To get an idea of just how much open-world games have taken over the spotlight, one need look no further than most lists of the top games of 2011. Mass Effect 2, Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, Red Dead Redemption, and even more titles that gave players the ability to navigate vast environments on their own sold like gangbusters. Despite the explosion in open-world gaming, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception's director has made it clear in a recent interview with Eurogamer that the Uncharted franchise won't be handing control over to the player just yet.
Games in the series have distinguished themselves from other titles by offering players a controlled, cinematic experience, and some might even say that it's the narrower and focused nature of the game that makes the incredible graphics possible.
Naughty Dog's Justin Richmond explained that while Uncharted 3 would give players more room to move and explore, the game would definitely not be moving into the genre of open-world games.
Richmond has already spoken about the innovations and additions that the team had made for Drake's Deception, including the steps taken to ground the game in reality. While previous games were more interested in telling a compelling adventure story than keeping action realistic, Uncharted 3's announcement trailer had a much grittier and more realistic premise.
Richmond has now stated that the third installment would see Nathan Drake searching for a lost city in a vast desert, but the team has no intention of removing all conventional aspects of directed gaming in favor of player freedom:
"We're not an open-world game...We're never going to be an open-world game - just because that's not what we're interested in making...It's still up in the air how much gameplay we're going to let you wander around...It will probably feel more open than the other games have. For sure."
So for those of you who feared that your beloved franchise would be given an open-world makeover, you can rest easy. The gameplay videos we've seen so far show that the traversal and combat is just as guided as previous titles, which is to be expected. The game is based on story after all, so keeping players moving is important to progression.
At some point though, Nathan Drake is going to find himself stranded in the middle of a desert, and perceptive gamers have to think that an artificial boundary will seem even more obvious than usual in a world without structures. For Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft relied on the fiction of the artificial memories themselves to justify the invisible walls, and whether or not that removes the frustration is a discussion for another day.
But with Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog is left to come up with a solution of their own. How to give players the feeling of being utterly lost while keeping them moving in a specific direction is quite the challenge, and according to Richmond, the development team learned that the hard way:
"When we said 'desert' the first thing all the game designers said was, 'Well, crap. How are we going to rein you in?'
"We sent guys to the desert and looked at desert reference and realized that the desert actually does have some natural barriers. There are dunes that are impossible to climb. We sent a couple of our art guys out there and they were trying to climb these dunes and the sand was just sliding. We get away with some of that kind of stuff.
"But at some point we have to do something. And I don't want to say what we did because I think we came up with a really cool solution. But we try not to kill you."
It's always nice to hear that a game's development team doesn't want to kill players, and without stating the solution they came up with players are left to use their imagination. Unclimbable dunes can't be the answer for everything, so maybe the team will be instituting sandstorms to drive you back on track, or clear points on the horizon to keep players from even finding an invisible boundary.
Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see just how successfully Uncharted 3 manages to straddle the line between guided, cinematic action and open-world environments. Square Enix's upcoming reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise looks to be dealing with the same challenge from the newest images and details. How fitting it is that two games competing in the same genre may be measured by how well they solve the same problem.
It's a relief to see that the team at Naughty Dog are committed to the same vision, and not willing to change their approach to maximize the chances of being profitable. Hopefully they're onto something, and Uncharted 3 will provide an experience as new as the first game did when it burst onto the scene a few years ago.
Fans will have a chance to see how Nathan Drake will simultaneously lead players forward, and make them feel they're in control when Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is released exclusively for the PlayStation 3 on November 1, 2011.