Off The Beaten Track

Uncharted 4 multiplayerGripping character arcs, revolutionary stories, intimate relationships and industry-leading gameplay… Naughty Dog has perfected all this in single-player, but where exactly does that leave Uncharted 4’s multiplayer efforts?Naughty Dog is a studio invested in the human side of videogames: the human stories, the human animations, the human reactions, the human empathy. It revels in grand drama, Hollywood-inspired characters and narrative arcs that take you on an emotional journey as varied and intense as the physical voyages its characters embark upon. The multiplayer facets of Naughty Dog’s games, therefore, go somewhat unnoticed in the grand scheme of things: rarely are the multiplayer efforts of the studio’s games even reviewed, let alone written about in the many essays that come out about its games.
In the years after The Last Of Us’ release, practically every editorial, forum post or tweet waxing lyrical about great interactive storytelling gave the game an explicit name-check, and academics and enthusiasts alike have gone into great detail about how The Last Of Us changed the world. But there’s never any conversation about the multiplayer – about the way the player-versus-player part of the game actually felt relevant to the world Naughty Dog had set out, or about how the very real struggles of fighting for the last scraps of humanity’s luxury resources rounded off the single-player narrative with a feeling of desperation and tribalist reversion.
For some time during the PS3/Xbox 360 era of gaming, tacking a perfunctory multiplayer mode onto a game that (to all intents and purposes) was made for its single-player was commonplace: Dead Space 2, BioShock 2, Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed Revelations all suffered from this unfortunate trend, but Naughty Dog always managed to stay on the safe side of functional, entertaining multiplayer.
To that end, the developer has opted to move very far away from the standard Uncharted tone with the multiplayer for the series’ fourth instalment. Where the main, single-player game spins a realistic story about an Indiana Jones-esque explorer and his motley crew of sidekicks and supporters, the multiplayer veers off into something stranger, and much more supernatural.
Sure, the main Uncharted games have always toyed with the idea of the supernatural, but it’s never been an explicit part of the series’ personality (not as much as Hollywoodstyle gunplay, betrayal and various exploding machines are, at any rate). The multiplayer, it seems, had no choice but to embrace the muted silliness of the franchise – it was the only way Naughty Dog could make it work, the only way the studio could actually make a multiplayer game in that universe fun.Uncharted 4 multiplayerTo that end, we’ve got supernatural macguffins coming out of our ears. In the multiplayer – a five-on-five team deathmatch that’ll be familiar to anyone that’s played a multiplayer shooter in the last decade – you’ll power up by discovering the mystical artefacts that have been the focus of past games. These include (but are not limited to) the El Dorado statue and the Cintamani Stone, and depending on which one you re-discover a different battlefield effect will be initiated.
But to discover them you’ll need to rack up the points – in the games we played, this gave each match a nice sense of pace: they always start up quite slowly, using base weapons and hunting the opposition, but as you rack up the score you can purchase anything from weapon mods to superpowers (which are accessed via the aforementioned items). It all depends on how you play, really – we know a lot of multiplayer games make that claim, but because Uncharted 4’s multiplayer facet embraces how ridiculous it is, it can really commit to player empowerment with frankly ludicrous power-ups. Robert Cogburn has publicly stated that the multiplayer development team on the game has actively embraced the magic element of the series – explaining that it’s something a lot of shooting-based multiplayer games don’t take advantage of.
The El Dorado statue, for example, unleashes a flurry of trapped, tormented spirits that seek out enemies hiding behind cover and kill them if they don’t get the hell out of dodge. The Cintamani Stone, however, throws its weight behind supporting characters instead – it gives players the ability to instantly heal teammates or speed up the revival of downed allies. By mixing your active role in each match – we played scenarios where other players fell into damage-per-second, support, distraction or lone wolf archetypes – you can really make each round feel unique, and that’s before you start bringing the sidekicks into play…Uncharted is all about its characters, right? By bringing sidekicks into the fray in multiplayer, Naughty Dog manages to make that character-focused pillar of its singleplayer development philosophy work in multiplayer. So you won’t be playing with the likes of Sully or Drake coming in to be your sidekick, but rather nameless NPCs… thing is, in how they’re animated and how their AI personalities work, you’d be forgiven for thinking they were real characters in their own right.
