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Naughty Dog's PS3 debut is shaping up to be a visual treat and a likely Christmas hit...
From the creators of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter, Naughty Dog's PS3 debut provides something slightly different to what we've typically come to expect from the anthropomorphically obsessed studio. Charting the adventures of Nathan Drake as he stumbles upon Sir Frances Drake's secret diary, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune promises plenty of adventure, ancient ruins, and deadly rivalry for the hidden treasure, with a little romance on the side.
Although it's still a month or so away from its European release, Sony has marked Naughty Dog's latest as the PS3's AAA exclusive to carry the ailing format through the crucial Christmas market. Given the luscious treatment paid to the game's presentation and production, it's easy to imagine a lot of PS3's sitting under the trees this Christmas.
Beginning with a dive in the Pacific Ocean to recover the coffin of Sir Frances Drake, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune quickly sets up what promises to be an enticing plot as Nathan and his companions attempt to track down Drake's Fortune and discover the lost treasure of El Dorado. Through the story, characters, and overall production, it's apparent that Naughty Dog wants to emulate the treasure hunting adventures of Nicolas Cage's National Treasure and rival Lara Croft in the videogame stakes. Joining Nathan for the ride and providing support along the way, Eleena Fisher's money has footed the bill for the adventure in order to gain the exposé (and perhaps a little more), whilst Victor 'Sully' Sullivan provides the suave role of seniority - suffice to say he's involved when things begin to take a turn for the worse.
On board the ship, Nathan and Eleena come under attack from modern day pirates. With guns and a basic repertoire of punch, punch, kick combos, there's little to get excited about the combat from what we've seen at this stage. The control setup with over-the-shoulder camera and cover techniques is solid if unremarkable, and left us longing for some DualShock3 feedback. The camera direction during a heavy combo makes everything look as cinematic as possible, so we're hoping the game's later stages will expand upon this to offer something that feels as good as it looks.
Equally there doesn't appear to be much to the game's adventure aspects from the initial forests and ruins that we've seen, although Naughty Dog have at least got a fluid control setup that underpins the entire experience. Tied into the huge range of painstakingly detailed animations for the main character, scrambling across the terrain, leaping between pillars, across chasms and waterfalls, feels entirely intuitive and ensures the game's deep-seated entertainment stems from a setup that anybody can enjoy without the camera/control frustrations typically associated with the genre. One particularly enjoyable use of the SixAxis revolves around maintaining Nathan's balance across narrow ledges by tilting the pad accordingly; once again it's an example of the much-maligned pad's qualities when used subtly. Beyond traditional puzzles such as pressure pads, working out how to progress through the stage, and deducing the correct sequences of buttons from Drake's diary, we've yet to see anything that will linger long in the memory and expect the game's adventure elements to become more pronounced and developed later in the game.
Coming towards the end of the preview build, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune demonstrates why, despite the run-of-the-mill gameplay, it's still a game that's worth getting excited about. Coming across a German U-Boat stuck in a vast waterfall (seems the Nazi's were onto Drake's secret as well), the game's camera direction and smattering of neat animations (Nathan cautiously stepping through the doors), provided a glimpse of the polished level of production that will hopefully continue throughout the remainder of the game. Providing Naughty Dog can weave enough of these stylish sequences amongst the entertaining but slightly tired combat and adventure gameplay, than it's looking likely the Californian developer will have another hit franchise on its hands.
Although the preview build didn't feature any playable examples, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune will occasionally switch the action to playable vehicle sequences with jeeps and jet-skis. If they manage to maintain the production that's evident in the main game, these sections should hopefully provide the variety and explosive action that a game like Uncharted: Drake's Fortune desperately requires.
Visually Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is shaping up to be the first-party exclusive you'd expect a year after the PlayStation3 first surfaced. Bearing a strong similarity to the CG cartoons that are commonplace on a Saturday morning, character models and facial animations are astonishingly convincing, if a little waxy. Although we've seen character models look a little damp after taking a dive before, it's fair to say the sodden Nathan Drake is the most convincing effect we've seen in a videogame yet.
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