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Critical Hit: Uncharted Raider

Critical Hit: Uncharted Raider

The Spike TV Video Game Awards recently debuted the teaser trailer for Uncharted 3, the latest title in Naughty Dog’s PlayStation 3 adventure series. Dropping protagonist Nathan Drake in the middle of the Arabian Desert in the search of a lost city, the ‘threequel’ is sure to set the hearts of gamers aflutter with the promise of another gripping Boy’s Own yarn.

However, this week also saw the unveiling of a Lara-shaped fly in the Uncharted ointment, in the form of the first reveal for the new Tomb Raider reboot.

The US publication announcing the details of the Crystal Dynamics title revealed a whole host of new features, including what appeared to be intrinsic survival gameplay, a linear/open-world hybrid setting, a darker and more mature experience, and a fresh-faced Lara more embedded in the real world than ever before.

Critical Hit: Uncharted Raider Critical Hit: Uncharted Raider
The insurance company will never believe this

In addition to that, some of the scenarios of the game - such as being grabbed by an attacker and coaxed into giving up struggling (leading to a violent and stabby end for Croft), or the chilling opening sequence with Lara trapped and suspended in a sack - are marked departures for the Tomb Raider brand, suggesting a truly dark and unnerving experience. Couple this with the island environment and it’s almost as if Lara has gone all ‘Lost’ on us.

In short; this really seems like a real Raider reboot.

It’s early days of course, and Crystal Dynamics will have to deliver on these initial promises, but one thing is clear – the studio is determined to steer away from going head-to-head with Uncharted. It’s almost as if the House of Lara has taken a ‘been there’ attitude to Drake and his adventures. Actually, more than that, Crystal Dynamics seems to have the bloody-minded attitude of blowing Uncharted out of the water with their revolutionary take on action adventure games.

Of course, there’s little in the way of detail surrounding Uncharted 3 beyond a highly scrutinised teaser trailer, but it does seem to be a gentle evolution of its two predecessors, Drake’s Fortune and Among Thieves. The exotic settings and the promise of uncovering treasures from legendary places will be returning, and there’s little doubt Naughty Dog’s adventure-driven protagonist will find himself scrambling around walls, caves, and rocky faces, all the while spilling witty one-liners. The subtitle hints at deception of some sort, but that’s surely more of a narrative element than anything affecting the actual gameplay.

Critical Hit: Uncharted Raider Critical Hit: Uncharted Raider
How many Tomb Raider reboots have there been now? We've lost count

All that leads me to ask whether Uncharted is becoming a franchise in dire need of innovation? Maybe there’ll be the option of playing it in 3D, which will no doubt get the Sony Computer Entertainment PR machine and the PlayStation fanboys shouting, but will there be anything extra for the ordinary gamer on the street? The fancy graphics and neat story have become somewhat rote by now. Sure it’s a very solid franchise for the PlayStation 3 platform, one that has been smothered in critical and commercial acclaim, but it already feels that Uncharted is doing exactly what Lara once did. Tomb Raider too peaked early before settling into a by-the-numbers rhythm.

Ultimately, regardless of whether Uncharted 3 offers anything new for gamers beyond a fresh adventure, or whether the new Tomb Raider is a true reimagining of Lara’s adventures, it’s worth remembering that - release schedule delays aside – come autumn 2011, gamers are going to have two incredible adventures to experience. Let’s just hope we can tell them apart.

Critical Hit is a twice-monthly column which explores recent events in and around the games industry.

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