Uncharted 3 is Sony's big Christmas ticket, and for good reason. In a straight-up interview with Johnny Cullen, Naughty Dog comms boss Arne Meyer talks about PS3's magnum opus.
WARNING: UC2 ending spoilers abound.
If you were to ask me if I like Uncharted, I'd tell you no. Why? Because I don't like it. No, I don't. Instead, I love Uncharted.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was a great game (and most likely put Nolan North on the map in terms of voicing every bloody game in existence), and the first sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, went well beyond what was expected of a game graphics-wise, both technically and aesthetically. But its story was the reason why Among Thieves walked away with so many game of the year awards two years ago, and well justified, too. Among Thieves was a game that will almost certainly be talked about for years to come.
Now there's a new lamb in the fold, the first to be produced outside of Naughty Dog - Sony Bend's Uncharted: Golden Abyss for Vita, which I played on Tuesday at the Sony press conference. As you might expect, Bend has had a great deal of help from the guardians of the series.
"We've worked closely with Sony Bend, as with the movie," Naughty Dog community strategist and comms boss Arne Meyer tells VG247 after a stunning closed doors session of Uncharted 3.
"We've delivered a whole bible in terms of providing them with the full background of the Uncharted universe and all of the characters.
"Amy [Hennig, writer] has had a really great working relationship with everybody up there. They ask her questions all the time, they're on the phone all the time. Everyone understands that not only is Naughty Dog sort of the keepers of Uncharted, but it's all in Amy's head. So she's always been very available to them for all of that."
The two demos I saw yesterday in Cologne revisited previously explored territory. In the first, we got to see the cruise ship demo that was shown at the Sony E3 press conference in June.
The second was almost identical to the one shown to gathered press during Sony's main conference, but with a twist: where that demo ended with Drake hanging on for dear life from a cargo plane, the closed doors session featured an extended two minutes where we saw Drake climb up the cargo stuff that's barely hanging on to the plane.
After fights with several enemies, the plane catches on fire and before you know it, a hole rips in its side sending everyone flying out. After trying to hang on for dear life, Drake gets caught up and is falling almost certainly to his death over the desert. This may be the section the debut trailer is based upon.
It's a dramatic part of the story. Having seen Drake lose one of his biggest paydays ever in the first game and negotiate a knotty love triangle in the second, we get to see more of the relationship between Drake and his mentor/father figure, Sully, something which was touched upon in the first game.
"Some of the interest came with the decisions in terms of the stories we wanted to tell," says Meyer of the choice to focus on this relationship.
"With Uncharted 2, when we're taking a look at the overall story arc of where the universe has been, we hadn't realised it was really interesting to explore Drake's sort of darker side. He was down and out, he was a broken man, so to us, it was interesting to see where he would go from there.
"There had been some treasure with him and Sully, but he had lost the Idol [in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune]. So for us, it was interesting to see what the dynamics were for that. And then at the end of Uncharted 2, there was a bigger ensemble cast, so we were trying to figure out what sort of interesting stories there would be to tell."
But it's not just that. Sully's a "fan favourite," according to Meyer. It's all about the fans, innit. But while Sully's the man focus, there are others familiar characters we'd like to revisit. So what about the ladies? Lets start with an old flame: Chloe. It sounds like she and Nathan are back to being pals when we meet them again in the third game.
"I'm not going to spoil the story, but everything was pretty understood at the end of [Uncharted] 2 that it was an amicable parting. They had been old flames before, they had a reunion, they had a particular understanding. They're two very different creatures in terms of what they're like, so I don't think that they were on bad terms when we left the two."
And Elena? Drake's solicitous protection during the gamescom demo has fuelled speculation she might be pregnant. Meyer certainly seems non-plussed by the rumour, although he doesn't deny the possibility.
"Oh wow, I hadn't read that one," he says. When prodded, he added: "They're rumour and speculation, but I hadn't read that before."
One thing I noticed in our demo was, for the first time, silenced pistols. As Meyer pointed out to me, Uncharted 2 did have the silent dart gun, but it's the first time that actual pistols will use silencers.
The inclusion in indicative of a wider trend which, according to Meyer, isn't so much about increasing the stealth gameplay found in earlier entries as giving players choice.
"I wouldn't necessarily put a quantity on it. Stealth has always been introduced as an option to approaching a combat scenario, so it's always an option here. We've given you more options - if you want to use stealth, you're able to jump down and take out enemies from above.
"But that's always your choice: there might be some parts where it's going to be more advantageous to use a little bit more stealth, but there isn't necessarily a quantity because we've tried to introduce as much player choice as possible."
Some of this was apparent when I took a look at its multiplayer during the June beta, and Naughty Dog brought new features to the gamescom showfloor. Over 1.3 million users got to try out the beta, with Meyer calling it a "tremendous success." If you didn't get to try it and you're expecting it to be a rehash of the last offering, you'd be wrong: the team has ripped its heart out, rebuilt it and added to it for Uncharted 3.
"Its almost been rebuilt from the ground up," he saidsays "I think we had a really good foundation of multiplayer. We knew everyone wanted customisation, deep character progression, more guns, more modes, and we've taken all that to heart, so we have a ton of new modes: both on the competitive and cooperative side.
"Co-op hunters, Hardcore mode, character customisations for your character's skins. You change the head, wear the T-shirts and pants, you have modifications for your guns, so it's like a massive overhaul."
As I said at the top, I am an Uncharted fan. After the game's release, the team will go on break for a bit before going back to work on what's next. Will it be the Uncharted 4 I'll probably already be clamouring for? Either way, if fans want more Uncharted, according to Meyer, fans will get more Uncharted.
"We definitely did not build out the Uncharted series as a trilogy. We've always said that as long as there are challenges for us, as long as there's a story to tell, as long as our fans want more Uncharted, we'll definitely consider doing it.
"At the end of every game, to be fair, we're not entirely sure if we will make another Uncharted game. I will bet you it will be the same after this. Development is very exhausting and so you'd take a break and see what you're going to do next."
Needless to say, don't expect it to end at three.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception releases on November 1 in the US and November 2 in the UK and Europe.