Uncharted 3 turns co-op into a narrative-focused adventure, filled with customization.
While demoing Uncharted 3's co-op campaign, Naughty Dog consistently referred to it as a cooperative "adventure" rather than mode - and for good reason. The mode returns with new additions, including some unique to the mode and others shared with competitive multiplayer and single player. Co-op also features its own booster (perk) system that you unlock as you earn money in the co-op campaign. While the character roles in the co-op campaign will still be fixed and mission specific, there is much more variety in how to approach combat.
Uncharted 3 introduces Treasure Drops, randomly spawned collectibles that unlock individual boosters, clothing and other bonuses. In competitive multiplayer, players will be partnered with one another (via the new Buddy System), but, in co-op, it's each player for himself. Like that dumb jerk in every action movie, one player might wander away from the goal to snatch the Treasure Drop, only to be ambushed by a pack of enemies; meanwhile, putting the other two players in danger. Uncharted 3's co-op brings to mind the many tense Left 4 Dead matches, which isn't a bad thing at all.
Unlike the previous game, Uncharted 3's co-op campaign is tied together with its own narrative. It's hard to say what that narrative is, since the demo didn't offer much context or exposition, but Naughty Dog said it won't be directly connected to the single-player story. The team is still working on the co-op campaign, but the developer said it won't be much longer then Uncharted 2's co-op offering. Thankfully, co-op specific boosters, mission variety and well-tuned difficulty levels will give the campaign the legs that Uncharted 2's co-op lacked.
The co-op level I demoed took place in a massive, worn-down brick castle. It starts off with Drake, Sully and Elena swimming through the sewers. Once safety is reached, the group is immediately ambushed and set on a series of firefights that take place in different locations. Even when players are positioned in the same area for a while, the goals and strategic points are constantly shifting. A player may decide to take a sniping vantage point one minute and then run head-on into the action with a shotgun, the next - the environments are large and complex, making each a reasonable approach. Though, mission goals often force players not to stay dormant for long. In the mission I played, goals switched back-and-forth between "get to this point," "defend this point, and "capture the gold shiny thing."
The highlight of the demo, however, took place in its final minutes that found myself and two co-op buddies vertically climbing the castle's exterior. The vertical gunplay is well executed and unlike anything else - maybe slightly reminiscent of Dark Void - thankfully, only in concept. The vertical play is much slower, requiring strategy and patience. After I learned this - a couple failed attempts later - the Uncharted gang made it to the top and a cutscene cued.
The co-op demo ended with three helicopters arriving out of nowhere with their bright lights positioned on Drake and crew. Like a great episode of TV, it left me wondering what will happen next. And, like a great demo, it left me wanting to play it again and again.
PlayStation Plus users and beta key holders (via Infamous 2) can experience the co-op for themselves June 28, while everyone else will have to wait until July 5 for beta access. The beta will contain three co-op modes, although it's not clear if the above demo is part of the beta.