Over the years I've spent in this industry I've learnt that the best two emotions to have, when dealing with video games, are anger or unreserved love. It's where much of the best writing comes from, where a lot of great analysis starts and either end of the spectrum is a deep and powerful source of creative energy. You don't have to stay on that side of the spectrum with every piece you write — and articles can flip from one to the other, always be an interesting journey for readers and writers — but it's an excellent starting point.
Conversely, the worst emotion to have when previewing a product is none at all: total apathy.
What purpose does multiplayer Uncharted serve?
It seems like a heartless, almost cruel, question to pose. Naughty Dog, after all, are considered masters of their craft and deservedly so. The accolades given out to The Last of Us are a mark of that, but perhaps a better indication of its excellence can be found in the surprised tones with which people discuss the game's multiplayer.
All of the supplied assets are at 900p, the same resolution that Uncharted 4's multiplayer runs in
There was a lot that caught the sceptical gaming public unawares: the slow, almost old school-esque pace; the clever 12 week-long factions system that borrowed from the spirit of its own narrative and games like State of Decay; Supply Raid, which functioned like a more honest version of Call of Duty's Kill Confirmed; and the competence with which crafting was interweaved throughout.
Factions — the term for TLOU's multiplayer — was far, far better than it had any right to be.
And there's no reason to truly suspect that Uncharted 4 won't adopt some, if not all, of its measures. Team Deathmatch, for instance, adopts many of the systems found in TLOU's Supply Raid. The scoreboard is laid out almost identically, except it's extended to include cash and assists (with KO's replacing executions).
Kills don't count unless someone is actually KO'd; players can revive their downed friends by holding down the triangle button. Cash is earned over the course of the round that can be used to purchase upgrades and perks over the course of a match, which functions as Uncharted's replacement for TLOU's crafting system.
All in all, it's pretty straightforward.
In a way, it's what you would expect Team Deathmatch to look like in 2015. In many ways, when you take the loadout system, the inclusion of Mystical items that can have impacts across the entire battlefield — or at least the nearby territory that you can immediately influence — it's Call of Duty crossed with Uncharted.
It takes three hits to melee a character from full health to a downed state
The 5v5 mode even reminds me of my time in competitive Modern Warfare 2. Naughty Dog has certainly taken cues from the mega military shooter franchise by giving players lots of toys to flesh their loadouts with. Primary and secondary weapons are customisable — although many will be locked initially — along with two other categories, Purchasable items and Boosters.
Purchasables are broken into four sections. Mysticals, special power-ups activated by pressing the L1 + R1 buttons that offer a variety of offensive or defensive traits ranging from improved movement speed to a mass revival of all your teammates. Gear is fairly simple, offering the usual fare of frag grenades, proximity mines and so on, while Heavy Weapons provides a variety of high-powered explosives and rifles.
Sidekicks are the other trick in this hand of cards, with players able to summon an NPC for 60 seconds that will follow them around the battlefield. The sidekicks' AI is fairly unspectacular and they will always favour being in close proximity to their owner rather than the needs of the situation around them, meaning that they're happy to run backwards through enemy fire if it means crouching behind cover to the player who summoned them.
You won't get access to most of this from the off, though: it's only accessible by earning money in-game. Rewatching available online footage confirms you can access the store while you're alive, although if you can't work it out initially (like yours truly) the store will pop up in between deaths and you can buy items that way.
The higher frame rate of the multiplayer makes an appreciable difference, unsurprisingly
And despite my initial and lasting apathy for what remains a fairly straight take on Team Deathmatch, it's not as if there isn't fun to be had. There's a special satisfaction in Elena taking a boot to Drake's throat, although the animation remained the same each time.
And as nice as the animations are, it doesn't get past the classic problem Uncharted multiplayer has: the constant rolling. The circle key is like Uncharted's equivalent of crouchbobbing, a way to move in and any all situations just to screw with people's capacity to aim. It's completely fine, of course, and I have no complaints against it as a regular traversal mechanic.
But by God, does it look dumb. You've effectively got a multiplayer mode where 12 people are engaged in rolling, crawling or kicking people who are either rolling or crawling at any given moment. Visually, it's patently absurd.
And let's not mention the Mystical item that gives you an orange-coloured burst of speed that looks like it was ripped straight from inFAMOUS Second Son.
Players will recognise some of the Mysticals and power-ups from previous Uncharted games
But these elements aren't objectionable in principle. They're silly in isolation, but perfectly functional.
And that's perhaps the best description of my experience with Uncharted 4's Team Deathmatch, and the foundation for my apathy. Rewatching footage recorded from the preview session, all I see is what appears to be a functional, flowing, but not fascinating experience. It's much faster than what I remember from TLOU, and not wholly different from what people enjoyed in Uncharted 3.
It works, for lack of a better word. It's just not special; it just doesn't feel like Naughty Dog. And that makes me wonder once more: what precisely do they want to accomplish with the multiplayer?
Hopefully we'll find out when the other modes are announced. But for now, enjoy the beta. Everyone undoubtedly will. It just won't be what keeps you around. That's what the story's for.