Creative director Amy Hennig has stuck her knuckles into the Uncharted dough for the third part of the franchise and the result is a David Lean-styled desert epic. But you know that already. If you haven't already stared at the trailer with slack-chinned glee then you've heard a friend describe it and saw in his eyes that same level of slack-chinnedness. "'Cause there's all this sand!" he'd say, "sand everywhere!" he'd hyperventilate, "sand" he'd mouth as he passes out in some sort of dusty stupor. Fair enough, for the third time around it's still a stupendously good looking game. Drake's Deception continues the old Uncharted tradition of being almost irrationally beautiful.
But three games into the franchise and that becomes more of an expectation than an additional perk. Of course it looks good, it's Uncharted; it's set its own standard of excellence. But while phrases like "raising the bar" might be the kind of nebulous terms that tend to pump out of the mouths of developers, the Uncharted series has managed to do just that by continuing to focus on different graphical and environmental challenges. First there was a focus on water, for its sequel it was a combination of ice and snow, and now Drake's Deception gives you a whole load of dunes and mirages.
The game draws its fiction from the true story of T.E. Lawrence, a name you might recognise from Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia. Drake and his mentor-sidekick Sully have travelled to the Rub 'Al-Khali desert, following a legend of a lost city hidden in the sand known as the City of Brass - the Atlantis of the Sands - that eventually will pit them against a sinister secret society.
But how do you platform in the middle of a desert? Well, a short demo shows us gameplay for the Chateau section in the middle of France, so that answers your question. This is a globe-trotting tale and the lost city is the objective, but along the way Drake follows the trail of our Lawrence closely for clues, which takes him around the world and to an estate that dates back to Crusader times.
Naturally the poor guy gets ambushed. Another day, another dollar - if it's not the bloody heat it's a bunch of guys mucking about in your castle. But while the demo didn't give any particular details into the storyline, it did highlight an evolved style of gameplay.
If one of the finer touches in Uncharted 2 was traversal combat - the ability to pull out a gun no matter what you were hanging off of - then Uncharted 3's is traversal objects with actual physics. With that in mind, Drake starts off the demo by flinging himself from a wall onto an enormous but dilapidated chandelier seconds away from crashing to the floor. Drake will grab a hold of it, just, as the fixture bobs with his weight, forcing him to carefully work around the rim of the chandelier before it inevitably falls; giving an extra dynamic to Uncharted's usual platforming style.
Later on we see Drake doing his rough and gruff stuff. An expanded hand-to-hand combat system allows him to brawl with multiple enemies so once an enemy grabs him from behind Drake has the ability to grasp their choking-arms, pull himself up and kick down at anyone that happens to be running towards him. The demo showed us combat in extremely close quarters as the chateau is quickly engulfed in flames, forcing Drake and Sully forward down a path created for them by its destruction and into small areas tailor-made for tight hand-to-hand brawls.
But it's a path that's been weakened in the heat, with each stairway crashing down as you work your way up its steps, forcing Drake and Sully to grab on to the nearest hanging object. It's a continuation of the cinematic style that Uncharted has been honing for the last few years; Sully will run up ahead onto a higher stairway that crashes under his weight and leaves him dangling on the leftover wobbling rails, and Drake's response is a few bits of yelled out dialogue encouraging him to keep climbing. Back-and-forth dialogue punctuates the action like a mid-tempo beat as it has before.
With no sand or secret society in sight, the demo only offers a very vague hint at what's to come. But even with just a fraction of the actual gameplay on display it's clear Drake's Deception is a very healthy continuation of the series. But here's hoping for more sand, sooner rather than later.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is due for release on PS3 November 1 in the US. There is currently no European date.