After a few embarrassing, yet honest, moments at the beginning of Sony’s closing E3 demo, Naughty Dog were able to present a brand new and exciting look at Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Its urban environment gives Drake and Sully a new locale to explore with their signature brand of humour and chaos. They begin their journey on foot, but quickly take to the road in a first for the series, as the guys hijack a heavy 4×4 for some city rampaging fun. The adventure looks as vibrant, destructible and as lively as ever.
As the demo begins, Sully and Drake venture forth from an ancient temple and into a bustling market scene. Drake we have seen before, but this is our first look at his aged companion. He still wears the pink shirt from the days of yore, and his grey stache remains a rugged constant, but his features are decidedly older; wrinkles cover his brow and jowls and his eyes have become deep set within his wizened face.
The market in which they enter is a hive of activity as a worker churns butter nearby, sellers carry baskets of fruit on their heads and Drake shuffles his way between customers with a clumsy arm and a flair of French: “Excusez-moi.” Along with the vast scenery beheld as our protagonists look over a view of the sprawling city, the market is the most realistic location that the series has ever seen. It has the distinct, urban feel of Uncharted 2, while upping the detail to a startling degree. As well as its lively citizenry, the city’s plant life flutters limply in the breeze, crates and stalls cover areas to create authentic man-made clutter and light pours over stone, wood and tile to create deeply textured structures. The entire demo is an artistic imitation of reality.
The look of the world cannot be enjoyed in peace for long however, as torrents of bullets are soon rattling towards the pair. They are attacked by a group of armed men within the market and must shoot their way out with a healthy dose of chaos and peppy one liners. The duck and cover combat of Uncharted is very much in place, with Drake firing haphazardly into crowds of enemies with a shaky AK47, but this time, environmental destruction alters the action with a dynamic twist. Wooden structures break as enemies are shoved into them with force, tile walls are shot up into broken shards, and a string of sausages are callously blown to bits by a mercenary who obviously hates even-toed ungulates. The fact that cover can now be destroyed increases the frantic nature of the combat, by forcing Drake into a continuous flow of movement with every encounter. Since the PSX demo in December, it has been clear that Naughty Dog are intent on increasing the action of Uncharted from its previous iterations with every new reveal. Our hero never stops moving, even when punching an enemy mid air to pinch his weapon.
The demo culminates in a playable driving sequence that has the unlucky duo ploughing down melon stalls, fences and mopeds as they try to evade an angry, armoured truck. The action here is thoroughly engrossing, as the road travelled upon retains the beautiful detail of the market, and continues the trend of extreme destructibility and liveliness; Sully and Drake quip to one another with contextual dialogue throughout the hectic chase:
“Hey Nate, we can never, ever return to this city.”
“Add it to the list.”
The hillside on which they are traveling is a sprawling mash of side streets, wider avenues, muddy rivers and rich greenery. Drake follows a specific path in his descent, but it appears that multiple routes can be taken; some areas are blocked by oncoming traffic, but others are unrestricted by any boundaries. This may be a trick of the eye, a false sense of freedom perhaps, but it may also be that Naughty Dog are replacing the linearity of the previous Uncharted games with a more open level structure. The demo at PSX showed a variety of routes for Drake to take while battling enemies upon a grassy cliff, so it seems likely that this openness of this car chase will remain a constant experience throughout the game.
Sony’s E3 press conference went out with a bang of swashbuckling excitement, as Naughty Dog presented them with a finale that favoured beauty, action, comedy and heart. It showcased a new and vibrant location, that recalled the urban elements of Among Thieves, while adding newly destructible environments and an awesome car chase mechanic that could only belong in Uncharted. Drake, Sully and their dearly beloved franchise has never looked better.