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With information on the new Uncharted game seeping through the woodwork and the hype train picking up speed drastically, it felt like the right time to stop and think about where the Uncharted series has come from and where it might be going with its third instalment. Is three going to be the magic number? Or has the series already reached it’s pinnacle with the fantastic Uncharted 2?
Naughty Dog, a company previously associated with the Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter franchises, wowed consumers and critics alike when they released Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune to adventure hungry gamers late 2007. Uncharted was a game that didn’t necessarily innovate, to the point where it seemed more like a new Tomb Raider game with a male protagonist, but what it did do it did very well indeed. Unafraid to adhere to the conventions laid out by other contemporary adventure games, Uncharted proceeded to smash all expectations with its tight gameplay and snappy dialogue, giving us an expectation-smashing blockbuster and the PS3’s first killer app.
Not content with being a stellar example of how to make the archetypal action adventure game, Uncharted also showed the world just how high the production values could go on a game. The visual side of Drake’s Fortune has been praised to the point where it hardly needs saying, yet this is for good reason. We all knew that the PS3 was a machine that would be capable of outstanding graphics, but it was Uncharted that truly showed us for the first time what Sony’s current gen hardware was capable of. The audio too, excelled to the point of seeming more like a Hollywood movie than a video game. With a stellar score and legendary voice acting and dialogue between characters, Uncharted earned its place in the pantheon of gaming legends.
Yet it was not all sunshine and rainbows. Like all human creations, Uncharted had a few rough edges to it’s name. Occasional cover glitches and some loose shooting mechanics prevented it from achieving the perfection it was so close too. There was also the issue of some horrendous grenade mechanics that, like most early PS3 games, had six axis controls shoe-horned into the control scheme to the game’s detriment. So, with a few loose screws to tighten, Naughty Dog set out on their subsequent project.
Two years on and the new project came to fruition with the dawn of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. A game that scored ridiculous scores across the board and was dubbed game of the year by many respected publications, Uncharted 2 is still considered the pinnacle of the 3D action game by many.
Among Thieves made the first essential move of correcting past mistakes. There were more weapons, more moves and tighter gameplay mechanics than ever before. They also fixed the bloody grenade controls, though that was pretty much a given. They went on to include an even better single player campaign, with twice as much exploration, twice as many plot twists and twice as many women, making for a stellar story-based single player experience. They also did the unthinkable and upped the graphical threshold even more. With fantastic set pieces to show off the game’s outrageous visuals, Among Thieves will be considered one of the best looking games for years to come.
Naughty Dog also managed to improve the Uncharted experience with an impressive array of online multiplayer modes that were new to Uncharted 2. In spite of the usual sceptics fearing that the multiplayer would feel “tacked on,” Uncharted 2 featured all the classic multiplayer game types you could ask for on some well designed maps with an engaging levelling up aspect. The inclusion of a co-op survival mode also filled the need that all games seem to have following the success of Gears 2’s Horde mode, yet it managed to still feel like part of the Uncharted universe and was a fantastic addition to the game.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has been heralded as the greatest PS3 game ever and, in some people’s eyes, as the greatest game of all time. With this in mind, where can Naughty Dog possibly take the series from here? What little we know of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception implies that it will be set largely in a desert environment. Whilst it is hard to imagine exactly how the general graphics of Uncharted 2 could be improved, a desert setting leaves a lot of opportunity for the design team to go to town on complex sand and water physics and animations. It may truly redefine how we view physics engines in gaming if Naughty Dog can master the animations on flowing sand particles and, considering how technically ambitious the previous Uncharted games were, I’m sure that they’ll be able to deliver on this.
The only other changes that seem to be already in the pot are all minor gameplay tweaks. Creative director Amy Hennig has stated that gameplay tweaks will include “enhanced backward climbing, automatic ammunition pick up, and the ability to fight multiple enemies at once.” There has also been a lot of mention about enhanced AI patterns that will allow enemies to form up into separate squads that will act independent of each other. If these changes go according to plan, there is no reason why Uncharted 3 won’t be considered game of the year for 2011 like its predecessor was back in 2009.
We’re still at a point where we have so little information on Drake’s Deception that we can start making wild assumptions in the hope that they will come true. So what kind of things should be going into Uncharted 3? With the single player of Uncharted 2 being so refined and balanced, I doubt there is a lot that needs tinkering with that. Add in a few more weapons and attacks and we’ll all be happy with more of the same. What could really be maximised on is new multiplayer unlocks and modes. The levelling system was decent enough in Among Thieves, but Naughty Dog have the chance to make the best multiplayer experience yet with Drake’s Deception. Fingers crossed they’ll also incorporate split-screen co-op and multiplayer, though I’m not holding my breath for that one. Considering how the game will supposedly focus more on Drake and Sully as they travel the world though, a co-op campaign mode may well be on the cards.
What kind of features do you want to see in Uncharted 3? Do you think it will live up to the hype? Let us know in the comments section below.