So while Uncharted 3's multiplayer template may be borrowed, the content used to fill it is endlessly fresh and vibrant. This generous creativity is best exemplified in the Airstrip map, which features a pre-battle chase section in which two teams battle it out on high-speed trucks, chasing a cargo plane as it races down a runway. It's a scene plucked straight out of so many family action flicks, but never has the set-up been used like this before. The trucks (manned by AI) dodge and weave around the plane, players able to use their empty holds for cover, while each team struggles to dominate the lowered ramp on the back of the plane itself. After a few minutes, the plane takes off and the action shifts to a more traditional combat arena, albeit one drenched in the warm pink of sunset.
The arenas here are expertly arranged, with no dead ends to halt the churn of play around the environment. Each character in the game (in the Beta you can opt to play as a generic treasure hunter, Victor Sullivan or Drake himself when on the good guy's side, or as a pirate on the bad guy's side) is lithe and athletic. As such, height becomes a tactical consideration, with players vying for vantage points. In the second of the two maps on offer in the Beta, Chateau, moving between the brightly lit outside areas into the dingy ruins of a castle requires your eyes to adjust, one of several stylish touches that elevate the multiplayer above its sea of competition.
Almost every interesting action in the game is assigned a micro-reward, a medal that counts towards upgrading your selected booster, a competitive perk that must be purchased and equipped. In addition to ambient boosters, there are also paid boosters, purchased before a battle, which grant a temporary one game advantage. These paid-for boosters must be bought out of money from the same pot used to purchase weapon mods, so there's a question of whether to invest in the short term or long term. While the system is ideally suited to a short term Beta test, it does raise questions over the long game, as surely once a player has purchased all of the mods and upgrades they want they will be free to invest all of their funds into paid boosters? How the developer overcomes this challenge of economics while keeping the game fair and balanced over the long-term remains to be seen.
As well as the innovative buddy system, which randomly assigns you a buddy at the start of every game, at whose side you have the option to re-spawn on death, there are a clutch of other gimmicky features. You can sign in to your Facebook profile, allowing you to play with acquaintances you aren't necessarily friends with on PSN. Likewise, the game records videos of all matches, and it seems as if there will be options to edit these. There's even the option to use the PSEye for a motion sensor grenade throw nestled in the option menu, although the usefulness of this feature is debateable (we couldn't test it ourselves). [Correction: This is, in fact, the existing Sixaxis motion throw - sorry for the confusion -Ed.]
Four months from launch and Uncharted 3's multiplayer is in good shape. The decision to borrow Modern Warfare's super structure is initially disappointing, but it's a creative decision that has allowed the developer to focus its creative energies into improving the moment-to-moment play, which is already pacey and exciting. If Naughty Dog can maintain the quality of level design across the other maps, and include some more white knuckle bursts of creativity like that of the truck chase at the start of Airfield, Uncharted 3's multiplayer may yet blaze a trail, rather than follow one.