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Hands-On With Uncharted For NGP

[Image above from Uncharted 3 -- Sony has not yet released official images of Uncharted on NGP.]

As part of my NGP demonstration following Sony's PlayStation Meeting 2011, I had a chance to try out the new Uncharted game being developed for the handheld. How does Drake's first handheld adventure feel with the addition of touch controls and aiming via the system's gyroscope? So far, so good.

My brief hands-on time with Uncharted on NGP was essentially the same portion of the game that Shu Yoshida demoed on-stage during the PlayStation Meeting.

It began with some simple platforming, climbing up some small ledges and over a downed tree. When using the regular game controls, Drake steers exactly like one of the PS3 Uncharted games, jumping, rolling, and shooting in basically the same manner. If you'd rather use touch controls, you can tap or swipe at certain areas on the screen to make Drake move accordingly. For example, tapping a nearby ledge will cause him to automatically climb up, while swiping across a ledge will make him shimmy in the direction that you swiped.

When I reached a vine, Yoshida showed me something that I hadn't noticed during the on-stage presentation: You can swing across the vine by actually physically rocking the PSP back and forth. It was a little difficult to get the motion right, but it's a cool idea.

If any of this motion or touch stuff sounds annoying to you, I have good news. As I had hoped when I saw it shown on stage, these alternate control methods are just that: alternate. If you want to swipe up and down on the rear touch pad to climb up a vine, you can, and it feels unique and kind of cool. But if you'd rather just stick to using the analog sticks and pressing X to pull yourself up a ledge, that works as well. As far as I was able to tell, that's the case for all of the touch and motion functionality in the game, though that could change before it's finished. Here's hoping it doesn't.

Touch controls are also used to stealth kill. As shown in the stage demo, if Drake is on a ledge below an unsuspecting enemy, you can simply tap the screen where the enemy is located to pull him down. Same goes for sneaking up on an enemy near a cliff and tapping the screen to push him off.

The biggest and perhaps most surprising test for me was the demo's finale: using the gyroscope sensor to aim a rifle and shoot an enemy from afar. When I saw this on-stage, I thought it looked gimmicky and terrible. After trying it...well, it's definitely still gimmicky, but I was shocked at how well it worked.The gyroscopes are clearly extremely sensitive -- a slight tilt can send your view to the far left or right. It took a moment to get used to that sensitivity, but within seconds, I was able to successfully line up a shot.

If there's one series that's always brought out the graphics freak in me, it's Uncharted, and it seems like the NGP version will be no different in that regard. The demo took place in a gorgeous jungle setting similar to some of the areas from the first Uncharted. I wouldn't say it was quite on par with the visual quality of that game, but it didn't seem far off. In particular, I was very impressed by the animation. As with the console version, Drake moves through the environment realistically, breathing heavily as he pulls his weight onto cliffs and slouching impatiently if you let the game idle.

Before I handed back the NGP, I made one final discovery in Uncharted that was not shown during the on-stage demo. During the PlayStation Meeting, Yoshida had demonstrated how players can use the gyroscope to look around in 360 degrees in Hot Shots Golf. As it turns out, this is also an option in Uncharted via what they're calling "camera mode." By tapping a camera icon in one corner of the screen, players will move into first person view, at which point they can twist and turn the NGP in whatever direction they want to look around the environment and take pictures. I'm hoping these pictures will be able to be used as backgrounds and shared with other users somehow.

I also asked Yoshida about the possibility of Uncharted NGP connecting with Uncharted 3 in some way, similar to how Resistance: Retribution on PSP connected with Resistance 2. Yoshida said connectivity functionality is present in the NGP, but they're not yet ready to discuss if or how it will work with any specific games.

Even in such a brief portion of gameplay, I can already tell that Uncharted for NGP is shaping up to be a fantastic early look at the device's potential and power. The game is being developed internally by Sony's Bend Studio -- the same team that made Resistance: Retribution and the PSP Syphon Filter games -- and Naughty Dog is overseeing the project to make sure that the gameplay and plot stay true to the series' high quality. If Uncharted ends up being a launch title for the NGP, it will likely make a very compelling argument on behalf of the new handheld.

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