Uncharted 3 Beta: First Impressions
I never like multiplayer beta’s, they’re full of unskilled idiots flailing around attempting to learn the ropes while those sad enough to get up at whatever AM the game was up for download slaughter them with their newfound skills. But for Uncharted 3 I have attempted to put all that behind me. Multiplayer is a fact of life these days and Uncharted is Uncharted right? Well not really, at least for me
Firstly, control has really been loosened up. Uncharted 2 was never tight in the control department but at least the cover system worked most of the time and you could slide in and out of cover like a slimmed-down Marcus Fenix. Now it’s more difficult to transition between pieces of cover because Drake and co have been seriously over-animated. It’s probably the most realistic animation of people moving that I’ve ever seen in a game but boy does it hamper movement. There’s a constant sensation that movement is really hurting my character because the number of times he stumbles, grunts and generally makes getting around the make more laborious due to all these little animation tweaks are too many to mention. What we have here is the Lost Planet 2 “taking too long to do normal things” problem and it makes the game that much more difficult to control effectively. The sprinting also looks weird and doesn’t really speed up movement, I see more people jumping to move faster and it makes Ezio’s “spoon up your backside” sprint seem elegant, never have I see a game character so much like they’ve got piles than in this beta.
Platforming is also more cumbersome, I’ve seen loads of people jumping fruitlessly against walls because Drake could climb up structures of the same height in Among Thieves but not so here, in fact you’d be pushed to find the kind of verticality that was present in the Lost Paradise and Village maps in second game, I haven’t even managed to find a way up to the top of the Chateau and that’s a crime in and of itself.
Weapon sounds effects and feel have been vastly improved, even the piddly defender pistol feels nice to shoot, the AK-47 is sadly not the all-purpose powerhouse that it was in Among Thieves and the grenade throwing is no longer immediate meaning you can’t just aim and throw with pinpoint accuracy like you could before. I have fallen in love with the sawed-off and the new meaty re-incarnation of the FAL which I hated in the last game. Sadly there is no M4 here, yes there’s an equivalent but it’s not nearly as fun or crazy as the M4 was to fire. The new bolt action rifle is also overpowered in a way that makes the new Gears sawed-off look like a fair option, its very easy to use at close quarters and affords a one-hit kill which seriously unbalances ordinary matches when a someone with the perk that helps you find power weapons gets their hands on one. Also the reticules are plain awful, they're very over complicated and fiddly so you don't exactly know where you weapon is pointing in an intense firefight. Happily Naughty Dog have added an aim-dot so you know where you weapon is going to point when you hit L1. I hope they remove the over-complicated reticules because their completely unnecessary, the last game's reticules were simple and functional, why make the game more like the shooters that its mechanics can't match ie: Gears of War
What isn’t nice is the inclusion of CoDisms and Haloisms. What Naughty Dog have included are emblems, loadouts, “kickbacks” (read: killstreak bonuses but based on medals), sprinting and more perks and hit markers/hit sounds. Toll any bells? You get the picture. One weird thing is that you can’t change loadouts without spending medals, which is hardly the idea of the year. If you’re going to emulate CoD and Halo then at least make it smooth and functional as the game you’re copying.
There are some nice additions however, the new power plays sourced directly from Homefront’s Battle Commander style in game objectives work well in the team deathmatch mode, especially as the they usher in some great dramatic music to accompany your game. Also new and welcome is the buddy system, this is fantastic as Among Thieves was more geared towards doing your own thing and the new emphasis on team work is definitely a step in the right direction. The usual multiplayer suite is also here, you get a theatre with editing tools, customizable weapons and appearances etc. Its welcome as we expect it but there isn’t anything exciting being done with the formula.
Graphically Uncharted 3 is certainly a looker but it’s not got the wow-factor that the Among Thieves beta had. I’m getting the feeling that Killzone 3 was as far as we were going to get with the PS3 in terms of graphical muscle but there’re some nice touches here and there. Lighting has certainly improved, the “God rays” are here in abundance, Crysis 2 has obviously made its mark on developers, there plenty of high-res detail and a lot more reflection going on than in previous games.. There are some beta-ish issues like clipping and flickering shadows but I wouldn’t worry, it looks great and that all you should need. I have to add that the text onscreen suffers the Mass Effect 2 “we expect all of you to have HD and widescreen so we’re going to make this important notice really small” syndrome which is painful for my already genetically stunted eyes to comprehend. There is also some impressive destructibility and player interaction with the maps which is a nice addition if slightly unnecessary.
