After waving our badges around and pretending that Piki Geek was bigger than God, we found ourselves in a oddly decorated room for a eyes on demo of the Uncharted 3 single player, an extended version of what had been seen at Gamescon earlier this month. Little more than five minutes later we got up and left again, causing me to wonder just what point there was to a closed door demo in the first place. In all frankness, if I wasn’t aware of the games title beforehand I’d probably be wondering why we made such a stink just to watch someone play Uncharted 2 for a handful of minutes.
According to the devilishly mustachioed presenter what they had to work with was still pretty rough and so I imagine Naughty Dog were simply hesitant invest heavily in a demo of an unfinished game. For what was on display however, it may not have been especially illuminating but it was the exact sort of tightly scripted high octane action that has made the series such a beloved exclusive amongst PlayStation owners.
Kicking off with a short scene between protagonist Nathan Drake and on again, off again girlfriend Elena Fisher, it doesn’t take long until the man affectionately dubbed “Malcolm Reynolds without a space ship” stumbles ass backwards into failure as his attempts at stealth fall in the face of a spotlight and attentive guards. Dashing across the roof tops our daring hero escapes unscathed only to soon realize the futility of running after a speeding plane. Luckily enough for the bumbling star, the surprisingly proficient Elena re-appears with speeding jeep in tow to collect Drake and thrust him forward until he can leap onto the plane via the landing gear.
One thing stood out in particular for me as I watched this early portion of the demo. Sound direction, an oft ignored part of the game in the wake of graphics and gameplay, is very important to the overall ambiance of a game. In the latest Uncharted the sound of the game was overwhelming, not in terms of volume (at PAX they were playing the game at the sort of volume that would attract police attention if you were to try it at home) but rather in terms of the way the various layers of sound dipped and dived, and crashed together like waves on the shore. As Drake and Elena moved beneath the plane the immense sound of the engines drowned out every other effect, and our characters sounded like they actually had to shout at the top of lungs to make a sound over the din.
Now safely on board the plane, Drake quickly makes his way through the air ducts, only to be blind sided by a juiced up baddie who bears more than a passing resemblance to the bullet sponge mini boss from the train level in Uncharted 2. His strength allows him to swiftly gain the upper hand on our hapless hero as he prepares to toss Drake out of the back of the plane. A long hand to hand fight scene ensues with lots of reversals and combo strikes and eventually the roid-raging enemy is unceremoniously dumped from the plane after Drake surreptitiously sets loose some of the planes cargo. Of course it wouldn’t be an Uncharted game if something now didn’t go wrong, and on cue the same flying baggage that proved so useful just a few moments ago knocks Drake flying into the sun drenched sky and hanging on for dear life on a perilously tenuous conga line of baggage.
So much as I could tell from an eyes only demo, a few tweaks have been made to the gameplay. The most notable one I could see were in the shooting mechanics, which seemed more arcadey than in Uncharted 2 and less dependent on ponderous cover mechanics. Shooting from hip appear to be more accurate, again, from what little I saw, and Drake moves a little quicker while aiming than before. Minor tweaks to be sure, but the Uncharted series was always at its worst when you’d be bogged down in small rooms with an American Armies’ worth of foes so anything to increase the pace is a welcome change.
Back to the demo and the action picks up where the Gamescon video left off, with Drake clinging onto the planes rapidly disappearing cargo for dear life. Gradually, and now under gunfire from the enemies who came to check on the loud commotion from just a few moments ago, our hero make his way back into the plane and dives straight into a fire fight with the newly arrived bad guys. After dispatching a fair number of them a hole is torn in the side of the plane. As the cabin pressure plummets and cargo and man alike goes flying into the great beyond Drake is unable to hold on and so joins the rest of the planes former occupants amongst the clouds. As the demo drew to a close with Drake free falling through the sky our presenter joked that this was where the game ends, with Nathan Drake plummeting to his death.
Even if the third title in the series proves to be little more than “Honor Among Thieves” with a new tale and slightly improved visuals, this is far from a bad thing. Hell, there’s something to be said for sticking with a winning formula, so if even Uncharted 3 doesn’t blow my mind on first impressions quite like its predecessor did it still looks very, very good all the same.