Even with all of this in my mind, I was still struck with just how gorgeous the visuals are when I first started playing. Anything you've seen in the trailers or gameplay demos online really can't do it justice. The lighting is a cut above most games on the scene now, as is the animation. Playing as Drake (naturally) I was pleasantly satisfied with the fluidity of the gameplay. Characters climb and take cover with a natural ease while shooting still looks wonderfully informal. These aren't soldiers you're playing as, they're treasure hunters, pirates. And there's not one single movement in their bodies that will ever make you doubt that. Unfortunately, actually moving these characters around the map is still less than perfect. Many times I found myself jumping into a wall rather than over it or taking cover in front of my enemy rather than rolling out of the way of his bullets. While I view this problem as being simple, I understand that it's not an easy one to rectify. These characters perform many different maneuvers and there's only so many buttons on a Dual Shock. The only thing I could really suggest is that they tighten up the object detection around cover areas. Ideally they'd make some sort of amendment to the controls but it's far too late to be faffing about with those. The problem isn't huge and I've no doubt that players will get a feel for it after a while but it can be a little discouraging, and in many cases frustrating, for new players.
I spend the majority of my time playing the new Three Team Deathmatch. This is a fun mode that works really well. Right from the get-go Uncharted 3 makes it clear that teamwork is essential with the new Buddy System. If you die, you can spawn next to your teammate, provided they're not in combat or near a live grenade. Be warned though, the system isn't hugely tight, I sometimes found myself spawning into a skirmish and dying within seconds. I don't actually know if this is a bug in the system or intentional. I kinda prefer the idea of having to take a moment to weigh up the pros and cons of spawning with a teammate. And believe me, you're going to need that teammate. Generally you're not going to encounter the idiots that permeate the maps of Modern Warfare 2 here. These are players that mean business and will know that two guns are far more effective than one. Running around like a ninja might get you a few sly kills but if you wander into the path of a small clan then you may as well just say that you're very sorry and won't try to hurt them again. Once they've ventilated you, they'll have the option of doing a high five or fistbump over your freshly perforated corpse, further emphasising that teamwork is what this mode is really about. I had played my first few matches on my own with a randomly assigned teammate but it wasn't until I employed the assistance of my good friend Niall (Neel) that the game really opened up for me.
Jumping straight back into Three Team Deathmatch, I learned quickly that this is a far different experience when played with a friend. The open line of communication through headset was essential. Before long we were giving titles to certain areas of the map, warning each other of incoming attackers, and generally having laughs. Pretty soon I felt there was no point in even playing unless I was playing with a friend. We dominated many games of TTDM, even going so far as to have a winning streak well above fifty games. The game works perfectly with pairs of players working together rather and large teams. I found this to be particularly true when we tried our hand at a couple of games of Plunder. The popular mode works pretty much identically to how it played in Uncharted 2. The only major difference I noticed is that you can't throw the idol off the map any more as it seems to be bounced back by an invisible wall. In this situation Plunder was slightly less fun to play because it was just the two of us and a group of strangers. I find the mode to be largely dependent on teamwork and you simply can't rely upon strangers for that. The mode is still hectic, exciting and massively fun but I largely recommend it to people who are playing in a group of four or more.
Recognising that Three Team Deathmatch was definitely our mode, we swiftly returned to spend the last few days of the trial playing the mode that clearly suited us best. It was in these intense sessions of mass murder that I began to notice a few minor issues with the gameplay. First and foremost, the melee system just does not work as well as it could. Anyone who has played Uncharted 2 knows all about this melee mechanic as it's quite a popular method of attack in any close-quarter oriented map, so it needs to function as best it can.At the minute it takes two melee attacks to down a healthy enemy (you're open to attack in this time). If the enemy has been weakened by gunfire or whatnot then they'll be dispatched in a nice little beatdown animation. My problem is this, two people should never be able to beat each other to death, yet it happens far too often in Uncharted. Call it a connection problem, call it a server issue, I believe it could be easily fixed with a faster melee system (knife perhaps?) and a larger range on said attacks. The range itself is quite noticeable when dealing with someone hanging off a ledge. The person hanging has a much larger range of attack then the person who is trying to push them off and sometimes if you're sniping from a tower and you hear the laboured grunts of someone working their way up to you, you might find yourself pistol-whipping air instead of pushing your assailant to their grave. I think gameplay would flow a little better if all melee attacks were treated like the stealth ones, one fast two-character animation.
Another small issue is that the servers still have yet to really catch up on the other online games we're used to playing. You can still be stuck in a lobby for five minutes or up and you still find players dying a good second after they've been shot in game. I don't possess enough tech knowledge to put my finger on what the actual problem is but all I know is that it never happens to me in Call of Duty or Killzone so I don't see why it would ever be excusable here. Another minor peeve I have is the matchmaking system. When I was playing solo I was frequently put with groups of beginners playing against veterans. This is another thing that happened a little too often in Uncharted 2 and unfortunately it did ended up marring my enjoyment of the games sometimes. It's a small problem but certainly one I hope gets improved in the future.
With every online shooter under the sun giving the player more control over aesthetics and weapons, I can't blame Naughty Dog for putting more emphasis on customisation this time 'round. In Uncharted 3 you can decide on what your character wears and the colour of their clothes instead of just choosing the character model. Another little touch that's been inspired by games like CoD is the new emblem maker. While not as in depth as the one in Black Ops, it works just fine for creating a signature tag and it never gets old seeing that tag pasted all over the walls of the map you're currently dominating. Weapons can also be personalised too. Magazines, sights and such can be interchanged depending on what way you want to fight. This was fairly limited in the beta so I can't comment too much on it but I can see this being pretty cool in the final build.
All in all, I can't wait for Uncharted 3, and I will definitely be teaming up with Niall again to dish out the PWNage once again. The game is fantastic when played and ten times better when played with friends. There are a few small issues but they are in no way tragic. The melee system could do with a good going over and the matchmaking system really needs some speeding up but aside from that everything is A-okay. Are Naughty Dog trying to take on the big boys? Yes. Can they? I hope so. This game is going to be amazing. Be excited.