it to a courtyard only to be greeted by a dusk sky. What follows is dash to find and collect various idols (just like the ones from Plunder mode) to weigh down pressure plates while under heavy fire from a seemingly endless stream of enemies of all types and flavors. Snipers, riot shield carriers, shotgun wielding maniacs, and light machine gun wielding behemoths covered head-to-toe with armor all seek to impede you on this quest. Just as with the other co-op modes, players can revive their fallen teammates if they can reach them in time.

Uncharted's trademark "shooting while ____" formula was in full effect during the next part. After the idol madness, the players must climb up the outside of a castle wall while shooting straight up at attacking enemies. There was some cover jutting out the side of the tower one could climb underneath for a breather. Other than that, it was a considerable challenge to make it to the top unscathed.

After reaching the top (and the treasure the heroes seek), the helicopters from earlier reappear. It ends with this cliffhanger sequence because this is only a portion of one level of the final game's co-op adventure.

Overall, this was fun. Working together was a must, and the climbing section was a nice switch-up in the action. It wasn't considerably more exciting than UC2's version of this mode. Here's hoping for more set-pieces along the lines of the train sequence from UC2's campaign.

Co-op Arena:

Similar to Co-op Adventure, this takes place on the regular multiplayer maps with three 10 rounds, each one either survival (kill everybody), siege (hold down an area), etc.

Co-op Hunter Arena:

This was a weird one. Two players work together to complete objectives while the enemy AI tries to stop them. However, two of the enemies are human players, yet they can spawn as different enemy types using the medals they've earned (ones with pistols, ones with shotguns and armor, etc.). All the times I tried out this mode, the game glitched, and the round I was in never ended. 

Maps

A total of four levels were available (three for regular competitive and co-op modes, one for Co-op Adventure which pits three players against enemy AI and story-based objectives). Just like UC2, the maps are based on areas from the main game. They're designed to encourage the players to climb around in order to get the drop on their opponents. This gives combat a vertical aspect (both long-range and close quarters) that is unique to the series.

Airstrip:

Right when the match starts, players are either hurtling down a runway in a truck (for the villain team) or inside a huge cargo plane (the heroes). Getting around during this section is risky considering the possibility of missing a jump to another truck or getting picked off by a sniper. You can go through two doors on each side of the plane and the main cargo door.

Airstrip

After about two minutes, the cargo plane's rear door closes, and it flies off. Then ... all the players somehow end up in trucks, no matter if they were in the plane or not. The airfield is pretty spacious, offering turrets, some scripted level destruction and the ability to open/close doors inside the main garage. 

This level was exactly what I was hoping for from ND when I heard about the plan to make multiplayer more action movie-esque. The intro to the stage doesn't make much sense (it'd be better if this were moved to the last two minutes of the game or both teams reach a certain kill count, or something), but it's exciting. Having a duel with another player while each of you are in different trucks, then leaping over, pulling him out and watching his body bounce along the runway just before the truck you were both in gets blown up by a passing fighter plane would be something to behold in single-player, let alone in this beta.

Chateau:

Looking like a miniature version of what was shown during gameplay previews for UC3, Chateau has two courtyard areas on either side of the main house. The chateau itself has two floors and a central room up top that slowly becomes engulfed in flames. After a while, the roof collapses in that room, taking the out the floor below it (and anyone else who happens to be traipsing through). 

Chateau

There seemed to be less even flow of movement throughout the level compared to the airfield area. Hardly any fights broke out in the courtyard areas (unless Team Objective or Plunder was being played, as the treasure chests sit down there). 

This level was fine. Too bad the fire never gets to be anywhere near the one seen in the chateau sequence from the main game.

Yemen:

Full of narrow alleyways and in-door areas, yet featuring two sniper towers with ziplines for quick (yet risky) movement, this map was always full of excitement.

Yemen

It's a thrill traversing the buildings, let alone fighting/fleeing from enemies while doing so. There was a balance between sniper perches and enclosed walkways where it never seemed like either area had an overall advantage.

Getting a kill while going down a zipline is great. Getting killed while going down a zipline is sort of sobering, and it makes you realize how exposed the lines are.

The only time Yemen didn't shine was when playing Plunder. There were only two paths anyone ever took in order to score. The other modes had action going on in just about every area of the map. 

Syria:

This was the stage for the Co-op Adventure mode. It had more focus on simply surviving the onslaught of foes rather than being anything more than a mere setting for such carnage, although the climbing section was cool and the weapons used there were awesome (a magnum pistol with a scope is always fun to use, it seems).

