Because we won’t see God of War III or Gran Turismo 5 in 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is easily my most anticipated release of the year. Arnold – that lucky punk – had a chance to see the game in action well before E3, and after finally laying eyes on the demonstration myself, I’m thoroughly psyched for the final result. However, I do have to admit to being a tad leery about the addition of online multiplayer, as I believe this is one game that doesn’t really need the option. I know developers and publishers all believe a game won’t sell unless it has an online multiplayer component (and they may be correct in their assessment), but I’m still old-school and hold to the belief that certain titles are simply best played in solitary. Unhcarted: Drake’s Fortune is still one of my favorite games of the generation and for the most part, I get the majority of my entertainment out of single-player games.
Of course, this doesn’t mean I wasn’t excited about participating in the Uncharted 2 multiplayer beta test. Even if it is online, it’s my first chance to play this hotly anticipated sequel and besides, I can be just as competitive as anyone else online. I was part of the Warhawk beta test that convinced me to buy the game – and prior to that, I had absolutely no intention of doing so – and although Naughty Dog’s gem is a definite Day 1 purchase for me no matter what, I’m happy to say the beta is pretty damn fun. You only have two maps and two game modes to choose from: The Village and The Plaza, and Team Deathmatch and Plunder. The latter is basically the Drake version of Capture the Flag and unfortunately, it seems that not many beta participants are interested in it. See, when the teams are set – it’s always 5-on-5 – everyone can vote as to which gameplay mode they choose to play, and everyone invariably chooses Deathmatch. I was able to get into a few Plunder matches, but I have to admit, they really weren’t anything special. All I really saw was a whole lot of camping and not much in the way of action, which is probably why most would just rather blast everyone in Team Deathmatch.
The Village seems to be more popular than The Plaza, and I’m assuming it’s because the former is much smaller and more conducive to fast action. The Plaza is more about timely firing, patience, and strategy, just because it’s larger. However, both are surprisingly dark, which kinda detracts from the visual presentation, which – while stellar – isn’t as amazing as what we’ll see in the final product. There’s a ton of great detail, though, and if they had included an area that had, oh, I don’t know, sunlight , it would’ve been more visible. But as is, you’re always concentrating on what’s going on around you, and you’ll soon find that, as is typically the case with third-person shooters, cover is your best friend. You can use just about anything for cover, and the simple press of the Circle button will make you safe from an incoming hail of fire…although not necessarily from projectiles like grenades. This cover system works admirably, but I do wish the dodge-roll button wasn’t the same; I will often dive out of cover and into enemy fire when I’m trying to hide. For the rest, you simply jump with the X button, reload with the R2, fire with the R1 and toss grenades with the L2 button. It’s a fairly straightforward mechanic, and one that most should take to easily, especially if they’re fans of the first Uncharted .
There are a few kinks that need to be worked out, but they’re little more than the usual stuff you’ll find in any beta. There’s some crashing and glitching (but thankfully, it’s minimal), and I’m not entirely certain that the melee system works exactly correctly. It’s also annoying that while friendly fire can’t hurt you, friendly grenades can , which instantly results in problems as you might expect. We assume this will be fixed at some point, though. You will gain levels of a sort as you play; getting kills and performing well in a match will net you more experience, and you can rank up accordingly. Also, in preparation for each match, you can set your bonuses: these are secondary inherent abilities you can bring with you into each battle. This can include longer firing (more bullets per clip) or greater accuracy when shooting from the hip (i.e., moving and firing without aiming). I do like the fact that being patient and aiming before firing seems to be far more effective than just running and gunning; if the latter worked best, what would be the point of the cover system? No, the balance is excellent and I also like the fact that you are quite vulnerable as a human player.
Yeah, if you get nailed hard by four or five bullets, you’re dead. You can recover with time, but it’s always best to take a determined yet careful approach to combat. Some of the weapons, like the mini-gun, really ask that you step out in the open and go nuts, but if you’re using a rifle, you had best be sneaky and patient. You can nab the shotgun if you want, but it can be difficult to just run up to someone; they’re not likely to let that happen easily. There’s also no such thing as inexhaustible ammo, either, as you can run out of bullets fairly quickly, and must continually look about for more bullets. The flow of the game works surprisingly well for only a beta test; it’s not just the pacing, but the action has the appropriate amount of highs and lows: there are times when the team is being really careful, and times when massive gunfights just make you laugh. The only downside I’ve seen is that the Villains sometimes have the unfair edge, especially in the Village, as their dark uniforms tend to blend into the background, making them more difficult targets in my experience. But besides this, I really have very few complaints.
I will freely admit that I won’t buy Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for the multiplayer. I want it for the single-player, and unless I’ve got friends who want to play, I may never go online. But what’s there is fun and it can only get better with time, so I would consider this beta to be an excellent indicator of things to come. If it’s this good, this early… The minimal beta problems don’t really hamper it much, and everyone who’s involved should be excited about the prospects of trying the multiplayer when the game releases in November.