Uncharted 3: Another unforgettable entry or one tale too far?
28th Feb 2011 | 19:30
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.
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.
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.
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.
Naughty Dog have been talking up their desire to bring the single-player's intense cinematic experience to multiple gamers, which could be a reference to the current co-op experience, or another sly nod to Sully.
Finally, the earliest piece of gameplay shows both Drake and Sully at nearly all times. Come on; the cat's out of the bag.
Apart from the confirmed changes, Naughty Dog have also provided a bunch of teasers: the overwhelming presence in Drake's Deception so far is TE Lawrence - better known as Lawrence of Arabia.
He conducted guerrilla operations against the Ottoman Empire in critical battles, and these experiences formed the basis of his highly fictionalised autobiography, The Seven Pillars Of Wisdom. So what? Well, Lawrence had a remarkable life, but Uncharted 3's teaser also includes a newspaper cutting about his death in a motorcycle accident at the age of 46.
Clearly we're meant to form suspicions about what he was working on at the time, and where it is now - pretty standard fare for Uncharted. Expect Drake to be following in Lawrence's final footsteps, uncovering the 'real' story behind his fate and discovering a nasty Nazi.
Previously, Uncharted has revelled in mingling history, myth and outright fantasy, setting up a fantastical otherworld scenario only to pull the carpet from under Drake's feet at the conclusion.
Expect more of that, and more of the same in general, but in a form that already looks and feels slicker than that of its predecessors.
Naughty Dog have experience in making great sequels that keep the magic intact while adding more and eliminating faults, producing a new high water mark each time.
No, that process doesn't sound thrilling, but you can bet that it will create a truly spectacular game.