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Uncharted 3(D) preview: Drake Drop Distance


When I say Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has the best stereoscopic 3D presentation I've seen so far, I don't mean to imply that I'll shut my laptop after I complete this sentence and dash out the door to buy a 3DTV (an inconsiderate and fatal idea, given that I'm writing this from inside an airplane). The work done by Naughty Dog, with 3D incorporated from an early stage of development, is not an effective sales pitch for the technology -- and that's why it's good. The effect is subtle, unobtrusive, useful, and very distant from the eye-blasting nonsense of what you would derisively label a "sales pitch."

Kneeling on the floor in front of a large 3D television, Naughty Dog co-founder Evan Wells appears childlike and completely involved as he marches Nathan Drake through the burning chateau, a now-familiar venue for Uncharted 3 gameplay demos. As Drake and stubborn sidekick Sully attempt to escape, the heat of the flames racing them to the top of the building, they're forced across a wooden beam that's fallen between the crumbling remnants of a floor. "This an inner ear thing?! Let's go!" Drake yells from the other side, firing at thugs as Sully slowly -- like, slowly -- walks and wobbles to the end of the beam. This is an interesting, tense scene regardless of your television, and in 3D it's very easy to gauge Sully's distance at a glance. That's not exactly mind blowing, I know, but I'd rather take a sliver of contextual usefulness over an in-your-face cheese slap.

Aside from the empty bullet casings ejected from Drake's gun, there's very little visual action placed in the foreground. You're essentially peering through a window into a classic Drake deathtrap -- when Drake swings from a shaky chandelier and the camera looks down to the burning floor, there's a vertiginous understanding of how high he is. The smoke from the fire doesn't seem like a flat sheet layered on top of the background, but rather an obscuring entity floating in front of you and the rest of the environment.

So, what's the catch? Well, there's a notable loss of brightness in the 3D image (this was best illustrated in last year's Tron: Legacy, if you viewed the 2D sections without the glasses), and, from what I could perceive, a lack of anti-aliasing in distant parts of the scenery. I was expecting the framerate to take a hit (you have seen what Uncharted 3 looks like, right?), but was surprised to see how smooth it stayed during the entirety of the demo.

Even if you don't end up using it, the 3D mode in Uncharted 3 brings a free bonus: according to Evan Wells, the performance and optimization demands of 3D on an already complex engine has resulted in better performance in the 2D version. I imagine that benefit will be seen by the majority of Uncharted 3 players, who can join the 3D crowd in thanking Naughty Dog for being respectful enough of its own game to not repackage it as a 3D sales pitch.

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