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Uncharted 3 single-player preview: Loud, quiet, loud

As I watched the latest demonstration of Naughty Dog's upcoming, half-tucked installment in the Uncharted franchise be played out in a dark and decorated corner of the E3 expo hall, I couldn't help but consider the Pixies. Not because the demo was bland enough to allow my mind to wander -- quite the opposite, actually -- but because of the rigidity to which Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception adheres to the seminal indie rock band's trademark song construction style: It's loud, then it's quiet, then it's loud again.

The demo consisted of Nate Drake's struggle for survival on a sinking cruise ship and a 3D-infused cinematic trailer -- both of which were shown off during Sony's E3 press conference -- as well as a new, far more aerial action sequence. All three highlighted distinct set pieces in Uncharted 3's world, but all three were also invariably connected by steady, stark waves of rising and falling action.

Gallery: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (GDC 2011) | 7 Photos

The cruise ship sequence played out exactly the same as the E3 press conference demo: Nathan sneaks his way to the lowest cabins of the ship, then shoots his way out as his surroundings sink around him. The gunfight played out fairly similarly, though the player made an effort to really show off Nate's new tactics for mercenary murder. In one fight, Nate managed to rip an enemy's weapon out of his hands before executing him, adding it to his collection. In another, he deftly rips the pin out of an enemy's grenade, kicking him to a safe distance before he satisfyingly pops.

The sequence moves between the relative calmness of sneaking through the ship to the explosive action of, well, the ship exploding; from there, a quiet moment as Nate makes his way safely past a flood hatch, and then -- oh no! -- the deluge breaks into the chamber. It's enough to permanently keep you on your toes, until a rogue wave comes and sweeps you off of them again.

As you probably noticed from the press conference demo, the waves play as much of an adversarial role as the ship's gun-toting crew. The ship's movement (and Drake's reactionary movement against the swaying ocean) isn't a canned animation. It's an actual stable platform held aloft by a randomly generated series of waves, each of which moves objects in the environment (including Drake himself) with a unique trajectory. From a programming standpoint, it's dizzying. From a player's standpoint, it's literally dizzying.

The new chapter that Naughty Dog showed off saw Nathan and Elena attempting to stealthily board a cargo plane for motives unknown. The couple are still as delightfully written and acted as their last outing, and have undergone a major facial mapping improvement over Among Thieves -- gone are their somewhat lifeless eyes, for example. The enhancements were even clearer during a surprisingly tender moment when Drake, as chivalrous as ever, leaves Elena behind, keeping her out of the danger that followed.

Almost immediately -- loud! -- Drake is spotted by a searchlight, sending him on a frantic scramble over shacks and shanties as he chases the taxiing aircraft. Much like in the boat sequence, there's no time to safely stop and pop your way through the guards that stand in your way. The demo player fluidly sailed between enemies, executing them with gusto in pursuit of the cargo plane.

Drake reaches the runway as the plane began to take off, and receives a little bit of assistance from Deus Ex Elena, who scoops him up in a Jeep. Drake take a page from Death Proof as he surfs on the car's hood, yelling steering instructions to the obstructed Elena towards the closest landing gear. He successfully makes the jump -- but our more macabre side couldn't help but wonder what would happen if he didn't.

Drake quiet-ly rests in the plane's undercarriage as he catches his breath, then sneaks his way towards the cargo hold. He's spotted by a muscle-bound thug who rips him from his hiding place -- loud! -- and begins forcefully corralling him off of the loading ramp towards certain vertical doom.

The fight that follows is straight out of Indiana Jones: Scrappy Nate Drake pummels the enemy while dodging his clumsy blows, all the while attempting to scramble back into the relative safety of the plane. With the thug steadily approaching, Drake pulls the parachute on the plane's freight, sending it careening into the sky -- with the unfortunately in-the-way thug in tow.

The plane, now wildly out of control, begins to spill the rest of its cargo from the deck -- louder! -- which Drake must dodge to avoid a similar fate. The load becomes too much, however, and Drake loses his footing. He's flung from the plane, only barely managing to secure his grasp on a still-tenuously-connected palette of freight. As he dangles from the aircraft -- even louder! -- a crate flies towards his risky handhold, just as the screen cuts to black. (Quiet.)

It's hard to really evaluate the impact of these scenarios without having the context of actually playing through them, but they serve to illustrate that Naughty Dog hasn't run out of creative methods to throw their protagonist into moments of unthinkable peril. That in and of itself is enough to convince me of this one iron-clad fact: The five months between me and Uncharted 3 are going to be far too quiet to bear.

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