Now that we have that out of the way, I wish to break down what I did and did not enjoy about the beta. As this is still a work in progress and the game itself is a good four months away from release, there is plenty of time to fix any niggling issues. Usually in such a scenario I would do a Good, Bad and Ugly breakdown, but considering the high quality of the beta, I am going to rename the categories to the Good, the Decent and the Bad.
Considering how long this article is getting, today I will be talking about The Good. (Furthermore, if you're looking for mindless bashing or ranting, you won't be getting it here. I want this to be constructive criticism, firm yet genuine.) So let's get started shall we?
Gunplay. The shooting was something of a week spot in Uncharted 2, particularly its single-player, but in Uncharted 3 the weaponry is just right and they all feel good to use. While it does fall victim to some pretty blatant re-skins (the Pistol-Auto is Uncharted 2's old Micro-9mm, the Sawed-Off Shotgun is the Moss-12, the G-MAL is the FAL, etc.) it makes up for it through weapon balance. Even better, you can actually tell the difference between each pistol from first glance. In contrast to the first two games, where the 92FS and .45 Defender felt more or less the same, the Defender feels more powerful but has more recoil. In other words, Naughty Dog has done a great job of making the minutia between each gun much more obvious. The aiming reticule has also been tweaked for the better. There are now different reticule shapes for each gun which also give better visual indicators on the spread of a gun's recoil. The grenade launcher actually has a bullet drop indicator now, making it much easier to aim. The animated effect in general is much better than the simple circle in previous games.
Game Modes. Uncharted 3's beta opened with a multitude of game modes available right away, with others planned to be swapped in and out as the beta continues. I got a chance to play Team Deathmatch (rather self-explanatory), Free-For-All (traditional deathmatch), Three Team Deathmatch (six players in teams of two) and Co-op Arena. Team Deathmatch is as fun as ever and hasn't changed all that much from the last game. Free-For-All is essentially Uncharted 3's equivalent of Super Smash Bros. with all items turned on high. It's wild, chaotic fun, and a perfect fit for Chateau in particular. Unfortunately, Free-For-All isn't all that great for acquiring experience points, and overall it's much easier to grind for XP in the cooperative game modes.
Uncharted 3's version of Arena is extremely interesting, essentially combining all the previous co-op modes from Uncharted 2 into one mode. Arena is split into a number of "rounds", with each round having a different objective such as Survival (hold the line for a certain amount of time), Siege (like Survival, except you are limited to kills inside a specific area of the map), Gold Rush (take a treasure from one side of the map into its chest on the other), etc. A number of these, particularly Gold Rush, are old favourites recycled from Uncharted 2, but that is by no means a bad thing. Having game modes swap out each round, as opposed to having several modes dedicated to each type individually, adds greatly to the controlled chaos of cooperative play.
The Maps. At this point, there are only two maps available on the beta, Chateau and Airstrip (a third, Yemen, will be available soon), and they are both exceptional. Chateau is based on the very first single-player level we saw back in December, a partially burned French mansion with a gorgeous outside garden and tight corridors inside. The top floor contains one of Uncharted multiplayer's trademark "cinematic moments", where at any time the roof can collapse, killing everyone on the top floor. It's great fun.
As great as Chateau is, however, it's Airstrip that takes the cake. Every game mode on this map shares what is essentially a main airstrip, natch, with plenty of horziontal and vertical gunplay. The Team Deathmatch intro level is what really shines on this map, however. The Hero team is aboard a cargo plane that's about to take off, while the Villains are aboard a group of trucks. The villains have to jump from truck to truck in order to board the plane, in a scene deliberately reminiscent of the "Convoy" level from Uncharted 2's singleplayer. It's insanely fun, in spite of some rather broken spawn-camping potential as of this writing.
The Buddy System. The Buddy System is one of those "why didn't I think of that?" mechanics that really displays the creativity of Naughty Dog's multiplayer team. During any team-based multiplayer mode, you are randomly assigned a buddy. You can see the buddy on your radar at all times, and if you die, you can choose to either spawn randomly on the map, or spawn next to your buddy. The buddy system also helps to relieve some of the frustration surrounding treasure that randomly drops during matches, since your buddy can pick up treasures for you if you are unable to get them yourself. It really emphasizes the cooperative aspect of team deathmatch, and is an ingenious addition to the game.
Medal Kickbacks. Uncharted 3's answer to Call of Duty-style killstreaks, Medal Kickbacks are a great addition to the multiplayer experience. In contrast to killstreaks, you can only have one Kickback equipped at a time, and instead of being rewarded for a certain number of kills in a row, you fill your kickback metre by earning medals such as "Oh Snap!" (performing a stealth kill from behind) or "Lucky" (surviving two grenade explosions in one life). The Medal Kickbacks in the beta include RPG!!! (spawn an RPG-7), Speedy G (moving really fast for twenty seconds) or Creepy Crawlies (turn into a bunch of insects and swarm your enemies). The greater emphasis on player skill being rewarded by kickbacks is a nice change of pace from the simple killstreaks in Call of Duty.
Powerplays. This Team Deathmatch-exclusive mechanic is probably the best new mechanic in the entire beta (maybe I'm biased because I'm a hockey fan ecstatic to see someone else use the term "powerplay", but still!). If a team is lagging behind by a lot during TDM, the game will randomly assign a powerplay to either team (usually the losing team) which lasts for about a minute. For example, one team might be "cursed", showing up on the radar, turning into skeletons with friendly fire on. One team might be randomly assigned a "marked man" who is worth 3 points instead of 1 if killed. The genius of the powerplay is that both teams get advantages and disadvantages during that time. For instance, during the Double Damage powerplay (where the losing team dishes out, you guessed it, twice the damage), the winning team will get double XP for every kill while so disadvantaged. It's a great way of adding a little bit of chaos to what would otherwise be a one-horse race.
Stay tuned for more thoughts and analysis to come!