The ‘hunter’, for example, sets off from a sprint as soon as it spawns. Hopping, leaping, and navigating the multiplayer maps, the hunter will fling itself at the nearest opponent and wrestle them into a paralysing grab leaving them exposed for you to shoot at or beat down. The hunter, then, is best activated at mid-range – you can distract your target as you move in, let the hunter grab your opponent and get some cheap shots in. There’s a class known as the ‘brute’, too, who is basically a carbon copy of Team Fortress 2 ’s heavy – summon him, embed him somewhere vital and he can lay down incredibly intense suppressing fire and can take a lot of punishment, too.Uncharted 4 multiplayerIf you’re more of a long-ranger, though, you can call in the ‘sniper’ instead. You’ve got more control of the sniper – you can place it wherever you like (always go high) and have it pick off stragglers or any enemies that try to flee once you’ve dumped a large amount of damage on them. For trickier players, you can deploy the sniper around blind corners, and have rival fighters fling themselves around and into the firing path, totally unbeknownst to the danger.
For players that like to position themselves in more supportive roles, there’s a healer you can recruit as a sidekick, too – put them down on the map and they’ll endeavour to patch up anyone that’s been wounded… just make sure you’re in cover first, otherwise you might just end up getting the healer picked off against your wishes. These healers (known as ‘saviours’) can also replenish your ammo, so you can keep the firefight going with one of these sidekicks knocking around on the map, ideally prolonging you and your teams’ kill-streaks for as long as possible.
For a lot of people picking up Uncharted, there’s a distinct likelihood that they’re not hardcore multiplayer gamers – but Naughty Dog knows this. Between the sidekicks you can summon in and the supernatural powers you can initiate, you don’t have to be good at multiplayer games to start racking up the points. On the contrary, you can sit back and let the self-confessed ‘good players’ do their thing whilst you support from the sidelines, deploying powers and allies.
You can be a good Samaritan, taking advantage of the multiplayer’s new ‘downed’ state and helping real-life friendly players that have been pushed to the brink of death. Like most games and their use of ‘downed’ status, Uncharted aims to break the standard cycle of ‘run, die, respawn’, rinse and repeat. As the aggressor, you’ve also get the chance to run up to an enemy and perform pretty sadistic beatdowns on them (ever wanted to kick a guy begging for mercy to death? Well…)For each of these situations you find yourself in – you could be Drake stomping on someone’s head ‘til they die, or you could be Chloe summoning a hunter, or you could be Elena cracking open a sarcophagus – you’ll notice each of the characters will have a unique line of dialogue depending on their contextual situation. Pair that up with the way Uncharted 4’s multiplayer seems to mix every game Naughty Dog has worked on in the last 10 years into the mix, too, and you’ve got a game that’s not just an interesting, progressive product in its own right, but also a love-letter to everything Uncharted has given us since those very early PS3 days. For fans missing that post-apocalyptic The Last Of Us feel, you’ll be glad to know at least the in-game store interface is similar…Uncharted 4 multiplayerUncharted 4’s multiplayer facet isn’t going to compete with the other third-person multiplayer shooters out there, not really. Instead, by rewarding you pretty well for your assists, revives, kills, and miscellaneous in-battle activities, the Uncharted 4 multiplayer lets you enjoy an online game your way. It’s likely a lot of players won’t even bother jumping into this mode (trophy hunters are exempt from that statement), but it’s a fantastic distraction for anyone that feels like they’ll be banging their head against the campaign if they get to a point they feel stuck on.
