Out of the flames, and into the fires of the Rub’ al Khali
Yesterday, at Sony Computer Entertainment’s Foster City headquarters, I had the chance to get a deeper look at Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.
First up was getting my hands on two of the game’s now famous locations: the flaming Chateau, and the high-pressure (and high-altitude) Cargo Plane. While both of these sections have been shown plenty in Naughty Dog’s reveals of Uncharted 3, here I got to experience longer, more extended versions of those scenes.
The Chateau seemed like a great place to start, which was a slightly unfortunate decision for me; right off the bat, I felt ashamed due to having no idea where to go next from the point at which the demo portion picked up in the game’s natural progression.
Once I finally worked that out, I was on my way to running into a mercenary force determined to burn the entire place down. Their actions cause the results that many gamers are now well familiar with—the old wooden building engulfed in raging fire. It was a really interesting experience; even knowing that the whole situation was little more than a scenario in a video game, the amazingly convincing look and nature of the flames caused an emotional reaction inside of me. Trying to navigate Drake through the smoldering structure, the sense of unease and panic that sets in made for an exciting gameplay session.
I couldn’t help but find it funny, however, just how unlucky Drake seems to be in what situations the Uncharted series loves to throw at him. Here, everything and anything that could go wrong in Drake’s escape does go wrong. How many times can floors break away under your feet or bridges collapse as you’re crossing them poor Nathan? One nice twist to this came at a point where Drake’s leg gets stuck in a broken floorboard, and the player is tasked with fending off foes with well-placed shots while Sully helps to free Drake’s foot.
Next up was the Cargo Plane, one of the more iconic scenes from what’s been shown so far from Uncharted 3. The portion of this scene I hadn’t yet witnessed came once Drake scaled the supply truck and returned to the plane’s cargo hold. Here, the scene begins as I would have expected: A shoot-out with soldiers pissed off that a stowaway had dumped their precious cargo. Then… the lights begin to flicker, the plane begins to feel a little unsteady. Objects and equipment used as cover shift from side to side, front to back. One of the soldiers shouts something about the emergency power for the plane failing, a comment I pay little attention to at first. That is, until an explosion rips a hole in the body of said plane, and the entire thing violently lurches in uncontrolled movements. There’s a second where the scene feels surreal—I, as Drake, just stood there, gun holstered, doing little more than watching the chaos.
Then, it happens—the plane’s metal body tears, and before my eyes, the front of the plane is ripped from its back half. I can’t remember the last legitimate “oh f**k” moment I’ve experienced in video gaming, but this absolutely was one. It’s a similar situation to the Chateau fire: You know it’s just a game, but what unfolds has such a powerful, real impact on you. Trying to figure out what in the world to do in order to survive at that point was terrifying, and then—the demo faded to black.
Finally, I was given a look at the desert village, the subject of these new screenshots. The scene begins with Drake climbing a sand dune, and it’s interesting how such a simple scene piece can come off looking so stunning visually. Trying as hard as I can not to fall into hyperbole, that sand looked real. Has any other game gone to such lengths to render video game sand that actually looks like you’re standing on billions of little grains of rock and mineral particles? If there is, I can’t think of one.
Cresting the dune, the camera reveals the sprawling ruins of what was—no doubt—a once-great desert city. Then, as quickly as he reached the top, we watch as Drake goes tumbling down the other side. Desperate for survival (and water), he heads into the ruins to find anything that can help him live; unfortunately, the only thing waiting for him there are brutes armed to the teeth.
In the short demo (that I can only watch, not play), I’m shown a few of the new twists on the traditional Uncharted combat engine. Of course, there’s Drake’s occasional ability to pull the pin on a grenade still attached to it’s owner, but a nicer touch for me was the chance for Drake to knock an opponent’s weapon out of their hands (during melee combat) and confiscate it for his own uses. The little addition really comes off well, adding even more of that cinematic, action movie-esque feel to the franchise.
The other addition that will add a new twist to combat is throwing back enemy grenades. After a mercenary launches a pineapple at Drake, a little meter appears around it showing how long it’s cooked. (How’s that for pseudo-military jargon!) Have enough time left, and you can pick it up and throw it back to its original owner.
PARTING SHOT: Spending the time I did with Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception yesterday was bittersweet—I loved having the chance to see this elements and get a better feel for what we’ll be in store for on November 11th, but on the other hand, I hated spoiling those moments of the game for myself. More than that, though, I left wondering if this third chapter of Uncharted will end up being the best one yet. That’s a tough feat to reach, especially after two stellar outings; and yet, even with two games under their belts, the folks at Naughty Dog seem able to continue coming up with even more fantastic and breathtaking scenarios for us to join Drake and company in experiencing.