First Look: Uncharted 3 demo review

[Editor’s Note: Let’s give a warm welcome to Jonathan Cherlin, who will be providing commentary on videogames from both the player’s and the developer’s perspective! – TL]

The Gamescon 2011 presentation of Uncharted 3 begins. The music swells. The audience awaits the arrival of well known characters. The camera pans down onto a rooftop, a hand reaches out grabbing the ledge. This hand has become iconic, a symbol of the character it’s attached to. Nathan Drake pulls himself up, then leans down to lift his partner, and mate, Elena Fisher.

The player takes control, running across the rooftop. “There it is,” states Elena, piquing our curiosity. There what is, we don’t know. The player stands still, panning the camera, as we view an airport’s runway. The plane is being loaded with cargo. The dawn shaded blue, covers every object in scene. This adds a level of realism that I’m not used to. Come to think of it, I have a hard time recalling many video games that effectively represent this time of day. I imagine that dawn is complex, with all of its shades and shadows.

“Come on let‘s move,” Elena exclaims, as she jumps onto a ladder. It’s this subtlety of design that lifts Naughty Dog, as a studio, above the rest. The game tells the player where to go and what to do, but does so in a realistic fashion. There is no arrow, or text telling the player what to do. Elena just goes there, assuming the player is bound to follow her.

The player descends the ladder and approaches Elena. Seamlessly, the game transitions to a cutscene. Nate and Elena have a brief heart to heart about risk and loss. The characters portray true emotion, which establishes the investment the player has in them. Nate convinces Elena to leave without him. She reluctantly agrees, as the camera focuses on Nate’s face. As an Uncharted fan, I have grown used to Nate having some sort of witty quip after an emotional scene. But, here, there is only silence from this usually light-hearted chatter box. Whatever it is he’s after, it’s not something he can joke about.

The player runs forward, to take cover. As a gamer I expect the silence, array of hiding places, and whisperings of the characters to imply that this is a stealth mission. However, as soon as Nate begins to approach the plane the gate closes, a light shines on him, the music becomes frantic, and gunfire ensues. Nate is on the run, jumping up boxes, running on rooftops, bullets firing from behind. An explosion, in front of him knocks Nate on his back. The player pushes forward. An enemy climbs the roof. Nate pulls him over and throws him off the ledge. Nate manages to get a few shots, and kills in, as we witness the airplane moving down the runway preparing for takeoff. Nate jumps off the roof, landing on storage crates and garbage. He pursues the plane, gasping for air, desperate to catch up, knowing it’s impossible. But there lays the charm of his character, the absolute reluctance to give up as well as the unabashed optimism that somehow he will get on that plane.

Of course he is right. Elena shows up, with the jeep she was supposed to escape on. Nate jumps on the jeep, as he says, “Deja vu, right?” acknowledging the previous game’s jump onto a train. However, the difference is, in the previous game Nate jumps onto the train in a cutscene. Here it seems that the player is given the responsibility of making that jump. The intensity of making the jump is unrivaled. I logically know that this is a video game and Nate can not really die. But, as a fan, I am so emotionally invested in the character, that my body tenses up and my heart-rate increases. I do not want the responsibility of controlling whether Nate jumps or not, but appreciate that Naughty Dog gives me that responsibility. Nate jumps onto the wheel of the plane, just as it ascends.

Next, a short cinematic of Nate climbing into a small area of the plane to take a break. He looks at his watch, and we see that it is now morning. Nate climbs into an air duct, searching for an exit. A large man grabs Nate out of the air duct. The player throws punches as the man slams Nate against the wall. The large man, pulls a lever and laughs, as it is revealed that the back hatch of the plane is opening up. The man knocks Nate’s gun away, lifts him up by the neck, and approaches the opening of the plane, as Nate humorously gasps, “Let‘s talk about this.” The large man tosses Nate. A fist fight ensues, as they both approach the end of the hatch. Nate manages to knock the man unsteady, as he runs to loosen some luggage from the plane. The luggage knocks the man out of the plane. However, the plane begins to pull up, dispensing more luggage with it, tossing Nate out of the plane as well. Just before certain doom, Nate manages to grab onto some sort of netting. A piece of luggage flies at the camera, thus ending the demo.

All of this takes place within 6 minutes and 44 seconds of game time. The fact that Naughty Dog has the ability to make the player, and viewer, experience a full gamut of emotion in just under 7 minutes is a testament to their talents. I have been a gamer since I was three-years-old. So, I have been playing video games for 24 years. I can not recall a single instance of that time, that I felt so much in awe. The pacing, the seamless cut scenes, and the intensity behind the risk and responsibility of being the player has me cooing with excitement.  When I completed Uncharted 2, two years ago, I stated to friends that one day people will look back at that game and say this is when things started to be done right. Well, it seems like Uncharted 3 will be the game that continues to do things right.

Posted on August 21, 2011 at 15:27 by Jonathan Cherlin · Permalink
In: Events, Gaming, News · Tagged with: , , ,