By Sweep 10 Comments
I've been playing The Last Of Us multiplayer pretty consistently since release, at first on PS3 and then transitioning over to my PS4, so I was pretty excited to take part in the Uncharted Open Beta this weekend. In previous Uncharted games the multiplayer was something I was happy to flirt with, though rarely felt focused or engaging enough to distract me for any meaningful length of time. I've always preferred multiplayer with some kind of objective beyond "Hey, shoot that guy!", and while Uncharted online led to some pretty crazy cinematics, the gameplay rarely resulted in anything more than a huge clusterfuck.
The Last Of Us, by contrast, is a much more thoughtful and fragile experience.
Ammo is sparse, and the pace is slow. Every player is equipped with the Listen Mode/detective vision from the campaign, so if anyone is moving around in the immediate vicinity you can spot them through a wall. But by now everyone knows how this system works, so players are much more cautious, remaining still until the enemy approaches so as not to be spotted, or using perks and silent weapons so as to become completely invisible. The result is a much more tense and precarious back n' forth, where losing an ally is a significant blow and you need to make your bullets count. Each playstyle is enforced by both weapon loadouts and perks, which are picked at various levels with relative advantages. So if your loadout has 25 slots you could get level 1 stealth, which means you don't show up on the enemy radar. Or you could sink in more points to get level 3 stealth, which means you can't be marked either. But those extra points you spent mean you can't now afford your favourite rifle. I always appreciated the precarious balancing act that the system employs, so it's nice to see it pasted over into Uncharted.
Having said that, this is definitely not the same game, and some of the series trademark chaos is back in play. While enemies are definitely less spongy than in previous Uncharted multiplayer games, the patience of The Last Of Us is nowhere to be seen. The game hints at silenced weapons, though none appeared in the beta, and the use of sidekicks and mythical abilities means there's almost always something loud happening onscreen. Each is purchased through an ingame store, as in TLOU, though primary weapons are no longer upgradable to increase reload speed, rate of fire, etc. An abundance of ammo means you no longer have to be stingy with your bullets, and the range of weapons is suitably varied, though their extravagance leans heavily towards RPG's and assault shotguns over frontier rifles and crossbows. Sidekicks, NPC's that you can spawn and position, also help to mix up the gameplay. The Sniper will spot enemies and take periodic potshots, the Brute is a huge tanky motherfucker with a gattling cannon and does exactly as you'd expect, while the Triage is your support 'kick, reviving downed enemies and increasing the recharge rate of abilities for players within the immediate vicinity. My favourite though is the Hunter; think of the Scout from Team Fortress 2, a speed-demon who will rush straight at enemy players and grab them - while he won't damage them, they are incapacitated for a few seconds, just long enough for any allies to get in the appropriate shots. The hunter is pretty squishy, but great for flushing players out of cover, and some of the best gameplay moments from the past weekend are a direct result of racing through the map after a hunter, wielding a shotgun, and watching players panic as we dash straight towards them.
I was a little put-off by the totems that you can plant in the map when I first saw them, but the reality of their impact on gameplay is that they're about map control. You're unlikely to actually die to one, even if it lands on top of you it's not too difficult to roll away (though more difficult under fire, obviously), and the totems work best as a way of flushing enemies out of cover and pushing through a stalemate. In combination with the sidekicks you can get into some pretty wild situations. 5 vs 5 means a potential 5 brutes in play at once, and as a rule of thumb you want to avoid running into a brute blob. But a blob is the perfect target for a totem - you can see how the dynamic of each match can be easily manipulated.
The main other new gameplay feature was the rope swinging, which is fun, though the physics are pretty erratic. Things like "momentum" and "gravity" don't really apply, which makes it slightly difficult to target the best trajectory of anyone you're trying to shoot. There are a couple of maps where it's possible to spider-man from one hook to the next, though the game occasionally gets confused and re-attaches you to the one behind you. Despite this, it continues to push you forward on a fresh burst of momentum. The rope also seems to increase and decrease in length based on where you're swinging. "Clunky" is a pretty good description in general, actually. Though it's admittedly satisfying when you nail a mid-air instakill by landing on your target.
If The Last Of Us had any flaws it was with its microtransactions. Only half the guns in the game were available for custom loadouts, the rest of which had to be bought individually or could only be accessed through pre-set loadouts (which, after you've played for any length of time, are unanimously dismissed as garbage). From what I can see in the beta of Uncharted 4, all of the guns were unlocked based on player level, the highest being at level 9. I got to level 6 with two days of playing, so it doesn't look like they're going to be out of your hands for long. There are skins, taunts and, this being 2016, hats that you can either buy directly with real money, or chance upon by opening chests with in-game currency. As these are all entirely superficial, I'm pretty happy with this system, though I do wish they'd go a little deeper with their customization options. Hopefully in the full game there'll be a bigger selection of skins and characters from which to pick, because right now most of them seem limited exclusively to tuxedos. Considering the multitude of outfits each has worn over the course of the series, that seems like a bit of a missed opportunity. Having said that, Uncharted 3 let you run around as a skeleton, so maybe there's still hope....
In summary, it was comfortingly positive. I'm hoping there's some more objective-based gameplay modes beyond Team Deathmatch, but the groundwork is definitely there, and the net-code seems to hold up nicely as well, even between my brother and I, each playing on opposite sides of the planet. It's a lot more frenetic than The Last Of Us, which is more focused on stealth and positioning, though that's not necessarily a bad thing, and I'm looking forward to jumping back in when the game is finally released.