You may have experienced life as a space marine, stealth assassin, special agent or even life as a scantily clad woman, but have you been just an “ordinary man”? Naughty Dog’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune places you in this very role of being an ordinary man, named Nathan Drake, who happens to be the descendent of famous English explorer, Sir Francis Drake. While Drake lacks the military training of a hardened marine and the finesse of ninja, he somehow embarks on quite the pulp action adventure starring pirates, mercenaries, booby traps and bottomless pits. The prize of this adventure: the lost treasure of El Dorado.
Every adventure needs a gorgeous backdrop and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune delivers in spades. Every square inch of the island is beautiful. When you see the sun’s rays seep through the jungle’s canopy and scatters pockets of light on the jungle floor and its plant life, you will say “Wow”. In fact I would not be surprised if you were awe struck when you lay eyes on Uncharted; it looks phenomenal. Everything and everyone from Drake, to vehicles, to plants, to the glimpses of wildlife and even the rocks were crafted with precision and care; Naughty Dog put a lot of effort into every detail of the visuals. To top it off, it all meshes well thanks to some fine artistic talent.
Running a game at 30 frames per second for a vast majority of the time with Uncharted’s ocular splendor is no easy task, but somehow Naughty Dog’s team of programmers managed it. Yes, the game displays some noticeable screen tearing and there is the occasional texture pop in when you enter a new area, but to accomplish what they have with no perceptible load times is astonishing.
I would also like to laud Naughty Dog’s technical team for their animation system which was just shy of perfection. If signs of life were determined by movement then Uncharted is overflowing with life. Nearly everything, organic or not, animates in some fashion. As exciting as swaying ferns are, they pale in comparison to Drake’s reactions. He flinches and is noticeably uneasy when bullets are whizzing by him. His pants will soak when he wades through water. Overall, Drake’s body language and the flow of his movements from action to action rival some of the best work in the industry today with only minor foibles here and there.
After early previews of Uncharted, it received the nickname of “Dude Raider” for its similarity to Lara Croft and her gameplay methodologies. Fortunately, comparisons were only half right. The jumping, ledge scaling and death defying leaps from cliff to cliff are reminiscent of Ms. Croft’s adventures, but the gun wielding and overall ass kicking is several notches superior. Snatching and improving upon the shoot and cover system, popularized by the likes of Gears of War, allows Drake to be swarmed by enemies and not feel completely overwhelmed and helpless.
Overwhelming players with sheer numbers will only get a developer so far before the players figure out the trick and either plow through the game or merely quit out of frustration. By providing competent adversaries in manageable numbers, players will second guess themselves and adjust strategies regularly. Uncharted provides the latter with challenging humanoid enemies who will flank, toss grenades to flush Drake out and utilize cover on a regular basis. Drake’s companions also fend well for themselves and with them around they actually contribute and alter the flow of combat. I actually have some incentive and opportunities to pull off some Drake’s stealth kills and melee attacks thanks to his friends’ distractions.
In order to break up the action, Drake spends most of his time figuring how to reach places by either scaling walls or solving simple pattern recognition puzzles. While using Sir Francis Drake’s journal does immerse the player into the game a bit more, it turns the “puzzles” into “follow the instructions” exercises. Despite their simplicity, they served their purpose well; calm the player before the next action packed sequence.
Be it the story, treasure pieces or “skill points” (used to unlock additional costumes, filters etc) there was more than enough incentive to push the boundaries of Uncharted. The story unravels throughout the entire game via various in-game cutscenes and dialog moments. Naughty Dog also ensured the story provided justification for each of the game’s set pieces like the surprisingly awesome jeep escape and Jet Ski sequences. The story may not be the most gripping piece of pulp fiction conceived, but it serves Uncharted well and provides ample opportunities to experience the life of adventurer and push on.
It is always nice when Drakes’ actions yields expected results, but when ledges or areas I believe Drake could reach are stifled by invisible walls, insurmountable waist high slabs of concrete or deadly water, it bums me out. Why could Drake swim in this kind of water, but not that one? Why can he survive that fall, but not this one? I read Drake’s actions as hints for where I should be directing him, but why does he lure me towards the path of return? It is obvious that level designer did not want Drake to reach every nook and cranny on the island, but if they did not want him to do so; they should not have him hint at it. Luckily for Drake, this problem rears its ugly head on occasions few and far between.
Thankfully, excellent controls overshadow Uncharted’s few shortcomings. The subtle control imperfections even lend themselves to Uncharted’s motif of Drake being an average schmuck. Every single time Drake pops out of cover, his reticle rarely ends up exactly where you left it; constant slight readjustments give sense of realism. Aside from shaking off his adversaries and balancing on beams, the motion controls were only used to guide the trajectory of grenades if you chose to utilize such precision.
Rounding off the mountain of praise worthy aspects of Uncharted is the brilliant musical score and voice work. Elena, Sully and Drake’s voice talents fit their visual representations like gloves. Their performances brought their characters to life and made them believable. Chemistry between characters is not often witnessed in games, but Uncharted has it. The use of the game’s musical scores constantly accentuates every exploration and gun battle scene without fault. I loved every moment of it. I also loved the title screen theme which was one musical piece I would enjoy for a minute or so before every play session. I thought it was that good.
New franchises are understandably difficult to conjure up these days. To create something unique and appealing is often risky with lower chances of critical and financial returns. It always saddens me a bit, when I see a great game like Naughty Dog’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune not put up large numbers on sales charts, because it undoubtedly deserves it. Uncharted looks, sounds, and plays superbly. You may think you have experienced everything Uncharted delivers before, but trust me; especially not executed this well. It is definitely an excellent game for action adventure lovers, but I believe Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune can do no wrong in every PS3 owner’s game library. Everyone should experience Drake’s tale at least once.