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Uncharted 3: Another unforgettable entry or one tale too far?

Drake's 3D three-quel hints at co-op coup...

Uncharted's presiding spirit isn't Nathan Drake, or Sully. It's not even the high-minded rewritings of great historical explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh and Marco Polo.

Nope, it's actually everyone's other favourite archaeologist, Dr Henry Walton 'Indiana' Jones. No great revelation, perhaps, but confirmation that Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - set in and among deserts, long-lost cities and fabled treasures - finally takes Drake to meet his maker face to face.

So, fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was unquestionably the game of 2009, taking an already finely honed cinematic template and ratcheting up the set-pieces and thrills to levels Spielberg would have been proud of.

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The third instalment follows this pattern, changing the setting and challenges that Drake faces while polishing the fundamental mechanics that have served the series so well. Almost sounds dull, doesn't it?

In fact, it's anything but, not least because Naughty Dog have dropped several hints about how they'll be changing up Drake's game in less obvious ways.

Oh, and it looks totally gorgeous. The sequence we're shown has Drake and Sully following in Sir Francis Drake's footsteps and ending up in a chateau that apparently holds a clue.

Actually, it holds an absolute bevvy of gun-toting goons who decide that the best way to take down our beloved heroes is to set the place alight.

The fire's the most noticeable thing: its realism is totally astonishing at times, flickering over Drake's vision, licking right up the tinderbox walls and bringing the house down in a gorgeous avalanche of red-hot particles.

As Drake and Sully move through the building, floors collapse and walls cave in, and it feels like you're watching an inferno rather than a few fancy lighting tricks. The scenery also seems comprehensively destructible, with parts of almost everything falling under gunshots or plain old flames.

It's a hell of an effect, and bodes well for the as yet unseen sand sequences Naughty Dog are proudest of. Most importantly of all in visual terms, Uncharted 3 is the first in the series to be made in 3D. Expect a report soon.

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There's a greater fluidity to Drake's animation - as he clambers over and across things his movements are more distinctive than ever, and seamless in the joins.

This slots right into an expanded melee system, an underdeveloped area for the series, that allows Drake to fight multiple opponents at once. One thug tries to hold our hero down, but Drake dropkicks his mate before turning the tables beautifully.

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At another point, he creeps up onto the rafters above an enemy before pouncing for an instant takedown. Other minor changes are a more streamlined ammo system (you don't have to pick it up, just run over it) and "enhanced backwards climbing", which sounds highly athletic.

A word, too, for Sully, everyone's favourite witty curmudgeon. He's by Drake's side for almost the whole sequence, and the interdependence is greater than that managed with any other NPC.

One or the other is constantly in a scrape, and they have to help out in real-time. Sully feels like a character rather than just a computer-controlled bot who follows your progress.

And on that note... Among the early-release hubbub was a hastily removed listing from Gamestop that claimed 1-2 players for the central campaign. That doesn't confirm a fully co-operative campaign, with all bets on Sully as the other lead, but if something like it doesn't happen we'll eat our fedoras.

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