Heavy Rain, God of War 3, MAG. These are some of the high profile releases heading to PS3 in the near future. There's just one problem: none are set to arrive in stores until 2010. With such heavy hitters scheduled for the first part of next year, you might think that the PS3 would be lacking any serious triple-A releases this holiday, but you'd be wrong. There's the small matter of Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2.
We were privy to an exclusive demonstration showing off a brand-new level set in the snowy mountains of the Himalayas, chosen specifically for gamescom 2009 to highlight exploration and puzzle solving gameplay.
From the off it's clear that this is a stunning looking title, one that each and every Xbox 360 gamer (even PC gamers) will be jealous of this October. Nate is stood perilously close to the edge of a mountain face, with Naughty Dog community manager Arne Meyer unashamedly swooping the camera around to show off the stunning vistas and impressive draw distance. Eyes were tired from another late night, but this is as close to photo realism as we've seen on PS3.
Graphical chest-pounding over it was time to begin. We pick up the game with Nate in the middle of his search for a jewelled dagger, about to enter a cave in the hope of finding proof of its existence. Joining Nate is local guide Tenzin. He doesn't speak English, and Nate doesn't know if he can be fully trusted, but right now he has no other option. Meyer says this element of trust, with a double-cross always on the cards, runs throughout the game.
Almost immediately upon entering the cave it's time for the first of many switches or levers which Nate - sometimes with the assistance of Tenzin - must activate in order to successfully reach a statue he spotted moments earlier. Here, two floor pads must be activated concurrently so Nate and his Himalayan hombre each step onto a pad, resulting in a series of ledges appearing on which Nate can ascend. After a small climb it's time for another cooperative moment; Nate pulls one lever and then shouts over to Tenzin to pull another, resulting in three rotating pillars, which had previously been out of reach, being lowered to such a position that Nate can leap across to them.
After successfully traversing the rotating pillars it was on to a large rotating cog, then to a beam and then to another, even larger cog. Then came what appeared to be Nate's first real sign of danger: a huge spinning wheel which blocked the only way forward. As luck would have it a small section of the wheel was missing some spokes, so it was just a matter of correctly timing the jump in order to pass through unharmed. As we thought, the wheel proved itself a worthy foe, taking Nate's life three or four times before Meyer got his timing right - it was the first demo of the day so he can be forgiven.
What followed was a series of more rope swinging, wall climbing, lever pulling and pressure pads. The demo ended with a co-op switch activating a bridge which raised out of the water below, allowing Nate and Tenzin to sprint across to a jewel that had revealed itself. And that was it. Demo over.
So what's missing? We watched a 15 minute demonstration and there was no combat. It wasn't even that Meyer chose to avoid trouble; even if he'd gone looking he wouldn't have found any. It's all very Tomb Raider, with the focus entirely on exploration and puzzle solving. In fact, had the demo featured the lovely Lara Croft, rather than the ruggedly handsome Mr Drake, we would have thought the game to be the next instalment in the Tomb Raider franchise. Whether that's a good thing will likely come down to personal preference.
Action junkies, desperate for the crack of gunfire will be pleased to hear that Naughty Dog hasn't removed combat altogether; you can expect to spend around half your time in the game shooting bad men in the head, or crouched behind a pillar waiting to jump out and pop a cap in anything that moves.
There's no question that Uncharted 2 will raise the bar for in-game visuals, with this alone likely to be enough to ensure solid sales, but without some extended hands-on time it's not possible to say if Nate and co can deliver the triple-A experience PS3 gamers are seeking this holiday.
Uncharted 2: Drake's Fortune is scheduled for release in October only on PS3.