One of the shining stars in the PlayStation 3's stable of exclusive franchises is the Uncharted series from Naughty Dog. The games have offered a modern, playable twist on the heroic adventuring of such classic action films as Raiders of the Lost Ark and the adventure serials that inspired it. While the original Uncharted was a solid debut for the series, Uncharted 2 was a masterpiece that cemented the franchise as one of the highlights of the PlayStation library this generation. Given the franchise's popularity so far, it's no surprise that Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception would be announced. However, what is pleasantly surprising is that Naughty Dog isn't taking a predictable route in creating Nathan Drake's latest adventure. We had the opportunity to chat with some members of the team at a recent press event that gave us a look at roughly 10 minutes of gameplay from the sequel, which is already looking fantastic.
When we last left Nathan Drake, the rough-around-the-edges adventurer had defeated his nemesis Zoran Lazarevic, rescued his lady friend Chloe, gotten a smooch saving her life, and enjoyed a lush sunset in the Himalayas. For most people, that would be the perfect cue to settle down someplace and reflect on past adventures. But, as fans of the series know, Nathan is most definitely not "most people." Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception finds Nathan and his mentor Sully on a new adventure tied to Sir Frances Drake's circumnavigation of the globe; an archaeologist by the name of T.E. Lawrence who history (and film) buffs will know as Lawrence of Arabia; and the legend of a lost city in the desert known as The Atlantis of the Sands.
Although Uncharted 3's announcement trailer showed Nathan making his way across a desert, the game will still have an international scope to its adventuring. The scorching locale Nathan and Sully were shown in was the Rub'al Khali in the Arabian Peninsula, which is one of the world's largest sand deserts. The game's story will send the two explorers all around the world to piece together the clues needed to locate the mysterious city that legends say was struck down by the gods. As always, the journey is chock-full of peril from both the treacherous environments Nate and Sully find themselves in, as well as the members of a mysterious clandestine organization that Naughty Dog noted will be the biggest threat the pair have ever encountered. While the Naughty Dog crew didn't offer up much more on the specifics of the game's story, it's worth noting a few seemingly minor details. First off, the game takes place roughly a year or so since the events seen in Uncharted 2. Secondly, while the game's primary focus is on Nate, Sully and their relationship, fans can expect to see old and new characters in the mix. Finally, the game's desert endgame setting was chosen as much for its rich story potential as its gameplay possibilities within a sandy environment, which offered a distinctly different environment from the previous games in the series.
The development team's desire to challenge itself with the game's setting extended directly to Uncharted 3's gameplay, which features a host of refinements to the game's core mechanics, many of which were influenced by fan feedback. The enhancements to the game fall into three basic areas: exploration, connection to the environment, and hand-to-hand combat. The exploration mechanics in the game have been expanded by refining the way players will move Nate around an environment. You'll be able to climb and jump backward from a hand hold, as well as use cover and shoot will climbing walls or a balance beam. The team has also put time into little touches that tie Nate into the environment in subtle ways. Keen-eyed players will notice the characters will touch parts of the environment as they make their way through it. In addition, players will notice smoother animation, courtesy of new contextual animation blends that aim to make Nathan's movement more fluid. Finally, the hand-to-hand combat options are being ratcheted up on a number of fronts. Generally speaking, combat will feature a bar-brawl-style approach that will have Nate facing off against multiple targets that you can switch between. Melee attacks will again feature a contextual component to them that will have Nate improvising with whatever he has handy. Finally, Nate's stealth options are being beefed up to include takedowns that can be initiated while dropping down from a perch. Separate from the gameplay that's specific to Nate, the desert setting will also feature unique gameplay tied to the properties of sand, which include sandstorms, mirages, and heat haze, to name just a few.
Not all of these gameplay enhancements were on display in the short but impressive gameplay demo we were shown, but there was still more than enough to get our attention. To underscore the game's international scale, the demo took place early on in the game at a dilapidated chateau in France where Nate and Sully were on the hunt for clues left behind by Lawrence. The pair hopes to piece together the location of the lost city by following Lawrence's trail. But, as their luck would have it, they're not actually a step ahead of their enemies--they're a step behind. The demo kicked off with the pair discovering thugs were setting the chateau on fire and attempting to escape. Unfortunately, the massive, rundown chateau ended up being a deadly obstacle course that offered no easy exit. While this spelled impending doom for the heroic pair, it was a fantastic showcase for the thrill ride the game is aiming to offer.
As in previous games, Sully shadows Nate most of the time as he tries to find an escape route. The search for an exit became increasingly complicated as the fire began to spread through the already-crumbling chateau, cutting off seemingly safe paths and kicking up smoke and flames to obscure Nate's vision. On top of that, the fire-starting thugs were on hand to plug Nate with bullets. The new gameplay elements appeared to blend in seamlessly with Nate's standard set of moves from the previous games as he crawled, shot, and fought his way through the chateau. The action delivered on the cinematic thrill moments as huge chunks of the chateau caved in or shifted as Nate made his way to different potential escape routes. We were especially impressed by how smoothly the heart-stopping cinematics of a collapsing roof or floor would cut into the action just long enough to get you to jump without interrupting the flow of gameplay. The downside to this was a very clear buildup of bad luck for the pair that climaxed with the duo clinging for dear life to a chunk of the chateau that appeared to be clearly falling into the fiery bowels of the burning structure. The demo cut out just before the two met their fiery end and raised the question "How are they getting out of this one?"
While the demo's primary focus was to showcase Uncharted 3's gameplay, it also offered a dazzling sampling of the game's visuals. The game may be quite a ways from release, but we were impressed by how stunning it is already. The old chateau and the plant life that had grown through it sported an incredible amount of detail that looked great, but once the fire started, things got bumped up a notch. The fire and particle effects were fantastic, and once things got going, they were downright unsettling. The animation was looking sharp, with all the little touches around Nate's movement giving him a polished motion that we liked a lot. The game's voice--a key element to its storytelling--was in fine form as well, thanks to Nolan North and Richard McGonagle giving Nate and Sully life.
The Uncharted series looks to be taking some assured strides as it heads into its third adventure. Naughty Dog is obviously excited about the work it is doing, and it clearly showed in the demo. We're excited to see more of the single-player game and find out more about the multiplayer upgrades the team teased in its presentation. We have to say it stung a little to hear that there's still no cooperative gameplay in the story mode, but if Naughty Dog amps up the competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes significantly in Uncharted 3, we'll get over no story mode co-op. Our taste of UC3 has us hungering for more in a big way, especially a look at the game running in stereoscopic 3D, and counting the months until its November release. Look for much more on Uncharted 3 in the months to come.