There's a twinge of disappointment when you first start up Uncharted 3's multiplayer mode. It's the feeling of over-familiarity: the layout of the menus, the experience bar marking the progression of your ascent through the ranks of your online career and the emblem editor. It's the perk (sorry, booster) slots in which you assign upgrade bonuses that decrease your character's sprint recovery time or allow him to run silently in order to avoid detection and so on.
It is, in short, the Modern Warfare-ness of it all, and the feeling that Naughty Dog, one of blockbuster gaming's more creative voices, has borrowed a template instead of building one.
Of course, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's structural innovations to the multiplayer shooter have come to define the way a generation plays gun games online, and few would debate that template's enduring brilliance. But familiarity breeds contempt, and Uncharted 3's construction is oh-so-familiar, right down to the ladder of ‘finding player' messages that appears on the upper right hand side of the screen while the game hurries to match eight players up.
Besides, the Nathan Drake universe is all about Saturday matinee thrills, leaping from tall buildings, quipping while treading on an enemy's fingers as he hangs precariously from a ledge. As a myth, colourful Drake seems a poor fit for the dry, competitive machinery of Modern Warfare.
But as soon as you grab an AK-47 from the menu and head into the verdant jungle, it becomes clear Naughty Dog's tribute to Infinity Ward's work is limited to the meta-game and presentation. In play, Uncharted 3's multiplayer fizzes with brash creativity and humour. There are zip wires down which you slide like the Last Action Hero. There are loot drops from downed foes. There are relics that form collectible sets, unlocking new clothes and emblems. There are spawning treasure chests full of goodies that act like honey pots drawing everyone in to a focused skirmish midway through a battle.
Then there are the incidental interactions: you can hang from a ladder making headshots with a pistol. You can kick a man hanging from a ledge and watch him splat on the ground below to the ding of a medal. You can high tail it over a wall rather than waiting for an angry grenade to flush you out, and you can throw a grenade back at him while mid-roll. You can fist-bump a teammate over the prostrate body of a downed adversary for a cash bonus. Every time a bullet whistles past your head you can launch into a headfirst roll, dodging and weaving their attacks while giggling at your irritating mischievousness. There are even Street Fighter-style taunts: a laugh, a flex, a dance or an air uppercut to rile your foe.