Naughty Dogís Uncharted 2: Among Thieves beta went live a few hours ago, and the clock-watching Digital Foundry was amongst the first to download the 1.2GB-sized sampler of what we reckon could well be the most technically impressive game of the year.
There's no time for fancy frame rate graphs, just two sets of hardcore video taken from the beta and displayed here for your pleasure in full high definition. First impressions? It's good. It's very good. We canít find much to fault with the original Uncharted aside from its lack of v-sync and the resultant screen tearing, and we can confirm that this has been fixed completely for the sequel. While we didn't have time to render FPS graphs, we did run the footage through our frame analyser and across 15 minutes of video, we averaged out at 29.9FPS. Hardcore battle can see a drop from 26-28FPS, but you don't feel it during gameplay, and that's what counts.
There are no surprises in the locale chosen for the beta, it's the exact same level as seen in the single-player footage Naughty Dog previously released. In our video, three players combine firepower and work together to solve puzzles and make their way through the level. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune gave a hint as to the co-op potential with the inclusion of Elena, but seeing it and experiencing it fully realised in the sequel is something else. It just works. In terms of the video playthrough, we wanted to be Drake, but alas we got lumbered with 'being' Sully. Sorry. As it happens, he's quite limber for an old-timer and definitely more spry than he was in Drake's Fortune: no more hanging around while Nate does the heavy-lifting, in co-op all three players work as equal partners.
Video two: a sampler of the competitive modes. Typically it's heroes versus villains across two different maps, with just a brace of gameplay variations on offer (for the beta at least): traditional Deathmatch, plus the treasure-seeking Plunder mode. You can get a sense of the frenetic action in the video: new options, new weapons, a more intuitive grenade and object lobbing system, it's excellent fun. Coming across from the single-player mode, it definitely takes time to adapt though; Uncharted conditions you to fighting on a single front, with the cover system giving you respite and allowing you to recover. In this mode, you can be attacked from anywhere at any time. Nowhere is safe.
In terms of criticisms of the beta, I seem to be spending more time staring at the matchmaking screen than I do playing the game - frustrating when I've been waiting to get my hands on Uncharted 2 for so long. I can be waiting for between five to ten minutes just to find someone else to play with. Now, the truth of the matter is that I am running US beta code outside of the Land of the Free, so it may well be that the remote geographical location of the Digital Foundry lair is serving to boot me from a lot of the available servers. Which is odd, because once I do get connected, I have very few issues with lag. The prediction system used to compensate for net latency is excellent: no freezes, no disappearing/reappearing opponents, no sudden, inexplicable deaths. Aside from the odd times where you're pumping multiple head shots into your opponent with no effect, it feels local, it feels fair and you canít get much better than that.
So it's all good stuff. The Uncharted 2 beta meets and exceeds my expectations, especially in terms of the co-op mode. But having been spoiled by the new single-player footage revealed at the Sony conference last night, I can't help but hunger for more. Fingers crossed we won't be waiting for too long.