The multiplayer beta for Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has been out for a week now (well for Infamous 2 owners and Playstation Plus folks), but its now out for everyone else to enjoy till it ends later this month. After hours of messing around with this being level 16 at the time of this post, it definitely shows that Naughty Dog wants it to be a serious multiplayer game for many months besides the awesome campaign we will expect to see this November. I enjoyed Uncharted 2's multiplayer during its first two months as I didn't bother with the DLC maps they added months after that came out. This time around, the core is pretty much the same from last time, but it is the little things that makes Uncharted 3 a serious contender for your gaming hours compared to the shooter juggernauts of this fall (mainly Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3).
Naughty Dog is going the extra mile (or my words, H.A.M.) to make the multiplayer as good as they can rather than make it as just another cash-in. The beta had a shaky start last Tuesday with game crashes and session managers not working due to the overflow of people trying to get in at the same time, but good thing it was worked out right away later that day as the beta basically has been going well after the 1.01 patch came out. Right from the get go as you navigate the menus there are tons of customization options to mess around with, but of course you can unlock more as you level up throughout this beta to unlock more outfits for your characters, boosters, gun mods, and so on. The developers managed to take some elements seen in recent shooters to be put in Uncharted 3 such as pre-game loadouts, emblems, and character customization. Loadouts totally make the game not much of a hunt for power weapons even though they're still not there, but your rifle of choice is usually the weapon to go with. As you level up, you get better guns from the M9 rifle and the auto pistol. Emblems are basically another way of showing off especially when you're on the lead score-wise as your emblem shows up at various parts of the map.
Uncharted 3's multiplayer beta offers three maps as two of them are used in all the modes while one map is exclusive to free-for-all from what I seen. With the team modes, you'll likely play either Airstrip or Chateau. Airstrip is a multiplayer map that only Uncharted would have as the first part is quite unique. There is a plane ready to take off as you players spawn either inside the plane or outside on chasing trucks trying to transverse their way into the plane. This whole sequence is cool on paper playing it for the first time, but it doesn't really translate into a good map since one team is spawned instantly at an advantageous position as the opposing team has to work harder to get kills out of the gate. After the sequence is over, Airstrip becomes a standard map after. I appreciate Naughty Dog's effort to translate epic campaign sequences into part of multiplayer maps, but it doesn't make sense mostly as it should be only be played during the campaign. Chateau is just a typical map in an abandoned house, but the neat feature for this one is the zipline as the potential is there for some awesome zipline kills for rare medals. Besides the traditional team deathmatch and free for all modes, the playlists will periodically change throughout the beta as team objective, team hardcore (just skill only), and co-op hunter modes are available to be played as of yesterday.
Now that the features are out of the way, does Uncharted 3's multiplayer gameplay wise stand a chance against the competition? My answer would be yes since the Uncharted-only twists still make multiplayer fun to play for long sessions as people already reaching the maximmum level in this beta (50 even though the unlocks stop at 25). The transversal elements are still great unless someone is shooting you with something like an AK-47. The melee attacks definitely got improved with more instant kill animations besides the choke from behind. The gun whip 50/50 contest from Uncharted 2 is still there, but so far it hasn't been a problem in this beta. The boosters (aka perks if you're a CoD person) from this beta have been okay as there is not one of them that seems broken. New to Uncharted 3 though is kickbacks. After getting a certain amount of medals, you basically get another booster at your disposal if you press the up button on the d-pad. These range from getting an instant rocket launcher that has two shots, no reloading for a limited time, sprint speed gets increased, etc. These are pretty much similar to killstreak awards in Call of Duty rewarding players for doing well in matches. There's also a treasure system as kills often drop treasures to unlock more character outfits too.
Then there's what I call the "comeback mechanic" for Uncharted 3, which are the power plays. Power plays are in effect when you're down by more than six kills in a team deathmatch game. These give the losing team a chance to come back into a match in a limited time such as killing one of the marked players for three points instead of one, the whole opposing team being spotted, or getting double damage. Of course it depends on the team to actually take advantage of the power play to get back into the match, which likely happens, but it is there to keep matches close and intense. Thinking about the idea of comeback mechanics in competitive games is making me consider a write up sometime in the future thanks to numerous matches here and of course with recent fighting games. I also like the buddy system in this game as you have the option to respawn next to a teammate besides a random spawn point, which also seem ripped off from Battlefield.
I am impressed of what I played and seen from Uncharted 3's multiplayer beta so far with its first week. We'll see what Naughty Dog offers in the days to come to spice up playlists and even maps before the beta period ends later this month. If you love Uncharted 2's multiplayer, you'll enjoy this new one as it is pretty much the same with little to much needed improvements. The power play concept can make or break team deathmatch games as players who don't like that just stick to the team hardcore playlist. Co-op is also improved with more modes like the unique hunter mode even though I didn't have much time such it came up yesterday, but there is still some cheapness from the last game as enemies will grab you from behind rendering you useless till your teammates get you out. Of course, I'm still looking forward to the campaign much more than this, but it is good to know that multiplayer is still good as it is and that Naughty Dog is working hard to make it as a legitimate contender to compete against the shooter juggernauts.
The 1.02 patch for this beta came out late this night and I was able to spend some time messing around with the changes Naughty Dog came up with into. First of all, there was another playlist change, which now features Plunder, Uncharted's version of Capture the Flag in the two team-based maps. Power plays got changed dramatically as they're now a full minute instead of 30 seconds, but the tradeoff is that they're not put into action at the 40 kill mark in team deathmatch games, which is the right thing to do letting players win the proper way rather than try to rely on a power play for an easy comeback. Players also can't stack kickbacks now, which is another good change for the sake of balance as imagine having 2 RPG kickbacks ready to get nuts. Medals can still be earned, but they won't count towards getting another kickback if you already have one ready to be used. It is nice to see Naughty Dog do balance changes right away with this beta setting things right for the final game in November.
Oh, as I was just typing this, patch 1.03 came out addressing matchmaking issues for some Euro folks. I didn't mention this earlier, but there's Facebook support for Uncharted 3 as well seeing which of your FB friends are playing so you can party up. I'm not using it and it doesn't seem like any others are using it either. It is just another one of those "its nice that its there" features that won't be used.