While climbing the walls of the French Chateau, Drake cosies up to an arched ceiling. In earlier Uncharted games this would be the end of the hero's ascent, but in Uncharted 3 Drake can propel himself upwards and backwards, making a daring leap that allows him to grab hold of an opening in the ceiling. Game director Justin Richman confides that this new ability would break half the climbing puzzles in the game's earlier instalments, but in Uncharted 3 the new, acrobatic moves give the player more ways to get in and out of trouble.
Richman also touts Drake's ability to traverse physics objects, meaning the hero will be able to climb, crawl and walk on things that are bouncing about willy-nilly in the game's world. This new ability comes to light when Drake makes a daring leap across a mutli-storey chasm onto a giant chandelier. The massive, dusty ornament swings with the momentum of his landing. Drake pulls himself to his feet while his precarious platform sways back and forth. His motion-captured movements, each reel or attempt to gain balance, feel real and organic.
One rule that holds fast across all Uncharted games is Murphy's Law. If Drake tries to climb on something, you can bet that it will come loose and plummet to earth. He jumps clear of the chandelier just before it plummets to the ground.
When Drake spies an patrolling enemy on a floor below he opts for a stealthy takedown – a new way to subdue unwitting enemies in Uncharted 3. Drake leaps into the air and lands atop the goon, instantly (and somewhat quietly) subduing the bad guy.
As the flames grow and smoke begins to fill the building, Drake's animations begin to change. This is all part of Naughty Dog's aims to further ground the game's characters in the world. New, contextual animations will see Drake touching walls and other in-game objects as he moves around in growing agitation. As the action intensifies he'll also make subtle changes to his stance. During the course of the demo's chase sequence he crouches lower and lower to the ground. Eventually he begins coughing at the billowing smoke. When he encounters an impassable wall of flame he reels, taken aback by the heat.
Drake also has more opportunities to open fire in Uncharted 3. While making the treacherous jump from one wooden beam to another he is confronted by a pair of armed goons. Drake pulls himself up onto one of the supports, draws his weapon and takes down his enemies.
Perhaps the most welcome tweak to Uncharted gameplay comes in hand-to-hand combat. Drake's fisticuffs will take on the feel of a brawl. Justin Richman notes that Uncharted games have never delivered a bar fight – a staple in action-packed movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. He promises that Uncharted 3 will be able to recreate a wild, cinematic fight scene leveraging the environment to add flavour to the encounter. If Drake finds himself pinned against a bar, he'll be able to pick up a bottle and use it to brain his opponent.
During the live demo we see a moment where Drake is set upon by two assailants. One grapples him from behind and the other pulls his gun. Drake leans back and kicks his legs forward, sending the armed man spilling backwards. In another tight spot he fools a gunman into shooting his ally.
While navigating the burning building, Drake sprints from cover to go mano-a-mano with an enemy. The camera moves in closer as Drake pummels the guy, who falls back and – in the only glitch witnessed during the smooth, cinematic demonstration – comes to rest on a small bit of cover, levitating impossibly in the air. Strangely the technical gaffe only serves to accentuate how flawlessly the rest of the demonstration has gone. A layman could easily mistake the balls-to-the-wall action in Uncharted 3 as canned.
The demo ends on a cliffhanger. Drake and Sully, after surviving the near collapse of the Chateau – by now a smouldering inferno – make one final leap of faith onto a ladder. They see sunlight – a possible way out of the deathtrap. But the entire wall they're on shakes and crumbles. The demo cuts to black, leaving us with a taste of the fast-paced action set-pieces we'll experience late next year when Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception ships for the PlayStation 3 – and leaving us in no doubt we'll want to be there again for the ride.