Joystiq hands-on: Uncharted 2 co-op multiplayer

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Thanks to games like Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory and Gears of War, online co-op gameplay has become an almost obligatory bullet point for modern action games. Naughty Dog has chosen to respond to the trend in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves in a way that's slightly different than usual. Rather than shoehorn a second player into an experience already crafted for solo adventure, it's creating a separate side mission designed specifically with two to three players in mind.

Three-player co-op? Yeah, we were surprised, too. Having tried it with two other honest-to-goodness live humans, we can report that it not only works, but -- so far -- works very well. The combination of smart A.I. opponents, platforming elements and teamwork-based objectives seems a perfect fit for Uncharted 2. Ah yes, teamwork. It's something we quickly found you need to have nailed down -- preferably with two friends -- lest you wish to spend an afternoon yelling at the person who won't stop shooting to give you a leg up.

We quickly realized this was the same level we'd seen in the leaked GDC 2009 footage of Uncharted 2's single-player mode.

The reason why it's so important all three players -- assuming the roles of Drake, Chloe and Sully -- are on the same page isn't immediately apparent. At least for the demo, we began the mission simply shooting anything that moved as we made our way down a street, zigzagging between cover and trying not to get caught in the crossfire.

We quickly realized this was the same level we'd seen in the leaked GDC 2009 footage of Uncharted 2's single-player mode. And, having watched it many times, we couldn't help but wonder if we'd actually be performing some of the platforming acrobatics in co-op that Drake had done solo. First, though, we had to rid the war-torn square of masked soldiers who seemed to be in unlimited supply. (That and stop getting shot as we gawked at the visuals, which looked just as good as what we'd seen of single-player.)

It turned out that Uncharted 2's co-op has a little bit in common with Left 4 Dead. In this case, we realized that if we stayed in one place for too long the game would send another wave of enemies our way. It really forced us to make every moment of silence count and definitely upped the intensity.

Before more enemies arrived on the scene, we high-tailed it to a glowing red circle at the base of an electrical pole. This circle had an icon in it indicating all three of us would have to work together in order to progress. Unfortunately, even though we were in the same room, one of our co-op partners didn't quite get the idea, leading to us into another bombardment from another round of bad guys.

The second time was the charm -- as we all stood at the base of the pole, an icon appeared telling us to hold Triangle. We were boosted up and grabbed hold of a small ladder attached to a nearby billboard. Just as in the single-player footage we'd seen, we had to leap across signs and do some free-climbing in order to enter a second story room. Meanwhile, more enemies arrived for the two other players below to contend with.

Once we'd reached our destination, we were again prompted to hold Triangle. This made our character (Chloe) push a toppled-over bookcase out of the window, sending it crashing onto the street below. We rejoined the other players and the three of us repositioned the bookcase to serve as stairs for getting atop an overturned bus blocking the way.

New area, same goons. There was another abandoned car here. Although we knew it could be used as cover, we decided to spray it with bullets instead. It worked; the mob of mercs approaching us were sent flying when the hatchback's gas tank went up in an impressive fireball. We quickly wished we'd saved the tactic, though, as a shotgun-toting "mini-boss" leapt on-screen in slow motion (that's how we knew he wasn't an average enemy) and began to hurt us badly. Sully went down and a red icon appeared, a la Gears of War, indicating where our injured comrade was and how long it would take before he bled out.

There's a similar "cry for help" when any of the three players get grabbed by an enemy -- just as you can move around behind them and grab hold, so can they. In this case, a blue icon appears and players must rush to their partner's aid before it's too late.

Leaving the relative safety of a barricade behind, we ran up to him and held Triangle to get our partner back into action. We discovered that, should all three players go down and bleed out, they're respawned at the most recent checkpoint. (The game indicates when you've reached them.)

Naughty Dog's way of handling co-op seems to throw the doors wide open for more DLC missions.

Shotgun Guy wasn't a push-over; we definitely needed to all concentrate fire on him. Once he was out of the picture, a new objective appeared, and we knew from a combination of the icon and character voiceover that we'd need a rocket launcher to blow a hole through a wall. Cue, of course, guys with RPGs. We fought it out, then grabbed our own firepower off a corpse and fired it at the weakened wall the game had directed us to. Next, all three players had to work together at the resulting opening to lift a toppled bookcase.

The next area -- a bar and adjoining courtyard -- housed the most difficult enemies yet. We only survived a bit longer, but it was long enough to take down shield-carrying enemies (then use their shields for ourselves) and ultimately be killed by the second mini-boss, this one carrying a chaingun.

The overall experience was a lot of fun, quite challenging and actually forced us to cooperate -- imagine that! We were told the mission would keep most players busy for a couple of hours, and Naughty Dog's way of handling co-op seems to throw the doors wide open for more DLC missions. NDI couldn't say if there'd be an ultimate payoff for completing the mission or any special Trophies associated with it, but there will (thankfully) be voice chat. You know, so we can give the squeaky wheel on our team a little verbal grease now and then.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.