I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that the PS3 hasn’t been brimming with top exclusives in its first year on the market. Ratchet & Clank was the closest thing to a real system seller; Heavenly Sword wasn’t without problems; Motorstorm was good but hardly overburdened with content; and we all know what happened with Lair.
Uncharted is the first PS3 game from Naughty Dog and, like their Crash Bandicoot gave the PS1 an identity at a time when consoles were defined by their mascots, for me this is the PS3 game so far. It’s good enough to make that outlay and the lean months seem worthwhile, and in places it was the first time that a PS3 game had me questioning whether or not it could be done on another console.
At times Uncharted looks stunning. There are moments when it revels in its own beauty, panning the camera as you climb a tower to show the ruins that you spent the last half-an-hour negotiating, and its representation of an organic jungle is up there with the opening stages of Halo 3. What’s more, it looks good without the prevalent grimy UE3 look, even mocking other games with an unlockable “next-gen” filter which washes out the vivid colours and makes everything look brown and shiny with bloomed lighting.
The game’s presentation in general is sterling. Aurally you have an orchestral score from Greg Edmonson (Firefly!!) coupled with some superb performances – be sure to watch the unlockable making ofs for the major cut scenes to see the original actors at work – and effects work, all available in every permutation imaginable from mono to 7.1 PCM, via in-game DTS and Dolby Digital. I’m especially appreciative of the DTS option as it’s the best that my sound system can handle and this is the first time that I’ve seen it as an in-game option anywhere. This needs to be in more games.
If I have any complaints, it’s that the game puts too much emphasis on its weakest point: combat. The hand-to-hand fighting is clunky and gunfights, while better, are marred by weapons that feel underpowered. Clear headshots or half a clip from an AK-47 to the sternum should do more than give the guy a bit of a limp, and only the shotgun seems to pack the expected kick. The compulsory cover system is well done, but it’s just undermined by these niggling flaws.
It’s the exploration and platforming that really makes it. No leaps of faith, no need for pixel-perfect positioning; it’s what those who must not be named wish the next generation Tomb Raider was like. It’s helped by some fantastic character animation which helps the platforming feel fluid and believeable, with Drake having enough in his repertoire to make pretty much any jump that you can point in the general direction of the next platform. Does it simplify things? Maybe. Does it turn 3D platforming into less of a chore? Absolutely.
The lack of puzzles is also…puzzling. Uncharted is a short game – well under ten hours – with nothing more than added difficulty levels and hidden treasures to draw you back, and puzzles largely consist of hitting four switches in the correct order from the solution that’s already given in your diary. I get the feeling that it’s a pacing thing because the rest of the game pushes you on into new areas relentlessly, with what puzzles there are being the only time that you’re likely to be in a room for more than five minutes, but when they’re already slowing things down for what perfunctory puzzles there are I wouldn’t have minded exercising the grey matter a bit more. At least there aren’t any fetch quests…
Still, what issues there are with Uncharted aren’t significant enough to diminish it as a superb game. It’s certainly the most impressive exclusive on the PS3, and it’s what I believe is the first step towards justifying the cost of the machine. Buy it so that it doesn’t live up to its title.