Sunday, 20 January 2008

First Thoughts: Uncharted

So, three days ago was the anniversary of my blog opening. Woo! etc.

Went into Chips yesterday and grabbed Assassin's Creed and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune off the shelf - I fancied some retail therapy, and PS3 games seemed to hit the spot - and then the salesperson decided to put a brand-new copy of Ratchet and Clank: Future Tools of Destruction on the shelf. So that got bought too.

Haven't cracked open the latter yet, and Assassin's Creed is interesting based on my hour of play, but Uncharted is absolutely, mind-blowingly stunning.

You play as the decendent of legendary explorer, pirate and pioneering goatee-owner Sir Frances Drake, Nathan, a decent treasure-hunter in his own right. After leading an exhibition with friend Sullivan and TV show host Elena Fischer to uncover the great man's grave, you stumble onto a cover up: he never died, and his coffin contained a mysterious map that should lead you to the riches of the so-called mythical city of El Dorado.

Except, as in all the best adventure films, there's some other folks on the trail.

This premise launches you into a huge adventure based around sunken cities, lush jungles and lost civilisations - and one of the best will-they won't-they love sub-plots ever seen in games, and one that would work just as well in a film, since that's what Uncharted seems to have been designed as - an interactive film - and it's actually succeeded, which is a rarity when compared with some of the FMV-laden mistakes of the past.

I should mention that the game is utterly, totally captivating, not just because of the Tomb Raider rip-off gameplay that's been refined to the point of perfection, but because of the graphics. It is one of the best looking, if not the best looking game on PS3. It's not entirely realistic, because it's better - taking the Crysis route of upping the ante on everything, so the characters are better looking, the flora and fauna is more colourful, bright and alive than normal and the explosions are a little bigger.

There's also water everywhere, and with good reason - Crash Bandicoot veterans Naughty Dog have made it pretty much perfect. Waterfalls cascade with genuine force, and puddles are splashed out of your way as you run through them. Ripples erupt as you plunge into a lake and swim around. Then, when Nathan hauls himself out of the pool - with gorgeous animation, as everything has been motion-captured to perfection - his clothes are wet. They crease, cling to his body, wrinkle realistically. Spend enough time out of the water and they will, naturally, dry. Get yourself into the sun and they'll dry quicker. Phenomenal.

Walk past brushes and through grass, and the plants will, naturally, be pushed out of your way. The environments themselves are spectacular, dripping atmosphere. It's hard to describe them, to be honest, because they're so full of rich detail that's totally incidental but does wonders for your immersion in the game. It's a linear title - which some people have, ridiculously, used as a criticism - but so was Call of Duty 4. And the Half-Life games. And they've turned out alright.

I'm about half way through now, and I'm spellbound, just wanting to play more. There's a section in the fourth chapter where you emerge from some dense jungle, after a fierce firefight - there's a rocket launcher involved - onto a plateau on a high cliff above the ocean. An angry shout from an enemy distracts you - handily yanking your vision towards a monolithic fortress that you'll shortly begin to journey towards - before being impaled on an ancient booby-trap. It's then that you're freed for a second to take stock of your surroundings. Jungle, cliff. Sky. My god, it's beautiful. Sunset is approaching, and it's casting a golden glow over the dappled movement of the quiet, restful sea below, and it looks utterly real. I could have been on a cliff-top just outside of Aberystwyth, with a little imagination.

And that's just on Standard Definition. I can't wait until I get an HDTV.

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