Unlike its title, Uncharted is on very familiar territory, mashing up the thrills, spills and old-fashioned derring do of Indiana Jones with a dash of Tomb Raider's acrobatic platforming and puzzles. If it was a movie, the poster quote would lazily describe it as 'a non-stop rollercoaster ride, adrenaline rush of a film', which is actually quite apt for a game that 'grabs you from the beginning and never lets go'. See, we can do crap poster quotes too. Get that on the back of the box please, Sony.
So if it isn't the most original premise, at least it's executed beautifully. At times it's like watching a film, partly due to the brilliant set-pieces and terrific action, but mainly due to the way Drake moves and behaves. When he takes a hit or struggles to keep his grip on ledges, you feel it too (and with rumble already implemented you'll feel it even more when the DualShock 3 is released early next year). Like the best action heroes, he keeps getting hurt and bad things keep happening to him just when he thinks he's safe.
The animation is simply excellent and Drake makes other athletic characters like Lara and the Prince look positively stilted and wooden by comparison. The way he runs, jumps, leaps over objects and lands slightly awkwardly is the way anyone who isn't a trained athlete moves, and the sounds of him exerting himself only add to his believability. There are some really subtle things happening too; for example, when Drake is under fire he'll wince and duck automatically, and his exclamation of 'crap!' whenever he stumbles on a new set of enemies adds to his everyman qualities. He's basically just a guy in a pair of jeans and a dirty sweater who happens to be fairly handy with his fists and a gun, and it's this very ordinariness that's his appeal.
Full credit to Naughty Dog for creating a credible and believable female character too. Elena Fisher gives as good as she gets, and the will-they-won't-they romance is handled with charm and wit. Shady sidekick Victor Sullivan fares less well, and a potential plot twist involving him is disappointingly jettisoned. We'll let you discover what we mean, but the outcome feels too convenient and we didn't really buy it.
Twists and turns
It's the only blip in a story that's completely gripping and exciting throughout. From the moment Drake and Fisher are attacked on their boat by pirates to the climax set on another boat, you'll want to play through the whole thing in one go just to find out what's going to happen next. The dialogue is snappy, the plot is deliberately hokey yet surprisingly moving on occasion, and there are enough captures, escapes and near-misses to fill an entire series of Prison Break.
Without giving too much away again, the only bit that'll divide fans into love-it-or-loathe-it camps is a supernatural twist near the end; if you know your British horror films then you'll immediately recognise what these levels have been heavily influenced by. It certainly makes for a creepy few missions...
The meat of the game is of course divided between blasting mercenaries and platforming along vertigo-inducing ledges. Combat has definitely been tightened up a lot since we previewed the game a few months ago, with the steady target reticule no longer floating around with every movement and enemies no longer doing their best impressions of a Terminator. When you cap one of these guys in the head they stay down, but the rest of their bodies can still withstand a few bullets.
Hide and peek
The cover system also feels really slick. Drake can crouch behind or put his back up against almost any object and lean out to fire before returning to cover in one smooth movement. It's very satisfying to crack off a couple of headshots, reload behind cover then pop out again, and even more surprising is that this never gets boring even though it's pretty much all you'll do combat-wise throughout.