If there’s one thing we expect from an Uncharted game, it’s that it’ll be cinematic. In these times of cut-scenes, voiceovers, quick time events and companion AI, ‘cinematic’ is a word thrown around so often that it has lost almost any meaning. Uncharted is different, though. ‘Cinematic’ in Uncharted does mean something, and it means something good.
That’s why we don’t just expect an Uncharted game to be cinematic, we demand it.
If our most recent hands-on demo of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is anything to go by (and we can only assume that it is), cinematic is exactly what we’re getting. Our demo was split into two distinct parts, the first of which took place in a dilapidated mansion struggling to avoid being reclaimed by the earth and the local flora.
Dubbed ‘Chateau’, the level sees our hero Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake and his bubbling old fool of a treasure hunting partner, Sully, trying to escape the structure before it burns to the ground. What Nate and Sully are doing there is a mystery; all we know is that Talbot (right hand man for primary antagonist Katherine Marlowe) has tracked you down and proceeded to set the place ablaze.
How do we know he started it? Because we hear him tell his goons to “burn the whole place down,” before flames start licking at the floor boards at your feet.
It’s a shame that Talbot decided to go down the arson route, because the ivy, moss and wild plants growing across the walls and along the floors give the Chateau a rather friendly, welcoming vibe. Swinging across creaking chandeliers and scrambling up rotting stairways in a half man-made, half natural environment feels right – mirroring the half man, half monkey abilities possessed by Nate.
The fire changes that uneasy balance into something of ferocious intensity, like Mother Nature has tired of the slow pace of reclamation set by the plants and sent Hell to take over the job. In classic Uncharted fashion, you need to help Sully survive as much as you worry about yourself. Barely two minutes pass without having to create a path, ladder or hole for him to use to get to safety.
I’ve got a soft spot for the old sod, so I’ll let him off. (Not like you have a choice, if Sully dies it is game over – this is a cinematic game don’t you know? We can’t kill off characters at random.)
Escaping the fire is achieved by indulging in equal parts platforming and fighting. Various encounters with enemies see you besting them with your melee and firearms skills, sometimes a combination of both. Hand-to-hand encounters against ‘standard’ enemies are typically straightforward, a few taps of the ‘square’ button and the occasional hit of ‘triangle’ (when prompted by a QTE) and they’re done for.
Yet, even in these moments Uncharted takes the chance to ramp up the excitement. Why just punch a guy out when you can take his own weapon and clobber him over the head with it? Or, instead of landing a knock-out blow I’m going to pull the pin of the grenade on his belt and watch him explode. It’s not exactly Sesame Street but it doesn’t feel gratuitous either, the tone is kept very much cartoony Boys’ Own adventure thanks to a lack of blood and flailing body parts.
Gunplay is the same cover-based system we’re familiar with. Once again, feeling passable rather than wonderful; the guns lack the oomph and ferocity required to make them feel real (or, at least, feel ‘videogame’ real).
For me, though, Uncharted has always been more about the scrambling across impossible surfaces than it has the fighting. Unsurprisingly, the developers at Naughty Dog have created situations which are fast, intense and, yep, cinematic. Even though the Chateau demo lasts only ten to fifteen minutes, I lost count of the number of times Nate was nearly crushed by falling timber while hanging from a ledge, or failed to make a risky jump.
Of course, there’s almost no chance that you will actually be killed by these things (unless you’re extremely lacklustre with your inputs) but the visual assault is enough to create the required dollop of tension and excitement. Whether that’s going to be enough to satisfy you for a third time around depends on what you want from this franchise. If you want more of the same, only ramped up another notch, you’ll be happy. If you want something a little different, perhaps more challenging, you’ll probably be disappointed.
The Chateau segment ends on a cliff-hanger moment before we find out if Nate and Sully escape in time, but I think it’s safe to assume that they do. Next up: Cargo Plane.
An even shorter segment than Chateau, Cargo Plane sees you playing stowaway. Prior to making a run for the plane before it takes off from the airstrip, Nate convinces his series-long romantic interest Elena Fisher to stay behind and get to safety.
“Let’s be honest, this is a million-to-one shot. I almost lost you before… I just can’t do that again,” Nate tells Elena. Again, cinematic. Again, when you combine the music, the acting, the mise en scene (film studies student here), Uncharted manages to pull it off without feeling cheesy or overly-dramatic.
What follows is a short frantic sprint across storage containers, over rooftops and past enemies packing AK’s in a bid to reach the plane before it takes off. I don’t want to ruin the way Nate actually manages to board the plane, just rest assured that it’s very Uncharted. Yes, that means very cinematic.
Things are easier on the plane. Nate is immediately spotted and attacked by a guy the size of a house who tries to throw our hero off the plane via the cargo hold. A prolonged exchange of fists-to-faces later and the house is falling to his death. Nate isn’t faring much better, frantically trying to avoid the same fate by grasping at a crate hanging out the back and attached to the plane by a single rope.
What follows is possibly the most exciting 60 seconds I’ve experienced in an Uncharted game so far, as you desperately try to make your way back inside. Enemies are falling out around you, they’re shooting you, you’re shooting them, you’re trying to avoid random crates from knocking you off, the climbing back in is made difficult thanks to the gunfire and the wind – it’s high-octane stuff.
Once you do make it back to the safety of the plane, your relief short lived. A poorly aimed bullet creates an explosion that rips a hole in the side of the plane. The sudden change in air pressure sucks you out nto the vast emptiness of the sky. Nate falls to Earth. Demo ends.
Another cliff-hanger… how very cinematic. How very Uncharted.