Uncharted 3 Multiplayer Hands-On Preview
Check out Ross Lincoln’s feature, “Naughty Dog’s Plan for Uncharted 3 Multiplayer: Best Ever?”, for a rundown on the company’s vision of the online portion of Nathan Drake’s next adventure.
A few weeks ago, a Naughty Dog staffer told Game Pro the company wants Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception to be the multiplayer standard-bearer for the Playstation 3.
That idea made me a little uneasy. Uncharted 2 has a multiplayer mode (and according to Naughty Dog, it’s pretty popular), but the game’s real strength isn’t in deathmatch gameplay, it’s in creating a cinematic experience. Taking a standpoint of extra emphasis on multiplayer seems to inevitably cause developers to divert resources away from the real star of the show: single player gameplay. So when I heard that Naughty Dog wanted Uncharted 3 to be the go-to multiplayer title on PS3, I wasn’t just skeptical it could be done, I was fearful we’d end up with an new Uncharted entry that not only falls flat on multiplayer, but ruins its single-player chances to do so.
Naughty Dog and Sony threw a multiplayer reveal event in Los Angeles last week, where Fronter Ross Lincoln and I got to spend a few rounds shooting other journalists in a couple of Uncharted 3‘s multiplayer levels. I’m not sure I can say it’ll be the new standard in multiplayer on the PS3, but Naughty Dog has found new ways of marrying the core greatness of Uncharted with some fast-paced, smart deathmatch action.
We played two maps of Uncharted 3′s multiplayer mode, in which, like Uncharted 2, we were split into two teams. Naughty Dog hasn’t revealed all the modes yet, so we were basically just blasting away at each other on a pair of maps — an airstrip, part of which took place in the back of a cargo plane running on the runway, and a burning chateau in the middle of the jungle.
Of the two maps, the airstrip was the more interesting. The game started with the hero team (made up of various Drakes, Sullies and others) inside the cargo plane as it was picking up speed heading down the runway, big cargo door and side doors standing open. The other team, the “villains” (made up of henchman), comes flying up in the backs of trucks, ready to try to hijack the plane.
The stage starts out really strong, with villains jumping from truck to truck to reach the plane and taking cover against gunfire and heroes blowing up trucks and taking them out along the way. It really does come pretty close to approaching a scene from an action movie, which is exactly what Uncharted is great at doing.
The cargo plane section of the level lasts for about the first five minutes, with the other 15 of the match’s 20 finding players in a more traditional outdoor airport setting, complete with hangars, cargo containers and parked planes. Just about everything is climbable, and Uncharted’s parkour-like gameplay style means running, jumping and scaling everything is fast and fluid even in combat.
Though it’s less flashy than the cargo plane hijacking portion of the level, the airport was just as hectic and high-energy. The second level we were shown, the jungle chateau, was a little less innovative and a little more straight-forward. Even so, it was filled with options — there were jungle sections, fights among stone ruins, high ground and chateau interiors (complete with a raging house fire spreading through a few of the rooms), and lots of objects with which to interact. Zip lines, stair cases, walls and ladders were all handy, as were other objects like parked vehicles.
Unlike the air field, in which there was a lot of circling around and catching other players unawares in their backs, the chateau seemed to find a lot of entrenched teams duking it out, which was an interesting and different dynamic completely than the first round. There were lots of places to sneak around and flank enemies, but generally it seemed like teams had a tendency to stick together and face each other down because of the level design.
Naughty Dog has added a few key features to the existing Uncharted 3 system; players can sprint at any time, for one, and the game is rife with customization and perks that can be chosen at load-out, altered any time, and even purchased on the fly.
The perks (called “boosts” in Uncharted’s nomenclature”) allow for a wealth of advantages to be dolled out as rewards for killing bad guys and generally doing well. Uncharted’s multiplayer already rewards players with sums of cash for their accomplishments, and medals for their larger achievements (like killstreaks, double kills and the like). These things now generally get parlayed into more rewards, and cash can actually be used to purchase most of them in-game. For example, a player with enough spending money can pull up a menu and pay for an RPG, and have it basically appear in his hands — while still behind cover, waiting to fire. It’s a great idea in theory and seemed very cool in practice, even though we had trouble getting used to thinking outside the immediate action of what might be possible in terms of greater strategy.
Naughty Dog has also worked to balance games a little more so that blow-outs are a little harder to come by. The developer has instituted a new system of “power plays” in order to give losing teams a chance to make a go of it. Like the situations of the same name in hockey, Unchated power plays give a short boost to one team or another based on the score. They seem to be randomly generated and in the build we played, power plays seemed to get activated at regular intervals. One such power play gave the losing team double damage. The advantages only last a minute, but they make it less likely that a single team will spend 20 minutes getting stomped into the ground by the other.
Outside of standard team deathmatch, we also saw a little bit of Uncharted 3′s newest multiplayer mode, a 2 vs. 2 vs. 2 deathmatch game type. It’s a fairly simple concept and worked just like regular deathmatch, except for the obviously high emphasis on tw0-player teamwork. Naughty Dog has done a good job of making it work, however, by rolling out some new features in all the game modes that help build teamwork between players.
It’s called the Buddy system, and it allows players to choose a “buddy” early in matches (or in the case of 2 vs. 2 vs. 2, automatically). The game provides you with a constant heads-up display icon of where your buddy is on the battlefield, and it’s more informative than the standard arrows that show off teammates. The Buddy system also gives you the option to spawn on your teammate when you die, providing instant backup and making sure you’re never far from the action or stuck on your own, searching for help.
Uncharted 3 supports 3D in multiplayer, and while it gave poor Ross a headache (he claims), I had a great time with it — and it looked pretty phenomenal. I’m not a huge fan of 3D in general and was highly disappointed in my experience with it with Killzone 3 at Comic Coon last year, but Uncharted 3 might just change my stance on it. Depth is well-used everywhere, adding to the whole of the screen, and not just making things in the foreground slightly closer (like the gun you might be holding, Killzone).
Naughty Dog also wants to keep the “on the couch” experience of multiplayer, and has added split-screen multiplayer compatibility to Uncharted 3 as well. Like in games such as Halo 3, you can bring a friend over and play on the same PS3 while taking on opponents online. Uncharted 3 supports multiple Playstation IDs, so you can both sign in and earn cash toward upgrading your characters. The game also staggers the two displays to be in opposite corners of the screen, rather than spread across the top and bottom, so that a proper aspect ratio is maintained. We didn’t get to really test drive it ourselves, but the split-screen multiplayer looked top-notch, regardless.
While Naughty Dog might have felt like Uncharted 2′s multiplayer mode was a little anemic and didn’t get enough development time, the company certainly isn’t making the same mistake with Uncharted 3. It’s beautiful, fast-paced and seems highly dynamic — all great qualities for a multiplayer game. Best of all, additions like opening and closing scenes in each map make the experience feel like Uncharted, but with smarter people shooting back at you and a ton more customization for the players, right down to the character models of series mainstays like Drake and Sully. The game might need just a touch more time in the oven — for as fun as jumping, running and smashing people’s teeth out with the butt of a gun was, aiming and gunplay seemed like it needed a little tightening up — but there certainly are a ton of marked improvements that could very well make Uncharted 3 the favorite destination for Playstation 3 online players.