Matt Greenop gets to grips with the blockbuster threequel in the Uncharted series and comes away impressed.
Indiana Jones was a bit soft. An alarming statement, I know, but the 80s action hero's exploits are so tame in comparison with those of Nathan Drake, protagonist of the blockbuster PlayStation series Uncharted, that it's true.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - set for release at the beginning of November - has taken what was the best action/adventure game ever and made it even better.
Uncharted 2 turned the gaming world on its ear with incredibly smooth transitions from cut-scenes to gameplay, all tying together an utterly riveting storyline involving global searches for ancient artefacts, weird curses and black magic, mind-bending puzzles, frantic chase scenes and, of course, a lot of gun fights.
The story continues after the riveting cliffhanger ending of the second game - TimeOut's Game of the Year in 2009 - and gets an immediate response when you're playing. There aren't many titles that manage to maintain a serious air of suspense without sacrificing gameplay.
It'd be too nasty to give the story away here - a Spanish media outlet managed to blow the 25-hour game's ending, prompting producers Naughty Dog to tweet reviewers and ask them not to wreck it for everyone. Suffice to say, if you're scared of massive angry spiders, getting burned alive, drowning in a sinking ship, fiery plane crashes, falling to your death, getting lost in the desert or being shot in the face, it might be best to avoid Uncharted 3.
Gameplay mechanics have been tweaked, and although there were a few interesting glitches in the early code that we played to bring readers the exclusive first Kiwi review, it ran very smoothly most of the time.
Winning the numerous gun battles does require gamers to get a handle on balancing the right joystick's camera view, the wandering nature of third person play and a combination of firearms, grenade chucking and melee attacks Play actions focus around a timely response to hitting the triangle button - it's used to trigger defensive moves in fights, with mistiming button pushes resulting in you getting a beating; to perform tasks like opening doors or moving items to complete the evil puzzles (some of which feel like hieroglyph Sudoku-extreme, and offer up handy hints based on continued failure), or to engage in a bit of teamwork with mentor Victor Sullivan.
The cover system is now a lot more usable, especially when you turn on the option to automatically switch aim depending on where you're emerging from hiding.
Enemies are fast, heavily armed and plentiful, and Drake is often forced to tackle them while hanging from buildings or leaping around the rooftops.
Enemy AI though, did prove a little bit random, and though there's a good range of foes to battle, with different weapons and abilities, there were times when a psycho combatant would just run around in circles in front of Drake while he emptied M9 magazines at them.
The extreme parkour style of gameplay - similar to the Assassin's Creed series - makes for some extraordinary situations, and with razor-sharp graphics that show cities stretching forever in infinite detail, it is certainly a bit much for vertigo sufferers, especially in 3D.
Sony has pushed several exclusive titles into the 3D realm this year, and though it makes for even more immersive gameplay, it does detract from graphic quality and pulls the frame-rate down. The environments overall are staggeringly good, and there were many moments when the lighting and haze effects were so vivid and accurate it was like looking at live video.
Locations range from sprawling modern and ancient cities to cavernous underground lairs and lush jungles - and the aforementioned desert, a set piece with such well-applied sound and graphics effects and such a sense of solitary desperation that you'll either be reaching for the water bottle or just roll over and play dead.
But wherever in the world Drake happens to be - stranded in the desert, escaping a sinking boat or running through a burning French mansion - you can be assured that his hair is perfect.
Uncharted 3 has, like its two predecessors, lifted the gaming bar, providing a brilliant-paced title that draws in shooter, puzzle and platform aspects for a complete package built around a story that rivals the best adventures ever told.
PLAY IT NOW
Timeout and PlayStation have 1000 pre-release beta test codes of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception so you can play its multiplayer mode before the game's full release at the start of November.
Just go to nzherald.co.nz/uncharted3 and enter your details. The first 1000 people entered will get the code.
Platform: Sony PlayStation 3