Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was one of the highlights of Sony's E3 09 press briefing, and on the very same day, the company released the multiplayer beta for the game. As soon as we returned from our LA expedition we booted up our PlayStation 3 and downloaded the 1GB client, and we were pleased to find a feature-heavy trial with both competitive and cooperative game modes.
The Uncharted 2 beta offers up plenty of content to whet appetities for the release of the full game in Q3 2009. It contains three levels, two multiplayer game modes, eight character skins, 10-player online support, and plenty of weapons. Basically, it takes at least a couple of hours of playtime before you see everything, which is a good indication of how seriously developer Naughty Dog is taking the multiplayer portion of the game.
The competitive multiplayer comes in two flavours--team deathmatch, and plunder (think capture the flag with treasure). You start each round with a pistol, rifle and a single grenade, but there are plenty of other weapons scattered around each map. These include some incredibly powerful weapons such as rocket launchers and Gatling guns, but they are big and heavy, and so limit your movement. Uncharted 2 also features plenty of accessories, such as riot shields and gas canisters, which you can toss at enemies and shoot out of the air.
Online veterans won't find much in the competitive multiplayer that they haven't have seen before, but Uncharted 2 still differentiates itself with fluid character movement. Characters run, jump and roll through the world with great athleticism, and you can even dangle from a ledge and fire at the same time. The only downside is that you can often bump into other players and get stuck trying to get around them.
Uncharted 2 also offers a leveling system to reward repeated play, with $500 for each kill helping you to progress up the ranks. There are also two sets of perks, or 'boosters' as they're called in the game, which offer the choice of enhanced skills. The first set offers better accuracy for your pistol or rifle in either standard fire or blind fire mode, while the second slot gives you a choice of carrying more ammo, getting more ammo in each pickup, or having more bullets in each clip. The matchmaking system is a bit buggy at the moment, and it can often take a few minutes of waiting in the lobby to find a game. However, there are only around a thousand players online at any one time, and Naughty Dog is promising a patch in the coming days. The rest of the online systems looks robust--you can buddy up with any of your PSN friends to move between games, and in the finished game, you'll be able to record movies of your multiplayer games to watch later.
The competitive multiplayer is fun, but the game really succeeds with the cooperative multiplayer. In this mode, three people join together online and make their way through a level to accomplish a common goal. The level that features in the beta will be familiar to people who've seen the trailer, as it follows a similar path through the town environment. Most of the cooperative gameplay comes from taking out waves of enemy AI, but there are also occassional simple puzzles, where all party members need to congregate on a spot to progress. For example, one player needs to give the other a leg up to reach higher ground, or someone needs to push a ladder into place to climb over a wall.
The enemy AI really impresses in this mode, holding you down in one position while flanking you from the sides. They also come from behind, meaning you need to constantly change position, and they'll flush you out using grenades. We particularly like how the co-op revival system works--if someone is mortally wounded, another player has to go and save them by holding triangle. The longer you take to get there, the longer it takes to revive them, which encourages teamwork and sticking together.
Digging around in the menus, we were able to find a couple more details about the beta that we expect will make it to the finished game. First of all, you'll be able to use the motion sensitive controller to perform throws, and you can toggle this feature on or off in the menus. Uncharted 2 will also offer support for Dolby Pro Logic II speaker setups, and you can even tweak the size of the centre speaker from small to large depending on your setup. We enjoyed our time in the beta, especially the co-op, which we can really see as being one of the main attractions of the finished game. Make sure you check out our video preview to see the game in action, and head over to our E3 preview for more details on the single player game.