Tuesday night, Sony held the first of its public, ticket-required preview events for Naughty Dog's PS3-exclusive Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, due in stores November 1. I attended the Dallas event, at AMC's Northpark theater, equipped to handle the requirements of the 3-D presentation. Though premium-level tickets weren't cheap, buying the $60 pass not only granted you the game preview on the big screen, but you also got a chance at some raffled prizes, like collectors' editions of the game and a Japan-only Uncharted 3 Dual Shock controller.
Most significantly, the premium ticket includes a standard copy of the game, though it's shipped later, so that it arrives a few days in advance of retail release. Twenty-five dollar seats were available for the same access and hospitality, minus a copy of the game, but premium passes had by far the greatest value. For the price of the game alone, we were able to preview in full 3-D a very cinematic game in a very cinematic environment, as presented by Naughty Dog representatives, along with the opportunity to watch a round-robin competitive multiplayer tournament.
Although the campaign gameplay demo featured a sequence already released as a trailer within the past week, the event's version went on longer. Like the publicly released video, the demo featured a scene in which Nathan Drake, having barely escaped a plane crash with his life, stumbles upon an old walled city in the middle of an Arabian desert. At the event, Drake's fight with nomadic rogues was extended several minutes, proving that the title can, at least in the featured segment, provide as much cinematic punch in choreographed combat as it does sweeping vistas.
A notable highlight was liberal use of Uncharted 3's "contextual melee" system for enlivening and diversifying hand-to-hand combat animations. "Contextual melee" means Drake won't merely punch enemies in the face or kick them in the shins. He'll bash heads into tables or balustrades, and tackle bad guys down flights of stairs. Likewise of special interest, the game's 3-D graphical fidelity, especially in texture detail, was remarkable — to the point that there is no perceptible difference between 2-D and 3-D.
The developers confessed that the plan from the outset was that if they couldn't match fidelity between 2-D and 3D, they wouldn't do the latter. In the early phases of development, they determined that they could pull it off, so they went ahead and announced 3-D support. The 3-D effects in Uncharted 3 are also reined in enough, so that they're not oppressive or distracting — more like a big-budget 3-D movie than a technical gaming showcase.
Otherwise, what I saw of Uncharted 3's campaign and multiplayer modes were no better than expected, but based on the history of the series, I went in expecting a lot. Though the twists and turns of the title's all-important narrative, as well as the consistency of action-adventure gameplay, won't be fully revealed until I get my hands on the finished game, what I've seen strongly hints at a gorgeous, fluidly animated, well-acted game. If the point was to heighten anticipation, the point was made — for a limited audience of event attendees, anyway.
Regarding the Sony/AMC event itself, if premium seat prices stay in the range of video game prices — with copies of games included — I hope to see more gaming events of this type in North Texas. Although the evening was sold out, the event was far from oversold, providing an enjoyable few hours of demonstration, and multiplayer spectating, on a big screen — without the chaos of show floors or the general pandemonium of large-scale public launch parties. It's not exactly like having a private Uncharted 3 preview in your own living room, but Tuesday night's event was about as close as you can get.
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