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I sometimes think Naughty Dog’s games are underrated just because they wear their influences so clearly and so loudly on their sleeve. Crash Bandicoot arrived on the scene as the bastard child of Mario and Sonic, with a sprinkling of Tex Avery cartoon madness and a selection of 3D sequences thrown in to show what the original Playstation could do. Jak & Daxter, meanwhile, felt like a marriage of Mario and Zelda, combining the 3D platforming antics of the former with the combat and wide open landscapes of the latter. Jak II and Jak III then bought in a huge dollop of GTA-style driving and open-world gameplay to the mix (albeit with not such brilliant results). Generally, the games have been none the worse for this, simply because Naughty Dog knows how to do these things slickly and polish the gameplay until it shines. The first Jak & Daxter remains a highlight of the PS2 years for me. However, it does mean that, because the games don’t actually feel that groundbreaking, they don’t always get the credit they deserve.
I’m worried that this trend continues with Naughty Dog’s PS3 debut. Worried, because to my mind this is the second truly great exclusive for the PS3, not to mention one of the very best games of a very good year.
At least the influences are a little wider spread this time around. On the one hand, any game that focuses on treasure hunters exploring ruins in exotic locales is guaranteed to be compared to the Indian Jones movies and the Tomb Raider games, and Uncharted hardly shies away from that, though there are also bits that remind me of Romancing the Stone and of Persia: Sands of Time. On the other hand, it’s also indebted to a range of third-person shooters, principally Gears of War and Resident Evil 4. Notes I made while playing also mention Ico and the Broken Sword series. If you’re going to steal, steal from the best, right?
So for some of the game, our protagonist – Nathan Drake – can be found hurling himself across gaps, scrambling his way up crumbling walls and hanging onto precipices by his fingertips, not to mention swinging around on vines and chains and other assorted acrobatic feats. In other parts, he’s too busy shooting pirates and mercenaries while ducking for cover to bother with any of that stuff, with the game playing close to Gears of War in terms of Drake hiding behind the nearest wall, doorway or column, then popping out at a touch of the aim button to fire a cluster of shots into the nearest hostile.