Video Game Review: Uncharted 3 Beta
Uncharted Proves it is Still the King of Software IP’s
A video game review of: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception [Multiplayer Beta]
By: Lawrence Napoli
If you currently own a PS3, you also have one month’s free access to Sony’s Playstation Plus welcome back program and (more importantly) free access to one of the best video game demos/betas released to the public of all time. The file size is large (just under 1700 MB) but rest assured, those wanting a lot more dynamic play to satiate their online multiplayer fever will find in the Uncharted 3 Beta a healing salve no version of Call of Duty can equal. I understand that many are intimidated by the highly competitive nature of online multiplayer. Uncharted still has you covered with a healthy cooperative element which can be as challenging, if not as satisfying, as any competitive mode. What makes the whole experience more meaningful is the fact that Naughty Dog is monitoring this Beta’s game play, statistics and forum observations to refine what already appears to be a refined online experience when the full game releases on November 1, 2011. Point blank: No other first party software developer offers this kind of free (and productive) fun for the general public months before a release. The only excuses for not checking this game out are: 1) I don’t own a PS3, 2) I don’t like fun, 3) I’m lazy, or 4) I don’t have internet access.
The Uncharted 3 Beta is strictly an online multiplayer experience with very little, if any, story connections to the ongoing adventures of Nathan Drake, so don’t worry about spoilers. It will, however, give you a full-fledged sampling of the type of game play one will experience in the final game, and a talent for shooting things on screen and chucking grenades from afar will only get you halfway there. What separates the Uncharted franchise from every other combat oriented action game is that navigating the terrain is just as important as marksmanship, and the beta does not disappoint in delivering some pretty impressive (though limited) level designs.
The two selectable maps offer very distinct layouts with a bevy of dynamic obstacles that can be turned to your advantage once you learn the maps and get used to the various movement mechanics. Moving with proficiency in Uncharted is an acquired, but necessary skill, because even those just interested in sniping need to be able to get to high vantage points without attracting any negative attention. Climbing, running, jumping and rolling to cover are the keys to keeping you alive in multiplayer as neither armor nor health kits are strewn about to keep you going. All you get is the generic health regeneration mechanic common to most games which will only save you if you can evade combat for a few seconds.
I would not qualify the movement control as “pinpoint precise” as a mistimed roll here and an incorrectly angled jump there has led to many a character death for yours truly. This game will punish you with a string of awkwardly failed attempts to scale a wall or even a ladder if you are not lined up properly and by the 3rd or 4th try, you’re probably getting an RPG round shot up your posterior. The key to countering this is compensating with precise movement lines between your current position and where you want to go, as well as for an ever so slight delay in transitioning between running and climbing so as to keep your overall movement fluid and constant.
A new mechanic that was added to Uncharted’s multiplayer movement array is the inclusion of dashing, which can be achieved by depressing the L3 analog stick. Dashing can get you out of a sticky situation if you are being pegged from a distance, but your ability to make turns and change directions is severely hampered. I tend to stick with the regular movement speed because I prefer control to speed – and dashing (like in every other game) doesn’t last forever. I guess this was a nice addition because just about every “shooting” themed game has it, but not vital to one’s overall success.
There are three types of combat controls: traditional aiming and firing (complete with strafing), running and gunning (much less accurate, but inevitably panics your target into dumb mistakes) and melee (ideal for close quarter combat yielding instant kills from behind, while pulling someone off a ledge above you or kicking them off a ledge below you). CoD enthusiasts will only be able to appreciate the traditional aim and shoot scheme, but even that is not entirely comparable to successful FPS formulas designating stricter shots fired to damage dealt ratios. I often found myself the victim of only 5-6 AK-47 rounds fired in my direction when I had almost emptied an entire clip that registered as “hits” on my target, but failed to eliminate them. The reason for this is that Uncharted REALLY rewards headshots from just about every weapon, so true virtual marksmen and women will enjoy the decided advantage of suppressing threats from distance.
Of course, aiming minimizes the player’s peripheral field to an FPS perspective which leaves you wide open to flanking tactics and instant kill melees from behind. Not everyone is gifted with the most attuned hand/eye coordination to line up a shot and connect within a tenth of a second. This is one of the reasons why the stealth melee mechanic was included: as some form of check and balance to players who are “scoped in” for entire matches. Becoming a master of melee murder is not as easy as spamming the square button, however. First, it cannot be relied upon as the primary combat tactic because the levels are far too spacious. And second, navigating the terrain is vital to getting you up close and personal without letting your target know you are there. So, if you just “can’t get” jumping and climbing in Uncharted, stick to aiming, or better yet, stick to CoD.
But my favorite combat tactic is running and gunning while sometimes topping it off with a melee hit to the skull for good measure. Melee strikes head on are not instant kills, and the animation for one swing is long enough to leave the player vulnerable to another player ready to aim and shoot. I love staying in constant motion mostly because it keeps camping snipers off my back, and running and gunning will shred a decent amount of health off your target before they blindly lash out with a melee attack - which won’t kill you and leaves you free to mop up with a melee of your own. This is a very risky tactic as I found myself running into many unfavorable 2-3 versus 1 confrontations which grenade tosses did not always solve, but it can also be very rewarding if you have the right weapon (the shotgun for instance) and happen flank the opposite team, allowing you to kill every one of them in one pass.
