|Get ready for some crazy action|
When I first heard about all the extra modes, customization options and tweaks developer Naughty Dog would be adding to the formula, I'll admit I was a little skeptical. I loved U2's online for its simplicity, and the list of additions for U3 was about a mile long.
The Uncharted 3 online beta launched Tuesday evening and, after pouring several hours into the new offerings, I'm feeling pretty damn good about what the final product will have to offer. In this particular case, it looks like all those extra toppings will result in a more delicious pie.
After tweaking my character's appearance, designing my own banner (which appears on the level's wall if I'm winning a match) and setting up my weapons, I was ready to jump into some matches. So far I've stuck to team deathmatch, free-for-all and co-op, though there are several other options, including "Hardcore," which turns off all those extra bells and whistles I was nervous about in the first place.
Keep in mind this is a beta, so I won't linger on the occasional lag, freezes or disconnects. I heard a couple people claim they also fell through the floor in one spot of the Chateau map, but I never experienced that for myself. What we're here to look at is what's changed and how that's affected the experience.
As my first match began, I immediately felt right at home with the U3 controls. Everything has carried over from U2, with the exception that now you automatically pick up ammo and grenades. The character ran, shot, climbed and took death-defying leaps exactly how I expected him to, even if some of the animations are still a bit off. The cover-based shooting, too, was smooth as silk.
Playing on Chateau, the addition of a couple mounted turrets means you'll have to be more careful when running into open areas. Don't worry about 50 Cal. campers, though, as there are multiple clear shots and paths to punish anyone who lingers on these heavy weapons too long.
If you've played Uncharted 2 online, you might be wondering what the hell a "kill treasure" is. In U3, every time you kill someone, there's a chance they'll drop a random treasure. There are also random treasure chests peppered across each map and, every few minutes, one will pop up on the screen as having active loot. Not only does this encourage players to keep moving in order to claim their own rewards, but it also frequently directs the action to one specific part of the map, making for some great firefights as everyone tries to claim the prize.
Treasures can be collected to eventually unlock extra customization options or give you a special weapon or additional medals. Medals are not new to the series, but their uses are. If you claim enough in a match (double kill, melee kill, hanging kill, etc.), you have the option to initiate your chosen "kickback."
Kickbacks can be anything from a rocket launcher to a smoke bomb, or even the rare swarm of man-eating bugs. After I claimed enough medals, I was able to transform into a bunch of ravenous bugs and, for 10 seconds, anyone I touched was swarmed and died a horrible, bitey death. It took nearly the full match to earn enough medals for this powerful move, so I don't think abuse will be too much of a problem.
The final big addition was the "Power Plays." When our team was down, for instance, we suddenly had the ability to deal double damage to our opponents. The winning team, though, earned double cash for everything they did in that time, so it was a balanced reward system for both sides. We were able to make up a bit of the difference thanks to the Power Play, but it by no means swung the match in our favor. What it did was give our losing team some encouragement to keep up the fight while putting some extra cash in the pocket of the more dominant side (Or, the "assholes," as I liked to call them). Power Plays worked out well and even came with their own fast-paced soundtrack.
Chateau is a beautiful estate of crumbling rock and burning wood with loads of outdoor areas and a large, multilayered mansion at its heart. Airfield sports a giant warehouse with plenty of offices and catwalks to discover, surrounded by shipping yards, plane depots and an additional structure still under construction. The real treat for me, though, was Yemen, which isn't actually supposed to be available until the last few days of the beta. But I got to spend two matches in this big, vertical map of interconnected stone buildings, large towers and ladders-a-plenty. Like Chateau and Airfield, if you want to get somewhere in Yemen, there were at least a dozen ways to go about it.
Basically, Naughty Dog took everything I loved about Uncharted 2's online and pumped in some truly creative ideas. They've found new ways to make you actually want to work as a team, stay in a losing match, and even direct the action to various portions of each map. Everything included feels like it was done for one of two reasons: To give you more ownership of your character or to give you even more ways to enjoy an already excellent game.
The Uncharted 3 beta ends July 13. After that, it's going to be a long four months to wait before I can sink my teeth into the full online game. From what I can tell from the beta, though, it will be well worth the wait.