But it’s a bonus feature in a game that should help unite that incredibly passionate Naughty Dog fanbase. Help out your teammates, and you’ll go far. If you try  and make this a one-man show, no-one’s really going to have fun… and to Naughty Dog’s credit, that perfectly mimics what the single-player portion of the game is about – teamwork, brotherhood, unity and perseverance.
To that end, it’s interesting to consider exactly where Uncharted 4 falls within the game’s overall tonal map… on reflection, Uncharted 3 was a perfect ending for the series, right? It was a satisfying sign-off, with the vast majority of loose ends tied up (the only ones remaining supporting a thread of mystery that we wanted to be left to ponder). Character arcs had peaked and descended back into the realms of emphatic; relationships were saved, international crises were averted, the danger was left behind. So… where exactly does Uncharted 4 step back onto the road?With an older Drake, a new brother that apparently no-one knew about and one last job to complete, where can Naughty Dog take us without re-treading old  ground? Are we in danger of seeing Uncharted adhere even more to the Indiana Jones formula, and re-enter the fray with a fourth product that exactly no-one is going to want to acknowledge as canon?Hopefully not. Just because this tale feels like it comes in after an already complete storyline doesn’t mean it has nothing to offer – if the studio that brought us  The Last Of Us knows how to do anything, it’s how to make a compelling and interesting narrative arc work within the confines of a single release. Nolan North –  the actor behind Drake – has outlined similar concerns himself; if one of the most famous voice actors in gaming has shown trepidation at walking back into the role (because, in his words, ‘there’s an awful lot of pressure’ on the title) then there’s certainly a right to be concerned.
Naughty Dog is aware of this, though, and its approach is to make the games setpieces both bigger and smaller. That might take some explaining – Uncharted has always revolved around those huge action sequences that give Hollywood action scenes a run for their money, right? Well, in the past, Naughty Dog’s natural reaction has been to make those scenes bigger and bigger – if we’re talking movies here, you could trace it back to a bigger budget: more things blow up, the stunts are more impressive, the stakes get higher and higher. But, in the fourth instalment, the studio (particularly Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckmann and writer Jason Schurr) wanted to make keep the action flowing but bring us closer to it, putting the lens closer to the characters’ faces.Uncharted 4 multiplayerThe Last Of Us told the stories of its characters in small, intimate moments – the way Ellie clung to Joel, the way the two of them interacted, the way every death, every threat, every encounter had its own weight within this oppressive too-close-to-home universe. Naughty Dog are taking these moments and putting them wholesale into Uncharted 4 – you’ve got a section where Drake’s walking around injured, or the AI is telling Sully to get behind Drake because he’s the only one who’s armed or something… that’s still a setpiece, but Naughty Dog has learned to focus on the micro moments now, adding a very human experience to an otherwise cartoonish action game.
That isn’t to say the setpieces wont be there, though – in fact, Druckmann has promised to have the biggest setpieces from any Uncharted title in this chapter – but they’re going to be complemented by these other, smaller moments. The way the studio sees it is that when there’s no threat of death – when Drake might not plummet to his death at any minute – you can still learn about his arc, where he is in his story, who he is by the interactions he has with those around him. Of course, when you’ve got settings as varied and exotic as utopian pirate coves, industrialised urban settlements, jungle islands and iced-over peaks, there’s going to be plenty to explore between Drake and his newly revealed (and slightly dodgy) brother Sam.
The game is definitely looking to be a worthy contender to the other entries in the series (we could never say that about the fourth Indiana Jones) and its over-arching quest – the hunt for the pirate treasure of Captain Henry Avery – is likely just a chassis for something a lot more soul-searching and deep. Supported by a multiplayer mode that really wants to celebrate the legacy of Uncharted, and developed by a studio that’s miles ahead of the competition when it comes to interactive, cinematic storytelling, it’s safe to say that Uncharted 4 might just be the best game in the series so far.

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