The seldom celebrated side of Uncharted and The Last of Us.
Now that the smoke has settled and we’re finally clear of the review bombing that The Last of Us Part Two has received, let’s sprinkle some positivity back into the world shall we? Developer Naughty Dog has earned a favourable reputation almost solely on their single-player offerings, and while their narrative skills can be debated, I’m sure most will agree that their cinematic presentation is top-notch. Yet, in the fallout of everyone yelling about how The Last of Us Part 2 is the worst thing ever conceived in human history, my mind is cast back to the sunnier days of Naughty Dog’s multiplayer.
The Last of Us Part 2 would have been better if Toph was the protagonist, but that's true of a lot of things.
Back many moons ago when Uncharted 2 was about to release, it was revealed to have a multiplayer component, much to the puzzled surprise of everyone. It was hard to muster any more than an ambivalent “ok, I guess” when a studio that is known for story-focused campaigns was entering the realm of player vs player. 2009 was also the year Modern Warfare 2 came out, so Uncharted 2 didn’t exactly have the easiest environment to compete in. Yet, after completing the single-player, I decided to check it out, because why not? And what I got is what I expected: a functional if basic PvP mode.
You got your usual deathmatch, capture the zone and capture the flag (or idol in this case), but it also managed to transfer successfully the fun of the running, gunning and jumping action from the single-player. The maps supported a lot of vertical mobility, reminding of my favourite battlegrounds in Halo 2’s multiplayer. But boy things were basic, with gameplay customisation boiling down to being able to select two perks. And you can tell that the people making this feature were inexperienced, because you got perks like increased damage to breakable objects, which just screams “we ran out of ideas.”
Yet there was an old-school simplicity to Uncharted 2’s multiplayer, even back then. You always started with the same weapons and had to hunt down the fancier armaments that were scattered about the map, which evened the playing field between newbie and pro a little. However, what impressed me the most was the co-op missions, which were select parts of the single-player repurposed for cooperative play for up to three players. And these weren’t just throwaway levels either, with unique cutscenes and dialogue included with the merriment of blasting through goons with a couple of friends. It’s actually kind of staggering how much work went into these missions, considering how most people wouldn’t even see them.
While Uncharted 2 multiplayer laid the groundwork, it was a little too shallow to keep me hooked for long. But that changed when Uncharted 3 leaped onto the scene, and became the first Uncharted in which I was more fond of its multiplayer than I was of its single-player. It was far more robust, with the ability to customise your weapons, along with bonuses for gaining medals, as well as a more in-depth perk system. You also got more visual customisation with the option to add accessories to your character, turning them into an absolute eyesore if you wanted.
Look at all this fun in Uncharted.
Uncharted 3 retained its basic modes, but they were jazzed up thanks to a feature that would aid the losing team for a limited time, bestowing them the gift to see enemies through walls or dish out double damage. It was admittedly unfair as it would punish good play, but as the Blue Shell has taught us, revenge feels good. Some of the rewards for obtaining were busted as well, like the cursed idol that would cause the distinction between friend and foe to disappear and turn on friendly fire. This would often result in both teams killing their own, helping absolutely no one. And then you had the option the turn into spiders, that’s right spiders, in which you scare the living hell out of people by rolling up as a hundred little bastards and chomping them to death. The one that everyone used, however, was the multi-grenade, a grenade that could clear out entire teams if used correctly – including yours.
The maps also went through the bonkers ray, becoming far more dynamic. Gunfights could take place in the back of a plane, or in a burning mansion, or on top of trains. Though lag could cause things to become a little…goofy to put it mildly, such as when you jumped to a train only to fall right through it. Even when things did work as they were supposed to, getting murder by some random tank or airplane is understandably annoying. Co-op missions made a return and there were more lavish than ever, with increased quality and quantity making them a jolly good time indeed.
Uncharted 3’s multiplayer was unbalanced, wild, and it would frequently have me bursting out laughing. All in all, it was my personal golden age of Uncharted multiplayer, because when Uncharted 4 rolled around, it was clear it had been told to get a haircut and to hide those tattoos. The wackiness was toned down, not to the point where it could be considered boring, but it was clear that the team was trying to create a more balanced experience, which wasn’t really what I wanted from Uncharted.
Maps went back to being more static, though you did have more traversal options with sliding and swinging being introduced, which unlike sprinting, meant you could always have your gun at the ready. Grenades were now on a cool down timer, eliminating the hail of explosives that would dominate the start of a match. You could also swap out your grenades for other throwables like med-kits, allowing for some stylish mid-combat revives. AI companions could also be summoned, helping to take some of the heat when overrun with foes.
Despite the hours of enjoyment with Uncharted 4’s multiplayer, I just don’t remember it as fondly as did with 3’s. Plus, there was some clear step backs when it back to cooperative play. Those missions plucked from the single-player story didn’t make the cut, instead you had to make do with fighting waves of enemies on the multiplayer maps, which you could already do in Uncharted 2 and 3. Whether due to technical or financial reasons, it was still a bitter pill to swallow.
Despite my fun with the multiplayer in the Uncharted series, my favourite PvP mode in a Naughty Dog title actually goes to The Last of Us. Just how the movement of Uncharted was translated wonderfully to PvP, The Last of Us’ focus on survival and resource management was faithfully brought to multiplayer. Far removed from the bouncy, fast and carefree combat of Uncharted, The Last of Us was grounded, slow and intense. Running around like an idiot was a great way to get overwhelmed by the enemy team, while also pissing off your own. Teamwork is more important than ever due to your sluggish movement making you easy to flank.
Game modes were cut down significantly, and instead, it was the mechanics themselves that received the attention. The crafting system added a layer of preparation and strategy, and the constant need for resources to craft and upgrade discouraged players to stay in one spot for too long. Players also had to grapple with the choice of making more offensive tools such as Molotov cocktails, or to play it safe and craft some med-kits for drawn out firefights. Traps were also something to be wary of, as they were usually placed in tight corridors or near supply boxes to catch the inattentive person. Matches would cycle between long stretches of near silence as everyone snuck around listening for the enemy, to eruptions of chaotic gunfire and desperate screams.
Weapons and perks were all fairly balanced, but there were some issues in this department. A specific perk would shorten the fuse of explosives, which made it incredibly hard to avoid getting stunned by smoke bombs. And then you had the Tactical Shotgun, which did excellent damage up close and decent damage at mid range, but upgrading it put the hurt on victims even at long distances. I remember just steamrolling people with this thing, and as I racked up kills I received more crafting resources, enabling me to further increase its lethality.
Seriously, this gun was too good.
Boomstick of God aside, the multiplayer really captured the essence of what made the single-player’s combat so enthralling. I mean, what's more Last of Us than wounding an opponent and waiting for their allies to foolishly come save them? Alas, The Last of Us Part 2 doesn’t have a multiplayer mode, which is understandable if Naughty Dog’s priority was the main story, it is what they are known for after all. Still, if it did have multiplayer, perhaps people wouldn’t have gotten their knickers in a twist about playing as a lady who likes kissing other ladies, then again this is the Internet.