Naughty Dog’s first PlayStation 3 effort, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was a smash hit and introduced us to Nathan Drake, an every man’s hero whose wit and cunning would often get him in trouble. While the game is still one of the best PlayStation 3 games to date, it was riddled with problems. It had wonky AI, bullet-sponge enemies, and a not-so-cool twist that ruined the game for some people. Nathan Drake is set to return in an all-new adventure and I headed to Naughty Dog’s headquarters yesterday to check out the game in action and find out more of what Drake will be up to.
While Drake’s Fortune was centered in the mysteries of Sir Francis Drake, Uncharted 2 will follow Nathan Drake as he uncovers the mysteries surrounding Marco Polo and his voyage home from China in 1292. Polo served as an emissary and diplomat in the court of Kublai Khan for over 20 years. As the legend goes, Marco and his men went home with 14 ships loaded with treasures and 600+ passengers. When they finally arrived in Italy, only one ship made it and 18 people survived. The mystery surrounding what happened during their return trip home is the real-world catalyst of Drake’s adventure.
Remember, Drake is all about the mad loot and there are 13 ships somewhere containing booty. Uncharted 2 will begin as Drake receives a clue that points to the location of this lost fleet of ships. As he uncovers more pieces to the mystery of the missing ships, Drake realizes that Marco Polo was hiding an even bigger secret. Marco Polo had gone on a secret expedition on behalf of Kublai Khan to find the mythical kingdom of Shambala (aka Shangri la) and to recover the legendary Cintamani Stone. This stone, a ginormous raw sapphire, is known as the Buddhist Holy Grail. However, Drake isn’t the only one seeking out this artifact. A rogue paramilitary leader, a fugitive war criminal and his private army are also on the hunt. Curses! If it weren’t for those meddling paramilitary leaders?!
Uncharted 2 will delve more into the historical past of Drake, and while he’s still the charming bastard that he was in the first game, we’ll see a seedier side of him and learn more about his shady history. At least he’ll be getting a lot more lovin’ this time around as we’ll be introduced to a new partner and love interest, Chloe Frazer. Drake has a history with Chloe, however, this is different than Elena Fisher from Drake’s Fortune. A fiery Aussie adventurer, she travels in the same lawless underworld as Drake. Chloe is his equal, but is more impulsive and reckless than he, which should make their quest an interesting one. For those who had a thing for Elena, sadly, she will not be in Uncharted 2.
As Naughty Dog booted up the quick in-game demonstration, it was explained that this portion took place about a quarter into the game where Drake and Chloe tracked Marco Polo’s trail back through Southeast Asia to a remote war-torn city of Nepal. 700 years ago, this city was recorded by Marco Polo as a vast field of temples and shrines -- one which holds a clue to the path to Shambhala for those who are worthy and prepared to find it. This city is amidst a civil war which is being exploited and increased by their antagonist who has arrived before Drake and Chloe.
As the demo begins, separated from Chloe, Drake finds the city in ruin and has been. His current goal is to meet up with her at a rendezvous point somewhere in the city.
Drake is huddled behind a car. As Naughty Dog explained, similar to the previous game, there are multiple ways to approach this situation. If you want to roll in balls-out punching and gunning your way through, you can. Or you can play stealthily. As Drake hides out from the militia, a bus comes barreling down the street with local faction members shooting out the windows before it has an untimely crash -- as opposed to all those timely crashes -- and explodes. He creeps up the street following the soldiers, sliding in and out of cover before deciding to throw a few rounds to drop a few of them. While the original game had some impressive animation, Uncharted 2 looks even more polished. Also note that I stated a “few rounds,” instead of the 15 it took to dispose of foes in the previous game. Thank you, Naughty Dog!
Once the coast is clear, the street is blocked off by the smoldering bus, and it’s time for Drake to use his trusty climbing skills. He climbs up an emergency escape ladder and leaps from signs into a building before the signs crumble off the building. Before Drake can catch his breath, he’s forced to leap back outside after the floor caves in. He pulls a soldier off a ledge above him, drops to the ground, and performs a stealth kill by hopping on a soldier's back and snapping his neck.
While less strategic enemies can be dropped with a few rounds or punches and kicks, Drake encounters an enemy holding a riot shield, forcing him to be more creative. Disarming and dropping the enemy, he picks up the shield which helps deflect gunfire while approaching oncoming enemies. He knocks them around using the shield as a weapon.
Once again, Drake is forced behind cover to take out a few more baddies as an armored vehicle rolls in blasting away at him. As he takes a few surrounding soldiers out, others flank him while the turret peppers him with a barrage of bullets. Saving the day, Chloe arrives in the nick of time and whips out an RPG which obliterates the armored vehicle. Intense? Check. Exciting? Check. Looks even more bad ass than the original Uncharted? Oh hell yes!
One new gameplay element that the team talked about was traversal gunplay. With Drake’s acrobatics and climbing abilities, he will now be able to blast away at enemies while he’s scaling environments. Although I didn’t see it, I'm pretty excited to see how this changes the traditional cover-based shooter elements I’ve seen in games lately. Here’s one potential gameplay element the team provided: A train level where it’s barreling down a track, perhaps with a major combat sequence where Drake is climbing in and out of the train taking out enemies as he moves further up the train. Considering that I have already seen him clinging for life in a train car in the first trailer for the game, I have a feeling there’s going to be something pretty epic happening on that train.
Although this is an early Alpha build of the game, Uncharted 2 is already looking phenomenal and I have only been privy to a small slice of gameplay. Utilizing an enhanced Uncharted 1 engine, now dubbed the Naughty Dog Engine 2.0, the team explained that while Uncharted 1 used 30 percent of the PS3's SPUs with the first game, Uncharted 2 will rock out on 100 percent of the SPUs, pushing the Cell processor further than ever. This will allow for an even more impressive particle and lighting systems, as well as new fur shaders, skin enhancements -- and in the Himalayas, delicious snow and ice effects. With Uncharted 1 already one of the best looking PS3 games, I'm drooling for the final product.
Although I didn’t get my hands on the game, I couldn’t be more excited to see how it pans out. I loved the first game, albeit, its flaws -- and while short -- it was the summer block buster type Romancing the Stone/Indiana Jones-kind of experience I wanted. The fantastic storytelling and wonderful characters, not to mention a world that Naughty Dog created, kept me glued to the controller until the credits ran. With a new heroine (goodbye Elena, sniff) and another intriguing mystery to unravel all encapsulated in overflowing tech wonder, I'm counting the days until I can step into the shoes of Nathan Drake once again.
Tomorrow, TheFeed will be unveiling an extensive interview with Naughty Dog’s Co-president Evan Wells and Game Director Amy Hennig that will be loaded with even more treasures from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.