Uncharted 2 Multiplayer Hands-on Preview
Naughty Dog's gorgeous action franchise hunts for fresh plunder online, with Kikizo laying down cover fire.
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Whatever its title may suggest, Naughty Dog's 2007 hit Uncharted didn't wander too far off the beaten track. What it did, rather, was ambush a few of the games walking that beaten track and high-tail it with some precious gameplay attributes - Lara Croft's ability to climb up stuff and jump off other stuff, chiefly, plus Marcus Fenix's mastery of the art of ducking behind knee-high walls. Plot and tone-wise, it also extorted a lot of material from action-adventure romances (no, not the pink and fluffy kind - look the word up) like Indiana Jones, Treasure Island and Flash Gordon.
I don't intend this as a criticism. All's fair in love and game development - lest we forget, Ms Croft swiped much of her current acrobatic repertoire from the Prince of Persia, while Fenix owes his cover-lust to poor old long-forgotten Kill.switch. But I would (and did) pick on the Dog crew for failing to make away with the gold-encrusted casket of multiplayer, especially given the story's relatively brief runtime. If you're going to steal, steal thoroughly.
Better late than never. Besides a new, "darker" story which sees likable pretty boy Nathan Drake hunting for Marco Polo's lost fleet and, eventually, the mythical Tibetan Buddhist kingdom of Shambhala, Uncharted 2 sports some well-muscled online competitive and cooperative modes.
So what do you get in the private beta? Answer: two five-a-side competitive match types - no-nonsense Deathmatch and capture-the-flag variant Plunder - for two maps, plus a segment from one cooperative level in bust-up urban Nepal for up to three players.
A few match-making bugs aside (sometimes it took me ten seconds to plug in, sometimes ten minutes), finding a game is a hassle-free process. You can search for certain game criteria (there are only two sets of options or "playlists" - co-op or competitive - at present) or party up first with friends or players you've fought against but have yet to buddy with. Once the server has horsewhipped a posse together, maps and modes are decided by vote. In the final release, you'll also get a custom game creator and Cinema match recording mode.
Naughty Dog's one concession to the leaps and strides Call of Duty 4 made in the field of stat massaging is the "Booster" upgrades system, which works much like the latter game's Perks. During the pre-match countdown each player can pick two persistent ability buffs from a current playable total of seven, like improved accuracy when blindfiring with pistols, or extra ammo per clip. More of these may be unlocked as you gain experience points, medals and ranks. s
Uncharted's control scheme wasn't broke, and Naughty Dog hasn't fixed it, though it has done a little streamlining with rapidfire online play in mind. Most decisively, grenades are now mapped to L2 for ease of use - tap to toss one blind, hold to call up a throwing arc - rather than being tucked laboriously away on the D-pad weapon menu.
The original's disorientating melee combos make an unwelcome return in co-op, but are thankfully absent in competitive matches: square button doles out a serviceable swipe with your rifle butt, or a quick and painless assassination kill if you approach the target from behind. The lock-to-cover mechanic on circle seems better able to work out where you want to take shelter, thanks possibly to intense playtesting of the beta maps, though you'll still flatten yourself against the wrong side of a pillar on occasion.
Otherwise it's business as usual - hold L1 to aim, R1 to fire - and the weapons follow suit. You can carry one rifle-type gun and a pistol plus two grenades, with no pre-match load-out customisation at the time of writing. From the basic, one-size-fits-all AK47 the two-handed roster branches out predictably to a couple of shotguns (one with a larger capacity), a bastardised sniper rifle whose semi-auto fire stands up well at mid-range, a true blue sniper rifle, grenade launcher and highly accurate M4. Pistols include a micro machine gun, .45 Defender and elephant-stopping Desert Eagle.
Put it all together and you've got some nippy, fluid entertainment, with flanking ruling the day. The beta server doesn't distribute higher ranking players very effectively between teams, but this should be straightforward to rectify before release day. The scarcity of spawn points per map was also worrisome at first, but despite some determined efforts to camp another team to death we found it startlingly hard to keep them in our sights. Smaller team sizes may have something to with this, as may player inexperience, but the game also seems to pick spawns which are furthest from the enemy.
The two maps available for competitive play, Plaza and Village, are alike small and fairly sagging with cover points - rickshaws, stone pedestals, abandoned trucks, door frames, raised brickwork flower beds and so on. It's possible to get from one end of each map to the other in around a minute, and you'll seldom need to put your arse in full view while doing so. A half-dozen sniper's nests (accessible by ladder) look down on intersections or across courtyards, and parts of the Plaza are occasionally strafed, to little or no effect, by some maniac helicopter pilot.