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Uncharted 3: Drowning in hype?

How it plans to take your breath away without choking on expectation...

Halfway through Uncharted 3's eagerly-anticipated E3 demo, Drake's world turns upside down - literally - but it's all the proof we need that things are going to be all right.

For all the hype and expectation surrounding the PS3-exclusive Drake's Deception - and the impossibly high standards set by developer Naughty Dog - the game's lost none of its capacity to surprise: on this occasion, by flipping an ocean liner using real-time visuals our brains didn't think possible on PS3.

The ocean liner's sinking, rolling over so the floor becomes a wall and then a ceiling as the ship's dragged into the deep. It's the collapsing-building from Uncharted 2 all over again, except this time it's in the middle of the night, and gallons of seawater are rolling in.

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Advanced physics play a key part in this new adventure, and Uncharted's engineers make it all feel terrifyingly convincing.

"We keep pushing the technology harder," says Naughty Dog co-founder Evan Wells, when asked about the role elements - fire, water, earth - play in Drake's Deception. The effects really are impressive, and not just to look at. They're used in a way that's fundamental to the excitement.

"Uncharted's become these huge setpiece moments," says Wells, acknowledging its tightly scripted nature. "Here you actually get to play through them instead of watching them."

Pushing past the hulks of sinking cars, Drake surfaces to discover that the entire ship is falling apart. Stuck under falling machinery, he breaks free just in time to be blasted down a corridor by a huge wave... before we fade out, absolutely breathless.

UBAR AND OUT
Let's back up to the start of Sony's demo. Drake's Deception sees Nathan following once more in the footsteps of his famous ancestor as he searches for the lost city of Ubar, an ancient Arabian capital that God - apparently - blasted from the face of the Earth for avarice. Turn the other cheek, and all that. If you're assuming this means U3's all sand dunes and shoot-outs, however, you're wrong. This might be Drake's most varied adventure yet.

During the demo there isn't a camel in sight. Instead, it's a dark and stormy night and Drake's exploring the upper decks of a seemingly deserted ocean liner. The ship was once plush: it has swimming pools and penthouse cabins, while fairy lights are strung across walkways, swaying as an angry ocean tests the decrepit vessel. Is anyone steering this thing?

Drake emerges into a huge ballroom dominated by two massive, swaying chandeliers. It's the perfect environment to demonstrate new stealth takedowns: moving between points of cover, picking off the patrolling goons, Drake dodges the swinging lightpools that cascade from those huge crystal lamps.

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Sneaking from the ballroom, Drake heads into the cabins, laying a steadying hand against a wall as the deck tips beneath him. It's a display of Naughty Dog's animation, which combines sexy-smooth technology with clever psychology. It doesn't just look good - it cements just how bad the storm is and how precarious the liner is. Actually, the design team is letting rip everywhere you look: in berths that rock with the waves, flickering lamps that cast Drake's shadow, in bottles slithering underfoot...

This area is for far more than just showboating, however (thangyouverymuch). The liner is bursting with bad guys ripe for a stealthy pummelling. Luckily, the tactical spacing of shadows wouldn't be out of place in Metal Gear, while Drake's finishers have a nose-busting force to them. As we work our way into the depths of the liner, carpeting gives way to bare wood, and wallpaper fades to sheet metal.

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