The beta for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has come and gone, with a slew of new features, weapons, maps, and characters. The concept of multiplayer in the Uncharted series started in 2009 with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and it’s clear that Naughty Dog has come a long way since then. But has all of their experience and hard work resulted in an improvement? Or is this series going to end up as another name on a long list of generic shooters?
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genre: Sarcasm-Filled Action-Adventure
Release Date: November 1, 2011
ESRB Rating: Rating Pending
Having been obsessed with the Uncharted 2: Among Thieves multiplayer beta, I knew that I was going to experience many a sleepless night once this beta hit. After downloading all 1.67 gigabytes, I was more than ready to jump in. The signature image pops up when you launch the beta: Nathan Drake in front of the desolate backdrop of desert and the burning plane. The initial music is not nearly as epic as it was in Uncharted 2, with its booming crescendos – this music sets a much more somber tone. But once you get to the main menu, everything gets really interesting.
One of the first things you’re confronted with is customization mode, which allows you to alter the appearance of your character, create and edit your emblem, choose your taunt, change your loadouts, and more. It walks you through a step-by-step explanation of everything you are confronted with – it explains how new pistols and guns can be unlocked by leveling up (which is called “ranking up” here) or completing treasure sets, which can be collected during multiplayer matches. You can also unlock weapon modifications to enhance your guns, as well as boosters and medal kickbacks – all of which much be unlocked and then purchased with your cash, which is gained as experience, just like in Uncharted 2.
Now let’s take a look under the hood of this puppy. There were several patches, and by the end of the beta, everything was unlocked. That means the playlist opened up quite a bit: Team Deathmatch, Team Objective, Free For All, Three Team Deathmatch (three teams of two fighting each other in tag-team glory), Plunder, Hardcore, Co-op Adventure, Co-op Arena, and Co-op Hunter Arena. You can have four loadouts for competitive, each one with a long gun (which is your primary weapon), pistol, two boosters, and a medal kickback. For the long gun, you can choose the AK47, the G-Mal, or the Dragon Sniper. The fourth gun, the M9, is unlockable at rank 17. Your only pistol option is the Para 9 until you get to rank 10. At the beginning of the beta, you’re given $10,000 to buy whatever you want. You can unlock and purchase mods, which include things like Clip Size, Reload Speed, and Accuracy.
Boosters – which can now be leveled – are in two slots. In booster slot 1, only “Come Here” is available, which “allows you to see the opponent that killed you up to 15 meters away until they die. “ At rank 7, “Endurance” is unlocked (which decreases the recovery time of sprinting by 20%), “Cloaked” (prevents enemies from seeing your player arrow and makes it more difficult to hear you) at rank 11, and “Weapon Expert” (which gives you an additional mod slot to all of your pistols) at rank 16. In booster slot 2, only “Power Hunter” (which allows you to see the location of power weapons within 10 meters) is available, with “Daredevil” (taunt over the body of an opponent to get ammo) unlockable at rank 4, “Back in the Saddle” (reduces spawn time by two seconds) available at rank 9, and “Bargain” (decrease the cost of medal kickbacks by one) at rank 20.
The only medal kickback available is “RPG!!!” which instantly spawns an RPG once you get 14 medals. There are more medals now than in the second – there were many I saw popping up while I was playing, like “Double Down,” “Strike Three,” and “Sunday Stroll.” Everyone’s least favorite medal, “Unlucky,” is still there, along with “Lucky.” At rank 4, you unlock “Speedy G” (gives you a speed boost for 20 seconds and costs 7 medals), “Smoke Bomb” (instantly vanish into a puff of smoke, which costs 7 medals) at rank 7, “Militia Man” (30 seconds of no reloading for 7 medals) at rank 10, “Cluster Bomb” (for 10 medals, you can have one grenade explode into multiple) at rank 15, “Disruption” (which prevents opponents from seeing player arrows for 25 seconds and costs 7 medals) at rank 23, and “Creepy Crawler” (transforms the player into a swarm of spiders for 20 seconds and costs 17 medals) unlockable with a voucher… which brings me to another issue. I really hate having to choose where I pre-order the game, because I almost always pre-order from Amazon (thank you, Amazon Visa!) and I hate that there are going to be things I don’t have access to because of where I choose to purchase the game. I don’t like it when companies try to control where I purchase from, and I don’t like having unbalanced multiplayer games because some people chose to buy powerful boosters instead of earning them. Give me skins, give me physical accessories, give me something more along the lines of the Resistance 3 options, please.
