Uncharted 3: Has Naughty Dog invented cinematic multiplayer?
28th Jun 2011 | 18:30
Bullets pour from the trailing cargo hatch as the plane speeds along the runway.
There's no way in through there, so we clamber onto the bonnet of a rattling truck and leap to the one in front, pulling alongside the plane. A hatch is missing, and with a leap we clear the deadly blurred stream of tarmac to land inside.
Checking for ammo, we burst into the cabin, taking down two enemies with a spray of fire and sprinting towards a third. We launch a fatal smack to the face just as the cargo door slams and the plane takes off.
All this, and we're in multiplayer. In fact, it's just the start of one of the many maps from Uncharted 3's online mode. "We wanted to take the cinematic feel of the epic action-adventure genre, and bring it to the multiplayer," says the director, Justin Richmond. Yeah - no kidding.
When we land the rest of the match plays out, with whichever team dominated the runway intro taking a healthy lead into the Airstrip map proper. This is a tight, asymmetrical arena, with a three-layered hangar running almost the full length of one side and an open space overseen by the flight control tower - and a bloody great machine gun - on the other.
It's dusty and has a sniff of Raiders Of The Lost Ark's airfield fist-fight to it (no deadly propellers though, sadly), while the action feels frantic, as if you're liable to run into someone who needs shooting round every corner.
Which, in the new three-way deathmatch where a trio of two-man teams battle it out, you absolutely are. The dynamic is a big shift from the pitched Us versus Them of the last game, not least because it makes it much harder to occupy a defensible part of the map and give the big 'bring it' hand to the enemy. Now matches are in constant flux, with teams dashing through to surprise the other two teams while they're going at it.
Short alliances of convenience spring up very occasionally in the games we play, whenever one team works themselves into a particularly aggravating position - usually on that control tower gun - but they always end quickly, badly and bloodily.
Another new element of Uncharted 3's multiplayer these two-man teams foreground is the buddy system. Don't make that face - this isn't some hoohaa-ing, knucklehead Army Of Two bromance. It's a system of bonuses designed to encourage players to work together. If you join a game in a party, your buddy will be plucked from your lobby.
If you're alone the game chooses one for you. Either way you earn medal and currency bonuses for working together, and rack up more damage if you use the same weapon and fi re at the same target. You can also spawn at your buddy's position rather than the regular start point. Best of all, it's pitched at just the right level of complexity so that you don't need a headset to make it work.
Naughty Dog has clearly thought hard about how to engage you in a deeper way than shooting at the enemy until the game ends. Like the buddy system, the new 'power play' mechanism adds another layer of objectives and things to pay attention to. Power plays are activated when one team is getting a thorough beating, and temporarily tips the balance in their favour.
"It won't mean that weak teams can beat strong ones," says Justin Richmond. "It'll just keep things interesting for everybody." Again, he's not kidding. The power plays we saw in action included a temporary elimination round - nobody respawning until one entire team is hunted down - and another in which both teams transformed into identical sets of skeletons, as far as the winning team could see, making it impossible to be sure who to shoot.
Perhaps most significantly of all, Uncharted 3 now features a deep customisation system. Character models have hundreds of swappable parts (we rocked a daring gasmask and white gloves combo) and players can create and save up to four weapon and booster loadouts.
In the time we had playing Uncharted 3 we could only scratch the surface, but the integration of the character-building menus with the lobby system was impressively smooth and intuitive.
On top of all the gameplay-shifting stuff there are some shiny toys and tricks too. The multiplayer game is entirely playable in 3D (3D as impressive as anything seen so far on PS3, Killzone included) and the game features Facebook integration - which means you can invite Facebook friends who aren't even on your PSN list into matches.
It's a natural progression from the last game's Twitter fiddling, and more evidence of Naughty Dog's smart, ahead-of-the-curve thinking. The same thinking that looks set to make Uncharted 3 the must-play online title this Christmas.