Though the holiday release season is nearly half over, Sony still has a handful of big titles up its sleeve slated to hit this year. Naughty Dog's first PlayStation 3 title, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, could turn out to not only be the best PS3 title of the season, but the best all year. Its mix of action and adventure looks like it was ripped straight out of an Indiana Jones film, and the game looks tighter and tighter every time we see it.
Yesterday we were able to check out a few snippets of some indoor-based locales from the game, the Customs House and Catacombs. The Customs House is where folks would check in and out anything going through the island, just like you'd do at an airport or whatnot these days. With the amount of gold, spices and such being ported around the seas in those days, it was a heavily-trafficked area.
These days the building is quite dilapidated, but that doesn't mean it isn't beautiful. Outside, vines creep in and out of a balcony that has fallen into ruin over time, which Nathan must carefully navigate by jumping from ledge to ledge. Inside, a series of outlaws blanket the floor where pillars lay broken and crumbled.
It's here that we saw some of the refined animation features in place in the current build. Thanks to the game's blending technology, different animations can be run together to create more lifelike reactions to the goings-on. For instance, if you shoot someone in the hip, he could hold his side while running for cover, or limp away if shot in the leg. The enemies react a little more realistically now as well, taking cover and getting out of fire if you blanket the area with bullets.
Enemies also take fewer hits now to kill than they have in the past. This is a great change for multiple reasons. Firstly, it keeps the action quicker and more hectic. Rather than sitting in one place and having to unload a clip to kill someone, you can move from guy to guy to guy rather quickly and take them all out, keeping the pacing up. Also, machineguns and such didn't feel all that rewarding before, but now they quickly cut down foes and are a good bit more fun.
A few chapters later in the Catacombs, Drake has to make use of the flashlight on his belt to navigate the area. Coming upon an opening, a number of thugs patrol a large pillar-filled room, each wielding a laser-sighted machinegun. After utilizing the cover as much as possible and dispatching them, Drake moves into what looks like an underground church and is faced with another roomful of enemies.
The scenery in all of these areas looks fantastic, and is both starkly different than the outdoor sections that we'd seen before while also perfectly matching the look and feel of the island. Naughty Dog's art team is at the top of their game here, as is the technical department for getting so many whiz-bang rendering features running so smoothly.
Getting our hands on the game, we noticed that the camera has come a long way since the first time we played Uncharted and the whole movement and aiming system feels great now. Taking cover and rolling to dodge gunfire also works very smoothly, and Drake overall feels like he has more weight to him than earlier builds that we played. Naughty Dog's experience shows here with how well the controls have been refined and tuned.
Of note is that Uncharted will indeed support the DualShock 3 and its rumble functionality. We tried out a prototype version of the controller with the game and the tactical feedback added a lot to the gunfire and overall experience, proof that Sony finally did the right thing by adding it to the Sixaxis' base functionality.
One last cool bit of info that we learned is that throughout the course of the game you'll be able to earn Medals, which in turn unlock bonus features. Some medals can be earned by performing certain gameplay objectives, like getting five headshots in a row, killing three enemies with a single grenade or things like this. More so though, you'll earn Medals by finding treasures scattered around the game, so exploration will indeed pay off.
There are a whole slew of different types of unlockables that you'll be able to snag, including behind-the-scenes footage, artwork, additional costumes and even other playable characters (though Nathan will still appear in the cutscenes). You'll also be able to unlock different rendering modes, like a black and white mode, a sepia-toned mode, a next-gen filter (with appropriate super bloom and saturated colors) and even a mode that doesn't utilize textures, allowing you to see how the geometry was put together more easily. It's worth noting that any unlockables you earn are shared between all the save games on the system, and that you can carry over Medals that you've earned into a second or third play through in order to help you find all the treasures and unlock everything.
Naughty Dog's latest is looking great at this point, and we can't wait to see how Uncharted: Drake's Fortune will turn out in the end. We expect great things from the finished product and are eagerly anticipating the title's November release.
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