The PS3 has had its fair share of defectors when it comes to exclusive titles, with some of the biggest names no longer sucking exclusively at the Sony teat. It's not all bad news for Sony, however as Uncharted, the first Nathan Drake adventure from way back in 2007, looks to have spawned something more than capable of selling PlayStation 3 systems all by itself. Naughty Dog has returned to tell another tale featuring the heroic rogue relation of Sir Francis and by gum if it ain't one of the best games ever made...
First up, a catchup for those new to the franchise: Uncharted is a third-person action adventure, in which you control one Nathan Drake in a Tomb Raider come Prince of Persia style adventure / shooter hybrid. There's platforms that need a-climbing, bad guys that need to be shot at and general excitement that must be experienced.
Drake's Fortune, the first Uncharted, still stands as one of the most cinematic game experiences of all time. Not only did it manage to feel like a movie, it never lost sight of the fact that it was a game. Always fun to play, it engaged the senses like an epic action movie the likes of which Steven Spielberg can only dream of making (these days, it seems anyway). Uncharted 2 doesn't drops the ball in this regard - it even eclipses the lofty heights scaled by the original.
The in-game cinematics are incredible to behold, with fantastic animation and texture work highlighted by a solid script, outstanding voice acting and beautifully scripted cameras. The seamless way in which the game transitions into and out of these sequences ties everything together in a way that only 'Uncharted' before it had managed to pull off. The in-engine sequences are far more impressive than most other developers can churn out pre-rendered and all with no loading.
The characters are so detailed that their every move completely fails to reveal a simple, low-polygon skeleton hiding underneath. In fact, they seem to have real-life musculature and motion-captured animation portraying even fine detailed movements in an incredibly realistic fashion. Combine that with cutting edge lighting and post-processing effects and you've got a jaw-dropping vista to behold.
In game Nathan controls very well, although his moves are occasionally a little bit stilted. After playing a lot of inFamous, you can't help but feel a little deflated when Nathan snaps to an object or twists slightly too fast, pops ever so slightly unrealistically to a ledge he really shouldn't have quite made it to. The thing about approaching perfection, it seems, is that when you do make a mistake it stands out.
Which brings us nicely to the graphics: graphically Uncharted is almost entirely phenomenal. Not just good, great or awesome but truly and utterly incredible. The metallic surfaces and the jungle stand out as being more amazing looking that actual, real things. The way they're lit and the level of depth in the objects and the environment is just indescribable. When you find yourself staring at a temple or a big gold-inlaid object, marvelling at how amazing it is and you're actually playing a videogame you know that the entire industry is on the verge of something remarkable.
This does, however, mean that when they don't get it quite right the result can be quite garish. In a few (just a few) places the environment, lighting or texture work can (by themselves or together) result in something that really doesn't sit as well with the rest of the game. In a lesser game they'd fade in and be perfectly acceptable but in something that's clearly so polished as this they're a bit like a pimple on the nose of a supermodel.
The game play in Uncharted 2 varies a lot across its ten or so hours, starting off with a Splinter Cell-style stealth mode (if you're seen, it's try again time). There's a bunch of other stuff in there which you really don't want to get ruined for you so we'll stay at a high level to avoid any spoilers. Let's just say it's high action, with lots of running, gunning and adrenaline-pumping intensity. There are several "oh my god did that just happen" moments that will definitely come up at the water cooler. If you're at all interested in this game, get it on Day One and avoid people saying "what about the bit when..." and stealing some of the game's thunder from you.
Then there's the multiplayer. New to Uncharted is the ability to participate in urban warfare with your mates (or complete strangers) online. Unfortunately there was no-one online to play with on the review copy of the game but from playing the beta, we can tell you that the experience is worth paying full price for alone. There's no noticeable lag playing in servers all over the world, the mechanics are super sound with fun twists on classic modes and the ability to clamber all over the environment (often pulling your foes from their sniper perch with a deft flick of the wrist) takes the experience into the stratosphere.
If you've been waiting for a reason to buy a PS3, this is it. If you've been hanging out to rub something in your Xbox 360 fanboy friend's face, this is it. Uncharted 2 is one of the best game experiences imaginable and the fun doesn't end as you can take it online or play through it again when you're done. No wonder all the big Christmas releases got pushed back to next year - they didn't want to go up against Drake - and who can blame them? The game of the year race probably just got won.