After I finished with all the customization, including making an emblem and customizing my character (not many choices available at first), I jumped into a game of Team Deathmatch. I could have signed into my Facebook account first – which allows you to invite your Facebook friends to play with you, regardless of whether or not they’re on your PSN friends list – but I skipped that, eager to shed some blood. As you sit in the lobby, your teammates stand around you, and then run off as soon as the match begins. There’s a new functionality here called the “buddy system,” in which you’re linked to a random member of your team. You can fist bump or high five each other over someone you’ve killed, which will net you a medal. This is also tied into the treasure system – pick up treasures during multiplayer, and you can unlock items to change your appearance. If an enemy drops a treasure and you don’t pick it up, your buddy can pick it up for you. Those treasures can only be seen by you and your buddy, so you don’t have to worry about someone else stealing them. The other treasures on the map, though, can be picked up by anyone, so hustle when you see them.
The first map I played on was Airstrip, which was amazing. You have to jump from car to car and get to the cargo plane to attack your enemies, and then the plane takes off, leaving you and your team on the ground in the cars to go find more enemies in the hangars. It’s much easier starting in the plane, I would find out later, but both starting positions have different strategies to help you get kills. After that, I played more Team Deathmatch in the Chateau, which has the most incredible lighting I’ve ever seen. Standing outside and looking in, everything is dark, and once you enter, the light adjusts as your eyes would when leaving a bright place and entering a dark one. It’s breathtaking.
As far as gameplay goes, the controls are very similar to Uncharted 2. L1 aims and R1 fires, L2 shows you the arc for your grenade and chucks it, Square is for melee and to respawn, X is for jump, Triangle picks up items and guns and also lets you respawn on your buddy, and Circle lets you duck and go into cover, while L3 switches the arm you’re shooting from and R3 is to zoom while you’re aiming. The directional pad lets you go back and forth between your long gun and your pistol, and also lets you cycle through your teammates while you’re waiting to respawn. New to Uncharted 3 is sprinting – click in L3 while moving and you’ll start sprinting.
On the surface, sprinting may not be a big deal. But any fan of Uncharted 2’s multiplayer will balk at the notion of slowing down the gameplay just so you can incorporate sprinting functionality. It seems like the only reason it’s been weighted down is to make it feel more realistic, more like other shooters out there. I understand that it’s a competitive market out there and that many games are becoming Call of Duty clones because they want the sales. But what many fans of Uncharted 2 want is more Uncharted 2. I get why he’s been made heavier, why there’s a sprint button, and why he doesn’t have that limber spring in his step – but I miss the incredible lightness of being Nathan Drake.
The third map, which unlocked at the end of the beta, is Yemen. It’s a large town with a marketplace in it, filled with staircases and towers and windows to shoot from, earning it a reputation for being a sniper’s paradise. I enjoyed all three maps, and felt they had well-placed weapons and treasures, and were balanced nicely when it came to strategic gunplay as well as the good ol’ run-and-gun. Two of the maps were also dynamic – the Airstrip with the cars and plane moving in the beginning, and later with planes coming in and shooting out towers, and the Chateau with its ceiling that catches fire and crashes in. There’s no mistaking that this game is beautiful, well planned, and extraordinary.
But what the Uncharted 3 beta lacks is any kind of real coherence, or – for lack of a better term – dignity. While I understand it would be a shame to give us nothing but new maps for Uncharted 2, what they’ve given us here is almost blasphemous. It’s a cacophony of new options, new functionalities, modifications, and things like “Power Plays,” in which the losing team is given a chance to catch up – either the other team becomes “Exposed” and they can see where they are, or there’s a marked man on the other team and killing him nets you more points, or the losing team does extra damage to the winning team. Running around with my extra clip on my G-Mal, sprinting to fist-bump my buddy while the announcer chastises us for falling behind, made me feel like I was playing a round of Call of Duty: Black Ops. And while there’s nothing wrong with CoDBlOps, when I’m playing a game made by Naughty Dog, that’s not a good feeling.
Don’t take any of that the wrong way – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is still going to be a day-one purchase for me. Even though I feel like the music isn’t as epic, the multiplayer has been watered down with inferior concepts dredged from the popular shooter barrel, and Drake’s signature lithe movements have been replaced with the slower standard, this game is still amazing. And this is still the beta. If enough fans out there have complained on the forums – and I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, as many of my friends have voiced similar complaints – maybe they’ll hear our cries and bring back some of the simple elegance that made Uncharted 2 so perfect. And, of course, the real treat whenever Amy Hennig’s at the wheel is the single player. So bring on November 1. I’m ready for you, Drake.