The life of Nathan Drake is never dull, and that's the way we like it. How else would that lovable rogue keep us so consistently entertained? In two new single-player levels from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Nathan keeps the thrills coming, showing off some new gameplay elements and revealing a bit more about the deep, twisting plot that drives developer Naughty Dog's upcoming adventure.
At the beginning of the level, we got some background on the salient plot points that brought Nathan to where he is now. He and his new partner, Chloe Frazer, arrived in a small Tibetan town on the trail of Marco Polo. When Polo came to the area centuries earlier, it was a lush green valley liberally dotted with temples. When Nathan arrives, he finds that a sprawling city now dominates the valley, hiding the still-numerous temples within its winding streets and tall apartment buildings. He and Chloe climb to an elevated point to locate the one specific temple they're searching for, but on the way down they are waylaid by an attack helicopter. This level was demoed during Sony's press conference, and you can read our Stage Demo Impressions and watch a video segment from our stage demo of the game for more on what transpired there.
During our closer look at this demoed level, one moment in the action stuck out as particularly impressive. The pair landed on a rooftop dotted by cement plant troughs after they narrowly avoided falling to their deaths. As they took cover behind a trough, we were struck by the amount of activity onscreen. Soldiers advanced over the rooftop under cover of the helicopter floating above. The plants in the troughs flailed wildly in the wind, battered in specific directions by the whirling rotor blades. The pots splintered as they were riddled by bullets, and the shards scattered over the ducking duo's heads. As Nathan maneuvered to get a better shot at the soldiers, Chloe dodged around him quickly so as not to obstruct his movements. It was an exciting slice of action, and the little touches made the game feel more electric than its predecessor.
The new level finds Nathan exiting a temple, where, through sweat and ingenuity, he has retrieved the object he was searching for. Waiting for him in the courtyard should be a mildly irritated Elena (is there any other kind?) and her cameraman companion (she's big-time now). It turns out that Elena is back for the sequel (check out the official Uncharted 2 trailer for more Elena attitude), and she's on the trail of Zorin Lazarevic, the very same psychotic war criminal trying to kill Drake. NATO believes Lazarevic to be dead, but Elena thinks otherwise. Well, now she knows otherwise, and when Drake meets up with her in the courtyard, she is pinned down by Lazarevic's troops. Drake makes use of his considerable marksmanship skills to get her out of a bind.
He also gets up close and personal with a few enemies, showcasing Uncharted 2's more nuanced melee combat system. Drake will take on light, medium, and heavy foes. Light foes can be beaten down by simply pressing the melee attack button a lot. There is a renewed focus on environmentally sensitive attacks, so Drake will shove enemies off of ledges and bend them over low obstacles to deliver some savage punches. Medium enemies require a bit more attention, as they can parry Drake's blows and get him into sticky situations. One of these foes might get him in an arm bar or a headlock. At this point the action will slow down, giving Drake the chance to counter with the action button. Countering will turn the tides; if you fail to do so, Drake will get hurt. Hand-to-hand combat with heavy foes should be avoided, as their armor prevents Drake from getting the best of them. Countering is necessary for survival here, because heavy foes are much more deadly. This new melee system looks to add more depth and excitement to the action, while still flowing smoothly and being easy to execute.
Once the courtyard was cleared, Drake and Chloe met up with Elena and Jeff, her cameraman. Jeff had suffered a gunshot wound to the belly that looked quite nasty, and Chloe was inclined to leave him for dead. Not one to leave a man behind (or a companion of Elena's behind?), Drake hoisted Jeff upright and draped one of his arms around his neck. This left Drake with one free arm, so it was a slow, sidearm-wielding shuffle through the rest of the level. But that didn't mean the enemies let up. The team maneuvered through alleys and crumbled houses, blasting enemies and dodging the truck-mounted turrets that appeared with alarming frequency. Elena and Chloe stepped up their shooting a bit, buying Drake some much-needed time to get to safety. Jeff would occasionally slump and Drake would have to hoist him up, and the animation was incredibly realistic (as was the oozing gunshot wound). Eventually the team reached a point where acrobatics were required to proceed. Chloe wanted to forge onward, but Drake and Elena wouldn't leave Jeff behind. Exasperated and out of time, Chloe pulled her gun on Nathan and said something to the effect of "I was just trying to save your sorry hide."
Does Chloe then demand that Nathan give her their precious find? Does she head off on her own? Does she shoot Jeff to make the decision moot? There are plenty of ways it could go, and we're assured there will be ample twists, double-crosses, and dramatic moments throughout the story. Uncharted 2 is shaping up to be an impressively epic follow-up, and the tweaks to the action look to make things even more intense. Be sure to check out the other stories and videos in GameSpot's extensive E3 coverage of Uncharted 2.