Uncharted 3 Gameplay Impressions: From Burning Buildings to the Scorching DesertBy Christopher Monfette - Posted Dec 17, 2010
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception surprised many with its recent announcement, but the action/adventure title continued to surprise when we were offered a meaty demo of one of the early levels. There really can be no dispute that the Uncharted series has essentially mastered the marriage of gaming and cinema, providing a visually spectacular, action-packed experience with smart scripting, solid performance and tight, visceral gameplay. In fact, the year in which Uncharted 2: Among Thieves released, the game simply couldn’t avoid comparisons to the recent Indiana Jones film, a lackluster failure in comparison to Uncharted’s mastery of the genre in any medium.
WATCH: Uncharted 3 Demoed On Late Night With Jimmy Fallon
As shown in the recently released trailer, the third game in the franchise will be set against a desert backdrop, providing a fresh challenge for developer Naughty Dog, having already mastered jungle landscapes in the first game and snow/ice environments in the second. We’re told that the narrative will focus primarily on the relationship between Drake and Sully with the adventure shifting back to the mysterious adventures of Nathan’s ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. Whether the deception in the game’s title refers to Nathan or Francis – either being deceived or doing the deceiving – is purposefully vague.
While Drake’s time in the billowing sands of the desert will set a new visual landmark for the series – including heat haze, shifting sand formations and even mirages – the level we were shown takes place earlier in the game, prior to Drake’s arrival in the Empty Quarter. Set in an abandoned, over-grown château in the forests of France, the level begins innocently enough. Drake and Sully are trapped on one of the upper levels, searching for a way across the collapsed, rotting floor, when Drake leaps onto a hanging chandelier, showing off Nathan’s new ability to climb and interact with physics objects in the environment. The chandelier twists and turns as he shifts around the base and pushes an old column across the divide for Sully.
Which, of course, is when all hell breaks loose. A pair of enemies douse a far-off wall with gasoline. As Nathan tries to sneak around, hanging from the top of a grand stairwell, two other men set the gasoline alight. A small explosion sends flames in each direction and the fire begins to spread across the woodwork, seemingly in real time. As the combat beings in earnest, we noticed the fire move across the floor, up a column behind which we were taking cover, forcing Nathan out into the open, one hand raised against the heat.
As Drake and Sully make their way through the burning building – now a full-on conflagration – the changes to the hand-to-hand combat system become increasingly evident. Brawling is now a multi-target affair as Drake can switch between enemies, using a heavily expanded range of contextual moves. For instance, while fighting one thug, we were restrained from behind by another. As the first enemy unholstered his gun, preparing to shoot us directly in the chest, Drake reached forward, pulled the man’s gun-hand under his arm, and forced the assailant to pull the trigger, killing the grappler behind him. The gun was then wrestled free and used against the shooter himself.
Later in the game, we’re told, a bar brawl might shift in your favor as your attack button will cause Drake to smash a nearby bottle over an enemy’s head, or break a glass to use as an improvised knife. Even this early on in the game’s development, it feels that the combat will offer a robust, but logical set of surprises and “Oh, sh*t!” moments as the adventure progresses…
As always, however, even in a burning chateau, there’s a fair amount of platforming, and the newly tweaked animations continue to impress. Drake can now back-jump to ledges behind and above him, as well as shoot while shimmying on platforms or moving across balance beams. But most importantly, these platforming moments are where Naughty Dog truly gets to blend the cinematic with the mechanics of gaming.
A simple jump to a nearby ledge can turn into a harrowing moment where an entire wall gives away, falling back across a chasm, seemingly into the fire below. One misstep finds the floor giving way beneath your felt, sending Drake careening through a weakened wall, out into a stairwell, over the railing, grabbing desperately for any surface that’ll prevent his fall into the flaming pit three stories down.
VIDEO: Uncharted 3 Debut Trailer
Graphically, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception continues to impress. The small, decorative details of the chateau, overgrown by the surrounding forest, really set the scene. Dust-filled streams of light poured in through every crack and window. The spreading fire gave off heat plumes, ash and smoke, moving dynamically throughout the environment. The rapid-fire transitions from platforming to scripted cinematic were seamless, pulling the viewer viscerally into the experience. And while the improvements to the game – at least in this non-desert level – were less visual and than they were contextual, the franchise certainly seems to be moving forward and we cannot wait to see what awaits Drake in the Rub’ al Khali.