Structurally, Uncharted 3’s co-op adevnture hasn’t changed much compared to Uncharted 2's co-op objective. You will still be working in three-man teams, the levels mostly consist of combat, checkpoints are blatantly visible to the player, and you’re still required to stand with your pals inside a massive coloured ring to trigger the next event flag. That being said, Syria (the only co-op adventure map available in the beta) mixes things up just enough to feel fresh.
Syria will take about fifteen minutes to complete on your first go and encourages replayability, given that it’s probably second only to Co-Op Arena as a farm for easy XP. As if to prove just how different the level design is from Uncharted 2, Syria begins with a swimming level and brief platforming sequence, something missing from the corridor-like levels in the previous game. From there the players enter a large courtyard, where most of the level takes place.
While the intro shows off changes in the pacing, the long, intense courtyard section demonstrates changes to the flow of combat. Players are required to search for three idols around the map and place them on pedestals in the centre. When each idol is removed from its initial hiding place, enemies spawn. It’s a simple system that works in the sort of controlled waves one would see from Crescendo setpieces in Left 4 Dead. It works well because it emphasizes splitting the group while still requiring collaboration: the idol itself requires two people to dislodge, while a third can head off the enemies with a conveniently-placed T-Bolt Sniper rifle. The way the mechanic is set up, the player with the idol will inevitably be in between the sniper and the long-gun supporter in the back, allowing the players to move as a team towards the pedestal.
The next two idols mix things up by spawning enemies with RPGs and sniper rifles of their own, and during the final wave, a huge amount of riot shield enemies spawn. As a result, the pace reaches a frantic fever pitch by the time the third idol is in place. The fourth idol is carried by a massive miniboss who wields a huge gun one-handed and can take enough bullets to put down an entire army. This is where the level switches from protection to a full-out assault that stays for the rest of the map; you will run out of ammo on this guy, and mercifully, there’s a checkpoint right after.
After taking the miniboss’ idol and running up to the tower, the final sequence of the level begins, using the much-touted vertical combat. To be honest, it feels a little off, mainly when it comes to distinguishing which handholds count as cover. It is, however, a lot of fun to use a new weapon, the one-handed Tau Sniper, to pick off enemies from the top of the tower. After climbing up to solid ground again, the level ends.
My major complaint about the co-op mode, and the only inexcusably bad thing about the beta so far, has to be the way the game handles drop-outs in the middle of a play session. When a player leaves or disconnects, instead of continuing as normal, the remaining players are given a notification that someone has left. The game stops while searching for a third player, then resets to the last checkpoint. Presumably this is because the AI was written exclusively for three players and cannot handle such a dynamic on-the-fly change, but the way it is set up is a perfect way for trolls and rage-quitters to annoy their fellow players by disconnecting just before a checkpoint. It’s a system that absolutely must be fixed before release if Naughty Dog wishes to give their co-op mode lasting appeal. An anti-griefing system, or even simply writing new AI for two players instead of three, would fix this incredibly intrusive and aggravating setup.
My major gripe aside, the co-op mode is still very enjoyable, highly replayable, and gives way to all kinds of interesting strategies and scenarios. We will undoubtedly be seeing many more missions like this when Uncharted 3 releases in November, and I hope they will all be this fun.