Since Drake's Fortune was released in 2007, the Uncharted series has grown in popularity to the point where it can be considered one of the largest exclusive titles available for the PlayStation 3.
The graphics in both installments to date have showcased the PlayStation 3 well, and in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, developers Naughty Dog added multiplayer to go with the well-made solo campaign. It didn't do anything truly groundbreaking, but it worked well and has retained a good following since its release in late 2009.
Drake's Deception is the third title in the series, and the multiplayer beta currently underway reveals a great deal about the sort of action players can expect come release in November this year.
A third-person shooter with a cover system, Uncharted 3's multiplayer component smacks of familiarity. While arenas are composed of chest-high walls, it takes little effort to vault over any of them, or to climb a nearby wall and shoot over the barrier – something that helps to break up the monotony of entrenched players exchanging pot-shots.
The weapons all handle very differently, but when comparing equally-upgraded weapons, nothing seems to grant a significant advantage.
Of the two maps on offer in the beta, Chateau proves to be more the typical shooter fare. A large mansion reminiscent of almost every half-destroyed mansion ever to appear in a game, it features plenty of open space in a courtyard out the front, and a partly enclosed space at the rear with broken-down side buildings to take cover in. It caters well enough to all the modes on offer, but doesn't show us anything truly outstanding or unique.
The second map, Airfield, allows Naughty Dog to demonstrate multiplayer set-pieces. When first starting a Team Deathmatch game, the hero side spawns on a plane that's beginning to take off, while the villains spawn in a fleet of trucks surrounding it, and must attempt to get aboard. During this, players can jump back and forth between trucks, taking cover in them, or hanging off the sides. These trucks can even be destroyed, resulting in an impressive fireball.
Neither map appears to include any overly advantageous positions. Every location has at least two access points, and usually more. A quick reconnaissance almost always uncovers a flanking route, and getting close enough behind a target will allow a stealth kill to be performed. The canned animations associated with these kills are almost painful to watch, and are a good source of medals for a careful player.
One of the more interesting additions in Team Deathmatch is the "buddy" system. Players are paired up with a random teammate, and encouraged to stick together through various in-game functions. When players get kills, the defeated enemy will sometimes drop treasure. Only the killer or their buddy can pick up the treasure – if you made the kill, it will be yellow, if it was your buddy, it's green.
All treasure is assigned to the killer, but by collecting a teammates treasure, players get an extra cash bonus. Perhaps less inspired is the ability for buddies to high-five over the corpse of a downed foe. Still, it helps the feeling of teamwork, and can be used as acknowledgement or praise when paired with a silent player.
Levelling up unlocks Boosters and Medal Kickbacks for purchase. These are basically equivalent to perks and killstreaks. Kickbacks offer perhaps the biggest deviation from familiar themes; instead of being awarded a bonus after a certain number of kills, these rewards are earned with medals obtained for various achievements on the battlefield. There's a menu screen that lists all the medals, how often each has been earned, and how to earn them. Many of these medals are easily attainable for even novice players to occasionally earn their Kickbacks, but it's hard work to earn them more often.
There are also weapon mods, which are essentially straight upgrades, meaning that a higher level player will almost always have a faster, more powerful weapon with a larger clip than someone who just started.
Experience is based on cash earned, but there's also a 'current cash' counter which is just as important to the process of unlocking these upgrades. Ranks are gained at prescribed amounts of cash earned and each new rank unlocks new items. These unlocked items aren't all immediately available, however, and money must be spent buying them, so it's in the player's best interests to choose carefully.
That there will always be more than can be afforded at each rank simply encourages play, even once the maximum rank has been attained.
Like its predecessor, Drake's Deception runs on peer-to-peer networking, but it appears to be incredibly stable. The only real criticism is the matchmaking speed; the game's co-operative mode is a particular offender here, because it only requires three players, yet takes longer to organise than an eight player Team Deathmatch or Hardcore game.
Based on the multiplayer experience so far, and assuming Naughty Dog can resolve a few minor issues, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception looks ready to live up to expectations when it releases in November.