Naughty Dog pulled the plug on the Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception multiplayer beta this Friday. I was online, jumping from one round of Team Objective to another when those multiplayer servers went dark. I'll miss you, Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta, because I learned a lot during our three weeks together.
Having already fooled around with Uncharted 3's multiplayer component for hours in advance of the beta that spanned three weeks and was enjoyed by some 1.5 million players. I sampled brand new Three Team Deathmatch and Free For All modes back in April, exploring two of the maps (Chateau and Airstrip) featured in the widely played beta.
So, I spent much of my time in competitive modes like Plunder—the "capture the treasure" mode returning from Uncharted 2's multiplayer suite—and Team Objective, the newer, much improved highlight of Uncharted competitive multiplayer. I spent less time playing cooperative Hunter and Arena modes. I'll wait until more friends and colleagues on PSN (and Facebook) are playing alongside me.
I sampled all of Uncharted 3's early multiplayer offerings, minus one, learning a few things along the way.
Power Plays and Medal Kickbacks sure seem like a good idea to me, but I may be in the minority. Two big additions are coming to Uncharted 3 multiplayer. The first and perhaps most contentious among the community is the concept of Power Plays, a game modifier in team-based modes designed to discourage one team being blown out by the other. When there's a large disparity in the kill count, the losing team will be granted one of a few temporary advantages, like the ability to see the location of opposing players or a chance to score more kill points by taking out a VIP—the "marked man."
Some Uncharted multiplayer vets don't like that. I happen to enjoy it, thank you very much, especially after witnessing a few big blowouts in the previous game's online modes. I've seen Power Plays help a poorly performing team, but rarely have I watched as the losers turned the tide in their favor. It happens, but having been on the unluckier side of a Power Play certainly made multiplayer matches more compelling, even when you're dominating.
Medal Kickbacks, Uncharted 3's mutation of the Call of Duty killstreak, lets players cash in coins collected during matches towards advantages like rocket propelled grenades and the ability to run in stealth mode for a short period of time. More controversial Kickbacks let players teleport randomly in a puff of smoke (Smoke Bomb) or magically transmute into a cluster of poisonous spiders (Creepy Crawler). While the balancing of these kickbacks may still need some sorting out, they're a far cry from a Pave Low hovering overhead turning a team into pink mist.
It may be the Call of Duty-fication of Uncharted (and other multiplayer games) that has players who find persistent progression and superhuman power-ups distasteful, but I savored the occasional advantages of Medal Kickbacks. For the Uncharted 3 players who don't agree, Naughty Dog has one concession, Hardcore mode, the multiplayer diversion I ignored.
What about Paid Boosters? Collectible treasures? Well, mistakes were made. Naughty Dog expands the concept of Boosters—modifiers that affect a player's skills and attributes similar to Call of Duty's Perks, a concept introduced last game—with Paid Boosters, one-time use power-ups on which players can spend in-game cash before a multiplayer match. Foolishly, I squandered way too much of my virtual cash on Paid Boosters, not realizing just how expensive this disposable Boosters were. I'll exercise better financial planning when Uncharted 3 ships complete later this year.
Collectible treasures, the knickknacks and artifacts that players occasionally drop upon death, were a great, but sometimes deadly distraction. These are the things one must collect to unlock new visual customizations for characters. They come in collectible treasure sets, a long list of virtual items that demand to be picked up—sometimes at the expense of paying attention to the fight happening around you. I'm certainly guilty of that.
Yemen is the game's best competitive map, but I always played Airstrip. The map I wound up playing least, Yemen, was its most intriguing, thanks to its winding architecture and impressive verticality. Maps Chateau, the sometimes burning dilapidated mansion with a zip line, and Airstrip, the tightly constructed airfield, have their own attractive qualities, but Yemen shined in Plunder and Deathmatch modes. Next time you play Uncharted 3's multiplayer, maybe don't vote for Airstrip so often and give Yemen a shot.
My favorite aspect of Uncharted 3's multiplayer maps was a sensation, I must add, that the arenas felt right-sized, maps that offered more frequent encounters (and improved spawning) than the bigger and lonelier-feeling maps of Uncharted 2.
Airstrip's two-part map is a great idea. I'm just a little bit let down by the execution. For those who didn't play Uncharted 3's multiplayer beta, the Airstrip map is split into two sections in some game types. In this unusual preamble to deathmatch, players engage in team-based firefights on an airstrip either in the hold of a cargo plane or leaping from truck to truck keeping pace with the aircraft. Players in the belly of the plane have a tactical advantage, so it makes sense to fight for position and set down roots as a team. The plane takes off and players are instantly transported to the other half of Airstrip. It's cinematically interesting, but only superficially explored from a gameplay perspective. (Players can score a "Drake's On A Plane" medal if they're on-board when the aircraft takes off.)
Right now, Airstrip's two-part experience feels like a neat curiosity, a dabble in cinematic presentation rather than a fully fleshed out multiplayer map concept. I'd love to see Naughty Dog evolve that concept further.
Hey! I'm a pretty solid Uncharted 2 competitor now. My performance in Uncharted 3's multiplayer beta is nothing to brag about. My kill/death ratio was occasionally above 1:1, but I sacrificed my Nathan Drakes and Sullys carelessly, mostly to focus on completing the objectives my anonymous teammates didn't seem interested in fulfilling. Not so in Uncharted 2, which I returned to after the multiplayer beta ended, in which I now find myself an able competitor. So, thanks, Uncharted 3 beta. You made me better.
In returning to Uncharted 2's online mode, however, I find some things I prefer about that game: movement speed, a general extra layer of polish, for example. But Naughty Dog has clearly tweaked and improved multiplayer mode's interface, its player customization and game types. Team Objective, a swirling sequence of game types (King of the Hill, Treasure Hunter, Chain Reaction, etc.) rolled into one, is the most compelling of modes, one in which its nigh impossible to find oneself bored. The buddy system... I enjoy aspects of it, but will need to explore the Buddy Boosters to find out just how much I like it.
Now that the beta's over—and I've shared my thoughts—why not share your own? Did the Uncharted 3 multiplayer beta sell you on more multiplayer with Nathan Drake and friends? Were the changes to your liking? Or will you simply stick to single-player, knowing what you know? Let us know in the comments what you thought of the beta.