Well I say “impressive” but what I really mean is sporadic. There are bits of map that can be torn asunder but you can’t shoot windows out and there’s no destructible cover to speak of, really Naughty Dog? Even infamous 2 managed to put some breakable windows in its warehouses (which is basically what the second half of Airstrip really is). Hopefully this is just due to the beta version because nothing is more out of place than objects that should break not doing so while larger structures can be ripped apart.
The Airstrip map is really the showcase of what Naughty Dog has to offer in terms of map design and its nicely varied with lots of boxes and so on to break up the lines of sight. The first half of Airstrip is brilliant, the baddies spawn in trucks chasing a cargo plane down a runway in which the Hero team is laying down defense. Its dramatic stuff and just what Uncharted needs as we love a bit of contextual drama and this works nicely, sadly its all too short, after about 3 minutes we end up back in the Airstrip area full of boxes and things that we’re not allowed to climb on. Why not just have a full match on that runway? It may not be realistic having a 10 minute takeoff but that’s the best moment of this beta and we get 3 minutes of it?
The gametypes have also been given little dramatic openings ala Killzone 3’s operations games but sadly they’re all your standard team deathmatch, free for all and basic objective modes so it's rather unnecessary, I’m sure it’ll be great for the more intense game modes like elimination and the capture-the-flag variant though.
I’ve played all of the game modes bar the hardcore mode as I’m a coward but as it removes most of the heinous CoDisms and Haloisms I may give it a go. I have mostly been playing Co-op which is, to my mind, the closest thing I can get to a taste of the single-player portion of the future game. All three co-op modes (the arena ones) have been amalgamated into a single game type, think Co-op warzone Killzone fans.
There are issues with how this is set up, especially when it comes down to the enemy AI. There are only 2 maps that I’ve played thus far on co-op and both have seen me being ambushed within seconds of the game starting and being mowed down by the enemy, yes its meant to be hard but chucking 8 henchmen at the player within seconds of the game starting is just sloppy game pacing on the part of Naughty Dog.
The enemy AI is much more similar to that of Drake’s Fortune than Among Thieves. They show a disturbing lack of self-preservation, something which Among Thieves did really well was the tendency for the AI to hang back and keep itself alive than charge into the fray, it advanced at a measured pace, surrounding and boxing you in. Not so here, the enemy AI seems to firmly believe that bravery shall negate the effect of bullets and so charges in. They’re very well animated and convey the sense that you’re fighting untrained mercs rather than skilled troops. This makes the game much more frantic, the aggressive-ness of the enemy means that you’ll spend less time in cover as its almost useless due to the unhappy fact because of the rather open-ended map design you can no longer bunker down with your friends and hold off the enemy until the next round.
The frenetic pacing of the AI wouldn’t be a problem if Drake and sundry weren’t a bit sluggish when it comes to aiming and movement. I had to dial up the sensitivity just to get a 180 degree turn in less than 2-3 seconds, something that I never had to do with Among Thieves. There’s also an unsettling lack of blood in the game, not that I’m a bloodthirsty maniac but the last game used blood instead of hit markers to denote if you shots are hitting their target, the issue is that the new hit markers are so tiny and the hit sounds are drowned out by the new punchy weapon effects that it’s very hard to know when you’re actually hitting anybody. You get used to it after a while but it can confuse when you start it up.
What’s probably most disappointing is the lack of remedies for the issues that plagued Among Thieves multiplayer. The shotgun and pistolero running/charging is still in abundance, cover has gone from occasionally useful in Uncharted 2 to downright pointless as you can now hit your enemy’s body parts sticking out of cover easily and it’s still a hassle to slide into and once you know where the power weapons are then its gravy all the way until you run out of ammo. It now takes even more damage to down somebody which means the extended clip perk is now almost mandatory, the weapons are also inaccurate with a lot of kickback so fights devolve into a messy run and gun mush as everyone runs about firing constantly.
There are some great upsides though, I love the inclusion of music in the matches as it lends a wonderful sense of urgency and you can high-five your team mate over your enemies corpse for extra cash which has a great risk/reward dynamic as does the inclusion of random treasure drops which give you cash and customization options. The maps are also well-designed with some nice little touches like warehouse doors that you can close and zip-lines that we saw in Among Thieves
I know this first impressions post has been very negative, and that’s because it is but it’s not all bad and a lot of its pretty enjoyable. But honestly, I am growing tired of multiplayer add-ons with the classic CoD suite of useless features. Contrary to appearances I’m actually enjoying the beta, but there’s not much new or exciting here. Make no mistake, I will buy Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (what a stupid title) the day it comes out but it won’t be for this, if you’re excited for the game, let’s face it who isn’t? then don’t expect to be bowled over by this beta. Its good, but I expect better from Naughty Dog when the game is released. The only reason we're playing it is because we're trying to sniff out hints regarding the single-player game