The first details on the biggest PS3 game of 2011, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, have landed online. Here's HD footage and everything we know about the short demo shown to press.
The third Uncharted sees Nathan Drake adventuring to Arabia's Rub' al-Khali desert, following the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence in search of an ancient city of treasure, the 'Atlantis of the Sands'.
According to Naughty Dog, Deception's exploration will feature "sand in all of its forms", including windy dunes, sandstorms, mirages, and generally all that you would find in a desert - but it's not the only place the agile explorer will travel to in the game.
In the gameplay demo shown to press, Drake navigates an aging French mansion in the early section of the game. At some point during his visit, our hero's attacked by the game's new baddies, described as a cunning "shadowy order" headed up by a "ruthless leader".
As it turns out they're also pyromaniacs, and after dousing the dusty building with gas and flicking a match, Drake and Sully have a hot problem on their hands (and every other body part).
The pair are now left to escape the burning mansion, and as you'll already know if you've seen the gameplay footage released earlier this week, it's a typically stunning sequence for the series. This time however, the visual splendour is enhanced by new environmental animation, which has Drake bending his body to avoid smoke and touching walls and staircase rails to steady himself.
It seems context sensitive content is the next big thing for the series, as our clambering adventure hero can also now take on multiple enemies at once with 'contextual melee' moves.
Naughty Dog apparently sees this as the one action movie bullet point not carried over into the games, and Drake will now often grab nearby objects Jackie Chan-style to assist his combat moves, and perform different execution manoeuvres on opponents depending on where they attack from and how many of them there are.
For example, being attacked from the front and grabbed from behind by a pair of assailants, Drake will kick the first in the chest and shake off the other in one slick move. It looks great and sounds promising - especially if a big bar brawl scene makes it into the sequel.
Uncharted 3's also set to improve upon the last game's 'traversal gameplay', which had Drake climbing on top of and over environmental objects in a flowing fashion, with the ability to fire his weapon in any situation. This time you'll be able to aim and fire your weapon whilst shimmying against walls and climbing across balance beams, making for even more cinematic, wonderfully animated shootouts.
As the French chateau burns, the environment naturally shifts structure and crumbles to create new challenges and an all-round platforming haven for a hero. It's described as similar to the opening train sequence from Among Thieves, which had carriages collapse and snap around Drake to create a tense and exciting climbing scramble.
The sequence showcases another new feature for the third game; traversable physics objects. In one scene Drake jumps to a hanging chandelier, causing it to shake and swing with real physical detail. As he leaps off again, it comes smashing down to the ground.
Naughty Dog has hinted to press that this sort of physics-based platforming could be used with sand - and the team has been out to the desert to research every aspect of its movement.
And, as you can see from the footage above, the demo comes to an abrupt end leaving us wanting more. What's left to say is that multiplayer is promised a return (with more features than the last game's offering, but no details yet) and co-op will also feature - but not through the main campaign.
The most exciting thing for us is the dynamic animation and melee combat and how this will help create even more immersive and cinematic sequences both in and out of the action.
We're also keen to see some of that sand and what ideas the Naughty Dog bods have for utilising it during gameplay (you can already imagine an explosive temple escape with the dusty stuff pouring through the ceiling).
We have a date; November 1, 2011. Look for lots more coverage - and hopefully surprises - in the 11 months until then.