Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception hands-on multiplayer preview

Out of all the games we saw during last week’s round of pre-E3 Sony press events, there was one that we were looking forward to more than any other: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, tantalizingly positioned at the very end of the week. When we finally got to sit down with it, however, we weren’t shown any of the story or single-player levels that await gamers when Drake’s next adventure ships later this year.

Instead, our demo focused entirely on Uncharted 3’s multiplayer, which was a little disappointing at first – but only at first. After all, while gaming publications heaped accolades on Uncharted 2 for its striking single-player campaign, it can be easy to forget that it’s still one of the best multiplayer shooters on the PS3. What’s more, developer Naughty Dog announced that it intends to bring the “cinematic” aspects of single-player to multiplayer, along with a slew of other cool changes and improvements. And judging from what we’ve seen so far, it’s off to a very good start.

Before we tell you about it, though, you might be more interested to know you won’t have to wait until fall or the holiday season to get in on the action yourself. Before turning us loose on the game, Naughty Dog announced it plans to launch a public multiplayer beta beginning in late June. The limited “early access” stage of the beta starts on June 28, 2011, and becomes open to anyone with a PSN account on July 5.

As for what you can look forward to, our time with the game included three game types: team deathmatch for up to 10 players, which was immensely fun; Free-For-All deathmatch for up to eight, which was less so thanks to having to constantly watch our own backs; and Three-Team Deathmatch, a new mode that pits three teams of two players against each other. This last one showed a lot of promise, even though it didn’t seem terribly different from Team Deathmatch (having your enemies occasionally shoot each other instead of you doesn’tshift the dynamic asdramatically as you mightthink). Also, while Three-Team was the only mode to show it off, all modes will apparentlysupport split-screen play,and will enableboth players to use their own PSN IDs at the same time to play online.

Regardless of which mode we played, they all unfolded on the same two maps, both of which were huge. The first was Chateau, a sprawling ruin of a French villa, which provided ample cover points for ambushing opponents (sometimes with minigun turrets, which were set at high, strategic points around the map). At one point, the ceiling of its darkened entrance hall collapsed, burying any players unfortunate enough to be underneath it in flaming rubble, and transforming the area above into a network of precarious rafters.

With a lot of emphasis placed onducking behind sticky cover pointsand shooting, it was easy to forget that nearly everything could be climbed and/or leapt off of. That verticality is key to getting the drop on your opponents, as well as for finding the best sniper spots and hunting for randomly appearing treasures – and it’s even more important in the other map we played, Airstrip.

Airstrip is where the cinematic sensibility we mentioned earlier really came into play, as it begins with a cargo plane being chased down a runway by a handful of speeding flatbed trucks. The “hero” team spawns inside the plane, and has to defend its loading ramp from the “villains,” who start on the trucks. Playing as a villain is a lot more exciting, as getting on the plane requires leaping from truck to truck, which can be difficult given the way the trucks drift and veer erraticallyacross the tarmac.

With careful jumping (and bullet-dodging), however, it’s possible to avoid a frontal assault entirely, and instead work your way up the columns of trucks on either side of the plane. Once you do, you’ll see that the heroes have left the side passenger doors open and, more likely than not, unguarded – at which point you can jump in and surprise them from behind while they focus their attention on the ramp. Meanwhile, the heroes are also free to take the fight to the villains on the trucks, with the caveat that they might not be on the plane when it takes off.

As thrilling as it is, the plane scene is actually just a lead-in to the real Airstrip map. Once it takes off, where you are in relation to the plane determines your starting position in the map’s next area, an abandoned airfieldfull ofshipping containers, old planes and a giant, crate-filled hangar that dominates the center of the map. It also features a control tower at one corner of the map, which you’ll want to climb quickly, as the minigun turret installed halfway up it is a great way to rack up kills fast. If an opponent beats you to it, you’ll want to find one of the bulletproof riot shields hidden throughout the level, which will help you close in on his position without getting perforated.

Cool new maps aren’t the only thing planned for Uncharted 3’s multiplayer, of course. Also new are Power Plays, semi-random conditions that pop up automatically when one team is doing particularly well. Designed to give the losing players an edge and keep everyone on their toes, these do things like temporarily disable respawning, or “curse” one team into seeing every player (including their own) as a green skeleton with no obvious player tag. When we played, these felt a little more random than Naughty Dog suggested, seeming to affect our opponents even when we were winning, but they’re nonetheless a fun addition to each match. Even when you’re the one affected by them, being thrown a sudden curveball can makethe match feel a little more exciting, and prevents any hint of tedium from setting in.

Also new to Uncharted’s multiplayer is its buddy system, which automatically pairs you with one other player on your team, and enables you to respawn near them after you’re killed (as long as they’re not being directly shot at, anyway). Working together with your buddy to take down opponents not only nets you extra cash, but also creates “buddy opportunities,” which create high-five icons over enemies you worked together to defeat (which we couldn’t figure out how to activate during the demo).

Working with your buddy will also give you a chance to use “Buddy Boosters,” part of Uncharted 3’s new perks system. Boostersare persistent perks, like faster healing, or grenades that drop from your defeated corpse.They can beselected from the character-customization menu, and will level up and improve the more you play. There’s a huge variety of the things, too, with more unlocked as you level up. Buddy Boosters, meanwhile, kick in with additional bonuses while you’re working together with your buddy.

You’ll also be able to use the cash you earn in-game to buy special add-on Boosters. These grant things like a second chance to get up again after you’re “killed,” and are intended partly to give you something to spend your currency on even after you’ve bought everything else available.

Complementary to the Boosters are Kickbacks, temporary superpowers selected the same way as Boosters. After you’ve earned enough medals in a match (by killing guys and finding treasure), you’ll be able to activate your Kickback, which can grant things like infinite ammo or the ability to throw three grenades at once. So long as you remember they’re there and don’t turn them on just as someone’s putting a bullet in you, they can be the key to getting out of a tight situation.

In addition to useful things like Boosters and Kickbacks, Uncharted 3 will introduce a bunch of new customization features. For starters, you’ll be able to customize two different avatars (for playing as a Hero or a Villain) with a wide array of character models and clothing – and yes, that means you’ll be able to dress up Sully and Drake more or less however you like, depending on what bits of clothing you’ve unlocked by finding treasures. Treasures will also help unlock pieces for emblems, which you can customize and use to represent your character or your clan online.

You’ll also be able to create multiple custom weapon loadouts. Our choices during the demo were limited to four rifles and four pistols (more weapons can be found laying around in-game), but we were also able to pick from a selection of weapon mods. Limited to one per weapon, these boosted things like rate of fire and accuracy, and madeour loadoutdecisions a little more complicated and interesting than just “M4 and scoped Magnum.”

Finally, Uncharted 3 is going further with its social-media integration than Uncharted 2 did. Instead of just posting updates on Facebook, you’ll now be able toset up matchesyour Facebook friends, even if you’re not friends with them on PSN. YouTube will also be part of the mix, as you’ll be able to edit and upload clips from your matches within the game, with the best picked by Naughty Dog for inclusion in the Uncharted TV feature, which streams constantly between matches. It seems there’s a lot to look forward to – and, again, we’ve seen only a little bit of what’s in store. With any luck, we can expect to see a lot more by the time E3 rolls around.

Apr 18, 2011

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