One moment you find yourself in a tense, but relatively civilized, one-on-one sniper battle, and the next, your allies are swinging in, somebody drops a mini-gun toting brute in the middle of everything, mystical curses start flying back and forth, and just to top it off, somebody pulls out an RPG and the real fun begins. That intense, strategic cover based combat, mixed with the total insanity of the running, jumping, and even magical things found in the Uncharted universe is exactly what the Uncharted 4 multiplayer showcases in all it’s glory.
Over the past week of shooting my way around the beta’s pair of maps, every match managed that beautiful balance of strategy and total chaos. The uniquely brutal team-based play of The Last of Us is back in Naughty Dog’s latest, but the emphasis on speed, movement, climbing, and even now swinging, adds a whole new layer to proceedings. This is only furthered by additions like “mysticals,” objects players can spawn, throw, or drop that are inspired by the franchise’s magic-leaning final acts.
As with any beta, there’s a lot left to be desired when it comes to Uncharted 4’s technical side, the matchmaking and party system in particular still needing a lot of work. But such things are to be expected. In almost every other way, Uncharted 4’s multiplayer looks to be on its way to hitting the mark perfectly.
Many of the things that made The Last of Us multiplayer so unique have made there way over to Uncharted. Hardly a minute into my first game, it was clear this was not the Uncharted I was used to. With a heavy emphasis on sound and the radar, knowing where the enemy is became just as important as being able to shoot them once I was there. Paired with the higher degree of lethality from every weapon, going at it alone or trying run-and-gun just aren’t viable options, entire teams usually traveling together more on pure instinct and fear than any actual communication.
As with The Last of Us (and Gears of War before it) when killed, players don’t simply die, they are “downed,” allowing a teammate to revive them. In a bit of Uncharted flair, allies can also toss health packs or a mystical item based on Uncharted 2’s Cintamani Stone to revive teammates from a distance. Either way, the advantage of sticking together as a team is obvious after only one or two firefights.
Every player has access to a store of items, money coming in the form of points for kills and assists and as randomly spawning treasures around the map that can be picked up. That money can then be used to upgrade your gear (i.e. grenades, health packs, etc.), or to purchase heavy weapons, such as the RPG or magnum, mysticals, like the reviving Cintamani Stone and the devastating area of effect El Dorado, or AI allies, from the heavily armored brute with a minigun to a medic that will revive allies and toss out health packs. All these store purchases, if used correctly, can swing the tide of battle dramatically.
While the beta was only team deathmatch, on only two maps, both of the maps were large and felt distinct, with their own identities in terms of how combat unfolded. First off was Island, a forested, rocky, ruin-filled map centered around a long, crumbling temple in the middle, with separated paths along both sides, and large, open areas at either end.
With an impressive amount of verticality packed in, being out in the open was suicide, as long-range firefights and sniper battles took place in any number of places around the map. Keeping things interesting however, tight corridors and cramped ruins also created chances for brutally hectic close-range fights.
The focus of battles shifting back and forth rapidly between the three different main paths, Island also threw a unique wrinkle into things. Much like a few of Uncharted 3’s multiplayer maps, it was possible to fall to your death, massive crevices separating the different main battle areas. With Uncharted 4’s new grappling hook however, and a bit of timing, players can swing back and forth across the crevices, adding just the right amount of little risk to rushing from one area to another to help a teammate.
Visually very different, the second map available in the beta was Madagascar City. Following the same sort of three areas idea as Island, the map was centered around a sizable, dense market, made claustrophobic by multiple buildings and stalls. The edges of the map were then a construction zone on one side, full of half built buildings and construction supplies, and a wide, open street along the other side, death-trap like choke points leading to and from each. And finally, on one end of the map, looking over the whole market, was a church tower. Providing incredible visibility, the tower itself, and the back path up to the tower, were heavily contested in almost every match.
With flanking and movement so critical to victory, controlling choke points and vantage points, like the church tower, was absolutely paramount. The ability to call in an AI sniper, that could be left to dominate if placed in the right spot, or a brute, that could completely shut down a passageway, took a simple game mode like team deathmatch and turned it into a pulse-pounding struggle for map control.
Sadly, if there was anything in the Uncharted 4’s beta that did fail to measure up, I would actually say it was the general interface and menus. While pleasingly simplistic and minimalist, many times I found myself wanting a bit more out of it. There was never a point where I caught myself thinking ‘You know, I bet if I play just one more game I can level up and unlock that awesome new gun.’
This was not because there wasn’t an awesome new gun to unlock or levels to be earned, but simply because the game did nothing to tell me about any of these things as they were happening. The only indication I had leveled up for instance, was a single number on the main menu screen changing from what it was the last time I was on the main menu. It’s an odd thing to ask, but a bit more fanfare when I leveled up, unlocked something new, or even completed one of the daily challenges would have been a nice addition, pushing me to play ‘just one more game.’
Of course, it’s also hard to judge character progression in a beta. The system could be exactly what the finished product will be like, or it could be an entirely different experience. Taking that into account, it’s therefore possible these complaints will be null by the time the game comes out in March, but for now, there’s room for improvement.
My own odd gripes aside, Uncharted 4’s multiplayer definitely already has it where it counts. Though I was initially unsure if the hardcore intensity of The Last of Us could mix with Uncharted’s sense of fun and adventure, I quickly realized Naughty Dog has worked tirelessly to find the perfect mixture of the two. Uncharted 4’s multiplayer is entirely different from Uncharted 2 or 3, but it is also different enough from The Last of Us to be its own beast. While the heavy focus on team play may turn a few people away, Uncharted 4, even just in terms of its multiplayer, is shaping up to be a can’t miss experience when it ships for PS4 on March 18th.
Did you have a chance to play around in the Uncharted 4 multiplayer beta? What did you think? And if not, does it sound like something you’ll want to jump into in the spring? Let us know in the comments.