Weapon Mods/Loadouts

This was another new feature. Being able to get tweaks for the weapons (of which there were only a few in the beta; there’ll likely be more in the final build) meant that players would be able to choose which weapons they started out with. Before, everyone started with the AK47 and 92 FS pistol. Now, you have a choice between four long guns and two sidearms. The AK and M9 are full-auto assault rifles; the G-MAL is a burst-fire rifle with a scope; and the Dragon is a sniper rifle. The Para-9 is a regular pistol while the Arm Micro is a machine pistol.

Weapon Mods

Certain guns have certain mods you can unlock that change the function and appearance of the weapons a bit (higher ammo capacity gives the Para-9 an extended magazine, etc.). There's a rate of fire increase, larger mag, a laser sight that shows everyone on your team which enemy you're targeting, and better accuracy.

Clothing Unlocks

This was a bit of a chore, but it certainly made sure you could unlock everything all at once. In order to unlock articles of clothing (helmets, hats, shirts, pants, etc.), you have to complete treasure sets. In order to find treasures, you have to pick them when fallen enemies occasionally drop them after death. Once dropped, the treasure will be marked by chest icon.

Clothing Unlocks

A lot of the time while I was playing, it meant rushing out into the open in hope that the treasure wouldn't be one you've already gotten (which was usually the case).

Again, while there were items I wanted that I never got to unlock during the beta, this system is for the best; I'd rather be frustrated from having to gamble for treasures with my life during battle than to know all the unlockables beforehand.

Boosters

Boosters this time around seemed much more useful. Here's a list of the boosters for competitive modes and what they do (players can choose two, one for each slot they have; there are different boosters that are for co-op modes only):

Slot 1:

  • Come Here: See the opponent that killed you within a specified distance until they die
  • Endurance: Decrease sprint recovery time
  • Cloaked: Opponents will not see your player arrow, and you are difficult to hear
  • Weapon Expert: Add one additional MOD slot to all pistols

Slot 2: 

  • Power Hunter: See the location of Power Weapons within a specified distance
  • Daredevil: Taunt over an opponent's body to receive ammo
  • Back in the Saddle: Respawn time reduced by a specified time
  • Bargain: Decrease Medal Kickback cost
Not only do the boosters seem more useful all around, they can also be upgraded by gaining specific medals during games with that booster active.

Kickbacks

While many were skeptical about the inclusion of these abilities, in this beta at least, they proved to be fair and balanced. The RPG kickback cost 14 medals (unless you were using the Bargain booster), and it gave the player two rockets. There was also a Cluster Bomb grenade that blows up into more grenades. Neither one equaled guaranteed kills, and they still depended on the player's skill to make good use of them.

Kickbacks

There were also Smoke Bomb (made the player vanish in a puff of smoke and reappear elsewhere; risky), Speedy G (made the player temporarily faster), Militia Man (no need to reload for a bit), Disruption (nearby enemies can't see player arrows), and Creepy Crawler (player turns into spiders, decimating everything in their path). The last one was only available to a select few during the beta.

The co-op kickbacks had Team Medic (heals all players), Mega Bomb (one big grenade explosion) and Army of Three (doubles the damage of all players within a specified distance).

Near the beginning of the beta, the medals players earned toward kickbacks would stack, meaning that if you earned 14 medals and wanted to use the Smoke Bomb (which cost 7 medals), you could use the kickback, then immediately use it again. ND said that was a glitch and changed it so you could only have one kickback in store at a time and not have any surplus of medals to put toward more kickbacks.

There's still debate over which method of using medals was best.

The Buddy System

Without further ado, my favorite part of the UC3 beta. When you're with someone on your friends list, they're automatically your buddy during the match. That means that you are able to respawn right next to them if you want, and you'll see their player icon from anywhere on the map.

You can also become buddies with a teammate by getting a kill in which both of you contributed to the defeat of your enemy.

The glorious part? You can then stand above your vanquished foe and either fist-bump or high-five your buddy. The player's camera lingers over their dead body for a moment after they get taken out, so most of the time, they get front-row seats to this facet of the buddy system. There's nothing quite as exhilarating as taking the time to bro-fist just to gloat. It's even better when you do it amid a maelstrom of enemy bullets, buckshot, and explosions. It's hilarious sharing such special moment with your buddy who knows the consequences as much as you do for doing something so unnecessary and foolhardy as standing out in the open just to high-five over a fallen foe. However, they don't care whether they die, and neither do you.

In Closing 

This beta was loads of fun. And while that sounds really uninspired, it truly was fun in a way that can appeal to everyone.

Most other multiplayer games provide moments that only people who play those games would appreciate. Somehow, I can't imagine people seeing my recording of my character sliding down a zipline, throwing a grenade while in midair, dodging a rocket, and walking away from the ensuing explosion without saying, "Wow," or something along those lines (maybe an "Ooh," at least).

I want more "wow" from this game come November. Going by what I and millions of others got to experience during those three weeks, I'm going to get it.

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