Uncharted 3 Multiplayer Beta Impressions – Week 1
When fellow Game Fronter Ross Lincoln and I attended a preview event for Uncharted 3 some time ago, we both were blown away at the game’s tight construction, strong balance, cinematic-Unchartedy-ness of the levels and cool additional systems like boosters that had been worked into the game. I’d never been much of an Uncharted 2 multi-player, so Uncharted 3 and all its improvements was a bit of an introduction into a gaming experience I’d been missing.
Now, the demo we played back then has finally become available to the public, and to be honest, Ross and I have both felt underwhelmed. What happened to the game we played with all those journalists sitting on benches at a bank of TVs? That game was a whole lot of fun. But so far, in the first week of Uncharted’s online offering, fun seems to be in short supply.
Uncharted 3 (PS3 [Reviewed])
Developer: Naughty Dog Software
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: November 1, 2011
Naughty Dog has pushed four multiplayer modes so far in the beta, which has been available only to players with codes and Playstation Plus subscribers but opens fully to the public on today, June 5: team deathmatch, free for all, three-team deathmatch and survivor mode. The last is a cooperative “survive as many waves as possible” mode that’s all in vogue right now in shooters, with a few nice twists.
There are some interesting new adjustments to Uncharted 3′s multiplayer that make it stand out from the standard shooter fare. The game packs a lot of customization and a lot of rewards for players who do well, kind of like Call of Duty’s multiplayer allows its players to rank up and unlock new weapons and perks. In Uncharted, some of those perks can be unlocked on the fly during the game — Kickbacks, they’re called, and they can be purchased with money accrued for killing guys, earning “medals” (which you get for hitting killstreaks or running around a bunch and so on) and finding treasures scattered around maps.
Naughty Dog has also smartly implemented a Buddy system, which improves the experience significantly, especially when your actually playing with someone you want to be tethered to for the rest of the game. The system lets players always see where a player designated as their “buddy” is on the map, and when players die, they can choose to spawn on their buddies rather than at a more randomized location. It means you’re always able to reconnect with teammates quickly and easily, and it’s an especially great system when you jump into the beta with a friend — buddies from parties get priority over the random buddy you’d be paired with if you hopped into a game alone.
So far, there are only two maps on offer for all four game modes: Chateau, a half-burned mansion located in a jungle, and Air Strip, a map that starts out with one team riding up in trucks, attacking a cargo plane occupied by the other, before switching to a fairly standard setup in a small shipping airport. Both have some interesting ideas and are very vertical, which one would expect with the ability to climb a bunch of stuff, a key element to the Uncharted franchise.
Another map and another game mode are coming down the pipe later in the beta, according to Naughty Dog, but one of the big bummers right now is that there are only two to play on. Both stages are cool, but the interest generated by the cargo plane attack on Air Strip, for example, quickly diminishes when you play that level over and over. And in fact, the cargo plane portion — while cool-looking — is the weakest part of the whole stage, because it’s actually very difficult for the attacking team to get aboard the plane, while it’s very easy for the defending team to pick people off at a distance. Throw a sniper into the mix and the attacking team has no chance in hell for the first two minutes of the game.
But things even out nicely when the maps open up, and tracking down treasure, snagging medals and climbing things can be a pretty good time. The fighting, however — not so much.
For some reason, the balance in the early going on the Uncharted 3 beta seems out of whack. Bullets planted in faces seem to do only marginally more damage than that of bullets filling chests, which is almost none. Many players will opt to forgo shooting for the chance at a couple quick melee strikes, and like Rock ‘em Sock ‘em Robots, two players will often duke it out with the first to land the blow being the winner. The fact that I can be carrying an AK-47 and find the butt more dangerous than the barrel is frustrating.
Team deathmatch games include a system called “Power Plays” that Naughty Dog hopes will help teams keep the margin between winning and losing a little tighter than in some other shooters. The idea is to stop one team from running away with the match by providing short boosts to the other team — like double damage, or the ability to see the locations of all the opposing teammates. These last for about a minute or so, and while they’re a nice idea, in practice they’re never game-changing enough to be dangerous. Most every match I’ve played in so far, it seems, has felt little or no impact from Power Plays, and runaway victories are pretty common.
On the other hand, things like the Boosters and other character development aspects are nice. One rewards a player with an instant RPG, for example, after they’ve done well enough in a given match. The thing devastates especially at (relatively) close range, and it’s nice not only to get what feels like a Call of Duty-esque killstreak reward, but for it be much more tangible than just calling an airstrike and hoping it kills someone. Your reward for doing well is a tool that sets you apart from other players, and there’s something really satisfying about having a guy try to engage you, only to realize you’re carrying a rocket launcher.
A stark departure from the fairly run-of-the-mill deathmatch modes is the cooperative survival mode, which is itself a mix of derivative features and some new thinking from Naughty Dog. At its heart, the mode is simply about surviving waves of successively more difficult enemies — something we’ve seen plenty of in, oh, every single shooter on the market since Gears of War 2 showed it could be done well in multiplayer and Call of Duty showed people were in love with zombies. The same mode was available in Uncharted 2, as well, and the core gameplay is the same here.
The plus sides of co-op are that instead of just shooting lots of guys over and over again, Uncharted 3 throws in a few extra necessities. There’s straight survival, in which you have the run of the map, but there are also two objective-based scenarios that come up during different rounds. So you’ll fight in a survival mode round for Round 3 of a game, for example, only to have Round 4 be a “Siege” round, in which only kills you make from a certain place on the map that you have to defend count toward your score. “Gold Rush,” another round type, has the team trucking an artifact from one side of the map to the other, with the artifact causing one player to move more slowly and lose the ability to fire weapons until it’s dropped.
That’s some good thinking on Naughty Dog’s part, because basically everybody has played wave survival modes at this point, and adding a few objectives really keeps the gameplay interesting. But it still feels very familiar.
This week marks the addition of new multiplayer modes to replace a few new ones — free-for-all has been replaced by Team Objective, and Co-op Survival has been replaced by Co-op Hunter, which should increase the diversity nicely. But what Naughty Dog really lacks in the beta right now is a sense of balance that makes the game fun and feel like it rewards player skill rather than opportunism. We’ll let you know if the developer finds a way to address those kinds of issues in the second week of the beta as more players start to drop in.
- Kickback and booster system nicely rewards players for doing well and trying different aspects of the game
- Buddy system is great when you play with a friend
- Sweeping, cinematic feel of the maps is great — the first few times
- Variety added to cooperative play through objectives
- Balance issues make guns feel really weak
- Some pretty intense server issues early on
- Beta seems like it’ll improve greatly with the addition of new gametypes and maps — but we have to wait
Score So Far: 70