SAN DIEGO — Would you like to explore ancient ruins in the jungle? Or steal a tank rumbling ahead of you on the highway at 70 mph? I got a chance to try both this week — virtually — thanks to the game-making people at Sony.
The makers of PlayStation held a two-and-a-half day event for the press this week, offering an E3-replacement showcase of most of the company's major PS2, PS3 and PSP games slated for the rest of the year.
Over the two days I was there, I played or watched a professional play 13 games and one non-game service. I interviewed developers and executives, and swapped notes with other reporters. Over the next few editions of Multiplayer, I'll describe some of the most interesting and talked-about stuff that I played.
A lot of people there were buzzing about "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune," the jungle-set game from "Jak and Daxter" makers Naughty Dog. The game puts the player in the shoes of Nathan Drake, an everyman hero who has to jump, clamber and shoot his way through the jungle of a forgotten Pacific Island. Drake is looking for treasure — preferably, the legendary treasure of El Dorado that was sought 400 years ago by Sir Francis Drake. Can you guess where this one's going?
Naughty Dog's developers tried to impress with a lush jungle and a hero of uncommonly fluid and diverse movements. An advanced animation system shows Drake's every chuckle, stumble and flinch. Drake is meant to be less an action hero than a plucky overmatched victim of circumstance. When armed mercenaries on the island spot Drake and open fire, that animation system lets players take cover in 14 different positions.
I tried playing the game twice, getting killed the first time and, in the next go-round, having the game crash at the same point I first died. I ran Drake across mossy embankments, climbed boulders and carefully walked him along a fallen tree. He moved like Jak and other action-game heroes of old. When some enemy gunmen spotted me, the game's pace slowed to that of a defensive shootout. I took cover, peeked out to shoot, took some fire and saw the screen go gray as a sign Drake was hurt. I ducked down again. The sequence reminded me of "Gears of War."
Sam Thompson, the game's line producer, confirmed that I spotted the proper influences. "We're basically inspired by movies like 'National Treasure' and 'The Mummy,' " he said. "We're taking games like 'Gears of War,' 'Resident Evil 4,' Lara Croft. And we're trying to combine the things that make those games great and put them in one title."
But here's the real puzzle of the game: I only played it or watched it being played for a total of about 15 minutes across two days. There were too many other games to check out. A trailer proves that there's all ingredients of a good adventure, but I didn't have the time to ascertain whether the product matches the pitch.
Compare that to my experience Wednesday with the PSP game "Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice." The core concept of the first installment, "Pursuit Force," involved high-speed police chases in which you, the super-powered policeman, could leap from one car to the next on the highway. One mission had you jumping from cars on the highway while another paid homage to "Speed" with a bus that would detonate if it slowed down.
"Extreme Justice," coming in the fall, had three missions available in its San Diego build. I briefly tried the first two and experienced what I expected. Then I tried the last level. It began in a helicopter that was encircling a giant enemy tank and some smaller jeeps. I was manning a gun at the side of the helicopter and tasked with blasting the trucks on the ground. Once I accomplished that, the tank turned its turret and sped away.
My hero jumped into his police car, his lovely game-controlled female partner in the passenger seat. I was responsible for flooring the accelerator and chasing down the tank; her role was to leap from the car onto the back of it, set a bomb and jump back onto my car. I had to keep my car close to the tank as bad guys in jeeps tried to ram me off the road.
After setting their bombs, my game's power couple split up and phase three of the chase began. I jumped my hero onto the back of the tank, which was covered in hatches, out of which popped men eager to use their machine guns. I had to fire back. The tank was still driving at top speed, sometimes leaving my guy hanging on precariously by one hand. The tank driver kept spinning its turret, trying to use the barrel to knock me off. Eventually he got the better of me. It took less than 15 minutes.
So there were two of the games from PlayStation Gamers Day. One of them certainly looked like and was described as an "Indiana Jones" experience. The other, in just a breathless couple of minutes, simply felt as exhilarating as one. Both games are set for a release late this year.
Coming tomorrow: impressions of a grand PlayStation experience that felt surprisingly small, plus a little game called "Pain."