A quick note on grenades: They were extremely overpowered in Uncharted 2 and have been scaled back for Uncharted 3. They don’t have as large of a blast radius, players can only carry one at one time (without perks/boosters), and if one is thrown at you, you have a very brief (and by brief I mean millisecond) window to throw the grenade back at your attacker. These changes are appreciated as I seem to be a magnet for explosives thrown by everyone on the map, including my own team.
Adjusting your character’s load out determines the style of play one is comfortable with. Hand guns and rifles are great for “aimers,” while automatics are natural for “run and gunners.” But all the options will not be available when playing this game for the first time as you must pay your dues and level up your character to earn different weapon load outs, which will also lead to different perk packages that can be purchased to further enhance one’s proficiency with the weapon in question. None of the guns are “broken,” even if the maximum perk package is applied to any of them, as even a level 1 noob has a chance against a level 40 provided they can aim decently. Currently, the load out selection is very limited (4 rifle types and 2 side arms), and I do not believe this will change much when the final game is released. Standard death match games have a wider selection of weapons to be discovered on the battle field, but even if they are included, CoD style games laugh at Uncharted’s poor weapon variety.
Leveling in Uncharted is somewhat based on the money earned during matches for the number of kills, the manner in which you kill and performing certain actions during the match. When you reach a certain character level, new weapons and perks become available for purchase in the load out menu. The prices for these new options are expensive, but are permanently selectable once purchased. There are no more than 3 perks associated with any single weapon, and only one perk can be assigned at a time (without additional perks/boosters).
Boosters are additional enhancements that can be purchased in the same manner as weapon perks. These have more to do with adjusting one’s general navigation during matches. For instance, some allow you to see the location of power weapons on the map while others allow you to climb at a faster rate. Double health and double damage boosters do not exist because they would completely break the game wide open for higher level characters. Again, these boosters simply help the player play the game the way they want to play it and give no decided advantage over noobs in combat.
The third level of customization is the medal kickback system which actively rewards in game performance during single matches. Performing certain unique actions like double kills, kills from distance or staying in cover for X amount of time will net you medals during matches. Performing enough of these positive mini-achievements will allow the player access to their medal kickback bonus that can allow several game-changing abilities like teleporting you instantly to another part of the map or spawning an RPG in your hands. As these abilities can quickly turn the tide in any confrontation, their frequency is strictly determined by performance. Really good players will be able to access their medal kickbacks multiple times during matches while poor performers will have to rely on their basic load outs.
Team death match is the basic game type, the easiest to learn combat and movement controls, and the absolute bread and butter of the Uncharted 3 beta experience. This game type allows for the maximum weapon variety, perk usage and player support by pitting two teams of 5 against each other. First team to 50 kills, wins.
Co-op arena and Co-op Hunter are two different cooperative styles that feature a more significant presence of computer NPCs as the primary opposition. Arena allows for a max team of three human players to complete objectives like moving treasures from one side of the map into a pre-designated chest, while fending off a horde of generic enemies. Hunter is a match that pits heroes against villains in a treasure race: heroes try to score while villains prevent this from happening. Four human players can get in on this match, but splits it up 2 vs. 2. What’s really neat is how the villain characters spawn as one of the generic NPCs which conceal the players’ identities from the hero team until they get too close. Heroes can absorb more damage and pick up loose weapons on the map as a means of balancing the numbers advantage that the villains enjoy.
Team objective and plunder focus less on kill/death ratios and more on team tactics. Plunder is strictly two teams of 5 fighting over one treasure on the map to be scored at their home base. Team objective features randomly selected team assignments like plunder, king of the hill or kill the opposite team’s “marked man,” during the match of 5 vs. 5, which boasts the most diverse pacing of all the match modes.
Perhaps the most interesting match additions are the free for all death match and three team death match. Uncharted can get quite chaotic in regular team death matches so free for alls get twice as messy. True snipers will enjoy this mode best. Three-team-death-match pits three teams of two against each other which I found to be curious seeing how 10 live players can be loaded on a map for any other death match mode. Five teams of two or three teams of three would have made more sense.
Hardcore mode is for the Uncharted purist. No perks, no bonuses, no kickbacks, no additional weapons on the map allowed. Simply two teams of five with their basic weapon load outs: skill versus skill alone.
Uncharted 3 will win best game of the year due in no small part to the extreme fun generated by its various multiplayer modes. I already know the narrative of the single player adventure will be interesting and engrossing, but multiplayer takes this game to a whole new level. The competition is intense and the action is well paced. Gears of War 3 is Xbox’s answer to Uncharted, and the one advantage it has (as a cover based shooter) is the gore and stylized animation associated with its game play. But Uncharted’s playability is too seductive to ignore. It is incredibly easy to pick up and very difficult to master. Although this game still has some technical issues with match-making, this multiplayer beta comes off as quite polished already. There’s enough game play balance, customization and options to keep players interested well into their prestige levels (if they’re good enough). And if one needed any further incentive to get in on this free beta experience, participating in enough match types and leveling one’s character to 25 will unlock cash and additional bonuses when the full game releases this November.
Seriously PS3 gamers, what are you all waiting for?