We've seen him avoid the flames of a burning French chateau and take on a shadowy group fronted by a woman brandishing an umbrella knife, but how well does Nathan Drake play with others? Naughty Dog has just taken the wraps off the multiplayer mode in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, and we were there to put the intrepid explorer and some of his friends through their paces.
According to the game's developer, more than 2.7 million players have taken up arms to shoot friends and strangers online since multiplayer shipped with the second game in the series. Two elements are key to its continued success: bringing the spectacle of cinematic gameplay from the single-player campaign into the online mode and giving players the chance to customize the look and feel of their experience. To do this, gameplay is moving beyond simple team deathmatch (though that's getting plenty of love too) and its variants as it will focus more on objective-based matches. The studio hopes that by bringing the monkeylike climbing and scale of scripted campaign moments to multiplayer, Uncharted 3 will become the destination for PlayStation 3 owners online.
Two new modes--the often fan-requested Free for All mode and Three-Team Deathmatch--were announced at the event. The former gives everybody in the game a gun and birthright to blow away the competition; the latter offers a new buddy-based game type where you’re paired up with a friend or stranger and need to stick together to complete goals as a pair. Uncharted 3 represents a step toward more cooperative multiplayer, which we’ll get into in a moment.
Adding new modes doesn’t mean the old ones are getting the flick, and Deathmatch is set to receive a raft of improvements through the Power Play system. Essentially, it’s a battlefield event system designed to work like rubber banding in racing games; giving teams on the losing side a better chance to catch up. That’s not to say that whitewashes are out of the question, and good players will still be able to dominate their more skills-challenged counterparts. Matches with close score margins will now receive overtime at the end of a game, which means an additional minute of play has been added to stamp out deadlocks. Sudden Death goes even further and is tacked on after an overtime extension to regulation play; it limits players to a single respawn per team member, with the last man standing taking the prize. Late Join has also been added, and as the name suggests, it will now allow players to join matches already in progress. It’s a simple change and one that Naughty Dog hopes will keep games fuller and flowing better.
Taking a handful of pages out of the customization book, Uncharted 3 will let you tinker with your weapon loadout, as well as customize the look of your avatar by selecting and coloring individual items of clothing. It also includes a multilayered decal system that displays your logo on you and the environment. It sounds a bit like the custom sprays from Counter-Strike, but with fewer pictures of genitals. It’s not all purely cosmetic changes, though, with individual weapon mods able to be bought and applied that have tangible effects on your play by altering the munitions rate of fire and accuracy.
Boosters and kickbacks have been tweaked both for individual performances and co-op play, which can be bought in game using the cash earned during matches. Using them in play in turn levels them up, increasing their potency and unlocking additional functions like the ability to respawn instantly.
Killing enemies triggers a chance for them to drop treasure, which comes in the form of glowing items on the playfield that need to be collected for a reward. These disappear randomly, and it becomes a risk-versus-reward decision as to whether you stick out your neck to dash in and loot the item. Inside, there will be item sets to unlock and collect, as well as some treasures rewarding players with short- and longer-form objectives, such as making 30 kills in 15 minutes. Some begin instantly, while others will be triggered at your discretion. Completing these contracts earns you cash that you can then spend on pimping out your Drake.
Because Uncharted 3’s multiplayer modes are heavily geared around playing with friends, we’re impressed to see that some serious development time appears to have gone into the way it will integrate with social services and allow people to play together. Split-screen play will be supported and will also allow two different PlayStation Network IDs to be signed in on the same console at once to track each player's kills, deaths, and leveling progression. While UC2 put its eggs in the Twitter basket, UC3 is all about Facebook, allowing players to invite companions to their matches even if they’re not friends on the PlayStation Network.
Cinema mode has been expanded and now offers rewind functionality, as well as event marking for deaths and kills. This allows for simple upload of user-edited video clips and screenshots to either Facebook or YouTube while the Uncharted TV system will play clips from the community inside match lobbies. This is a little more exciting than twiddling your thumbs while you’re waiting for your next match.
We could go on for a while about the new features, but we’re guessing you probably want to know what it felt like to play. The demo included two levels: Chateau and Airstrip. Chateau was a rundown outdoor stone environment that was overgrown with vines, with nooks and crannies to crouch behind to return gunfire. Airstrip was where we spent the vast majority of our time, and we had a chance to play both sides of the faction coin. Set to a 20-minute timer, Airstrip opened with a sandy vista and a thick, black path that a cargo plane was running along. The good guys (multiple versions of Drake and Sully) began on board and needed to defend against waves of militia attempting to hijack the vehicle as the rear door slowly lowered. Though it initially seemed that the raised position and cover provided an advantage to holding their position, on subsequent plays as the other team, we found side doors that could be accessed and put us directly behind our opposition for quick executions.
As the plane became airborne, everybody jumped aboard the trucks in pursuit and the fight moved on to an airbase. Shipping containers provided excellent cover to peer out from behind, while climbing stairs or shimmying up onto raised platforms provided an elevated vantage (and shooting) point. A poorly armored machine-gun nest on one platform gave us the tools to mow down our opponents, but we found it easy to sit back and take pot shots with our assault rifles from a distance with good effect. Because you’re matched with a second player, you can either stick together or, less in the spirit of cooperative play, you can go it alone. Communication will be essential to success, but if you do manage to get separated during the barrage of gunfire and die, you can quickly spawn to your mate’s location by tapping the triangle button.
As matches continued, different Power Play modes were randomly introduced and helped give the gunplay some much needed variety. Marked Man was a VIP protection mode and rewarded players additional points and cash for either defending or killing the marked target. No Respawn meant that anybody who was killed in combat while active would stay dead until the end of the timer.
Melee combat felt like it might still be going through tuning, and almost every time we went toe-to-toe with someone on the opposing team, we would both knock each other out on the second melee strike.
From our first hands-on taste of Uncharted 3’s multiplayer mode, it’s already looking great and playing nicely. A move away from boring old vanilla team deathmatch is a welcome change, and we’re eager to see the developers deliver on sharing the set piece moments from the single-player campaign online with friends. PlayStation 3 Plus subscribers and those who pick up Infamous 2 will get early beta access from the end of June, whereas everyone else will be able to jump and swing with Drake from July 5. There's still plenty more to find out about Uncharted 3 ahead of its November release date, so stay tuned for more info on this exciting game.