LucasArts won't even call Star Wars 1313's E3 demo "alpha"; instead, says LucasArts' Matt Shell, it's in "pre production". But here at E3 in its early not-even-alpha state it's the world's first taste of next generation graphics, and it's running on a machine you could own today.
1313 is PC gaming with the shackles off. Developed alongside Nvidia and powered by Unreal, 1313 ignores all the constraints 2005 hardware has placed on 2012 PC gaming and throws never-before-seen physics, lighting, and animation at the screen just to prove a point. When the game hits shelves it'll undoubtedly run on next-generation consoles, but here in 2012 Star Wars: 1313 is in real time and at thirty frames per second on a machine built from off the shelf parts.
1313 is the first Lucasarts title to unite Lucasarts, Lucasfilm Animation, Skywalker Sound, and Industrial Light and Magic. Between them they're throwing the kind of production power normally reserved for Hollywood at a videogame. ILM's motion capture equipment - most recently used to animate the Hulk in Marvel's Avengers movie - has captured every inch of their actors' bodies and faces right down to subtle crinkles around the eyes to make every performance utterly convincing.
Uncharted's cut scenes are animated in the same way but 1313's visual fidelity goes beyond anything possible on PS3. They're the most /human/ humans ever rendered in a videogame, leaping over the uncanny valley and landing somewhere beyond realistic. The game's heroes are larger than life fantasy characters your brain won't doubt for a second.
You play a bounty hunter responsible for delivering a prisoner one thousand, three hundred and thirteen levels beneath the surface of the Empire homeworld of Coruscant. As you and your shady colleague descend into the depths of the planet you're ambushed; a droid leads a boarding party onto your ship and a firefight ensues.
There's cover-based shooting followed by a cut scene interlude wherein you'll launch an escape pod square through the side of the boarding party's ship. With your ship in ruins, you'll leap onto theirs to escape, climbing the disintegrating vessel as it plunges downwards towards level 1313.
It's a spectacular sequence but for all the creativity thrown at 1313's lighting, physics, and animation work there's little creative about the tiny portion of game we've seen. This is the slimmest Uncharted level ever made and set a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. You've already played this game, just never this beautiful, and it's a demo that would play the same no matter who was at the controls.
But no developer is better placed to out-Uncharted Uncharted than Lucasarts. Naughty Dog had to start from scratch for their cinematic adventure but Lucasarts have thirty years in the cinematic adventuring business behind them. They can beat anything Naughty Dog can put on screen with their production power and can do the lot in the the most famous fantasy universe ever created.
Lucasarts blew this generation. Only The Force Unleashed and some Lego games kept it from being a console generation without Star Wars, but a re-focused Lucasarts could be unstoppable so long as they have the creativity to back up their production might.
By the time Lucasarts are ready to release their own take on Uncharted's model, Naughty Dog will already have moved beyond their next big thing. The Last Of Us - as guided and developer-controlled as it is - feels immediately different. It's the only game at E3 with any respect for just how powerful and terrifying a real gun can be, and that respect changes everything. Every shot counts and every rush on an armed enemy becomes terrifying. It's Uncharted's mechanics and Uncharted's performances with a very different feel. The Last Of Us takes Naughty Dog's cinematic model and innovates but 1313's brief demo only imitates.