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Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception: Bench Pressing the Bar

The fall of 2011 is ripe with highly-anticipated new releases, not the least of which is Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. The follow-up to one of 2009's best games is four months away, but in the meantime, Naughty Dog has prepared a two-week beta for the game's multiplayer component. Having spent more than my share of time with it, I can say with no hesitation (and no surprise) that Uncharted 3's multiplayer is well on its way to topping that of its superb predecessor.

So, what's new? Let's start with the user interface. While no PlayStation Network interface has approached the simplicity of Xbox Live's party and invitation systems, Uncharted 3's is serviceable. It's comprised of five tabs: Main Menu, Party, Friends, Facebook, and Invites. Main Menu is where the meat is; you can customize your in-game avatar, check your records, revisit past matches in the Cinema, and dig into matchmaking. Getting a party started and inviting friends is simple and seamless enough. I linked my Facebook account with my game, but I can't tell what the integration feature entails; all I know for sure is that it pulled my name and profile picture. Customization options are understandably sparse in the beta, so we won't know exactly how robust they are until the game releases.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves nailed its fundamentals, so it's not surprising that Uncharted 3 plays almost identically. You still run, climb, shoot, and go for stealth takedowns. The gunplay has more impact now and as a result, it's more satisfying than it was in Uncharted 2. By clicking down the (Left Analog Stick), your character will sprint for a short while. My feelings on this are mixed; sprinting feels more out of control than it should. The camera zooms in and doesn't follow your head when you turn, and the whole affair requires a bit of micromanagement as a result.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception isn't so much about reinvention as it is about evolution. To that end, Naughty Dog is focusing on what made Uncharted 2's multiplayer unique: medals and Boosters.

In Uncharted 2, medals are cash bonuses awarded for different reasons. Kill streaks, special takedowns, and even dying too much nets players medals. But in Uncharted 2, the medals only act as bonuses. Uncharted 3 introduces the Medal Kickback, a true game-changer. These, like nearly everything else in the game, can be bought and slotted to your loadouts in the Customization tab of the user interface. As you rack up the kills, you increase your medal count. Once you reach a certain threshold, however, you'll be eligible for a Medal Kickback. A touch of the (Up) button later, and you reap the benefits of the Kickback. The Kickbacks offered in the beta are diverse and intriguing; one instantly spawns an RPG in your hands, another takes away the need to reload for a short while, and my personal favorite temporarily doubles your speed. There are some truly bizarre ones in there, though -- for instance, the Creepy Crawler Kickback allows you to turn into a swarm of spiders.

Boosters return in Uncharted 3, but with a few tweaks. You can slot up to two Boosters in each loadout, but you can also gain a third one for an arguably substantial fee. This "Paid Booster" only lasts for a single round, so you'd better be confident in your abilities and execute, or you might fail to recoup that cost on the battlefield. It's a nice risk/reward situation that feels right at home with the Uncharted franchise.

One change to Uncharted 2's successful formula is sure to polarize. The change I speak of is the Power Play. If one team is kicking a seriously disproportionate amount of ass, the other team will receive a bit of divine intervention from the deus ex machina. By that, I mean one of several handouts will be administered. One Power Play gives away the locations of everyone on the winning team, while another doubles the damage doled out by the losing team. One marks a man on the winning team and awards extra points every time he's killed. This is Naughty Dog's way of keeping matches close and exciting, even though they are not in the least bit fair. As a gamer who is uninterested in Kill/Death ratios, I support this move. I'll take a close match over a blood bath any day.

The multiplayer beta for Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception features only two maps. Airstrip appears to be the most popular one, and for good reason: it's simply unlike anything that anyone has come to expect from a multiplayer map. There are two phases to the Airstrip map. The first is where the real innovation is. One team starts in the belly of a cargo plane, while the other is on a convoy of trucks. As the trucks jockey for position, players must find a way to get on the plane and take the other guys out. Whoever is on the plane at the end of the phase receives a medal, the humorously-titled "Drake's on a Plane." Once the cargo plane takes off, the scene changes to a hangar area with opportunites for stealth and balls-to-the-wall action. Chateau is a bit more simple, though it's still a fantastic map. The titular chateau has been set ablaze, and the teams duke it out as the place comes crumbling down around them. Turret emplacements and zip lines keep the action fresh.

Cosmetic enhancements are unlocked by grabbing treasures on the battlefield. Some treasures appear spontaneously and can be seen by all, while others can only be seen (and acquired) by you or your Buddy. Sets can also be completed, which yield rewards that adhere to a particular theme. Again, it's difficult to see just how far down this rabbit hole will go, but it's promising to say the least.

What's this Buddy talk, you say? Uncharted 3 now features a Buddy system. At the beginning of each match, you are paired with another player on your team (provided you're not the odd-man-out). If you die, you can respawn on your Buddy as long as he's not in combat. Additionally, if you and your Buddy take down an enemy together, you have the opportunity to snag an extra medal. By running up to the corpse and holding (Down), you will high five or fist bump. It's admittedly lame and occasionally dangerous, but an extra medal is an extra medal.

As far as game modes go, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception rounds the bases, and then some. There's Team Deathmatch, as well as its alternative, Hardcore. Hardcore mode is the same game, only free of Boosters, Kickbacks, Power Plays, and the entire first phase of the Airstrip map. It would be nice if it also meant that players couldn't take nearly as many bullets, but it doesn't. Team Objective is the now-standard mode that involves constantly-changing objectives alongside the typical running and gunning. Plunder also returns; players must grab the treasure and return it to their chest while making sure the opposing team doesn't do the same. And of course, the cooperative mode returns. My favorite of the cooperative variants is Co-op Hunter Arena, which splits the four players into teams of two as they take turns planting as many treasures as they can.

I didn't think it would be possible for me to be more excited about Nathan Drake's next adventure, but two weeks with Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has changed all that. November 1st, get over here, and be quick about it.

-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos
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