Reviews July 1, 2010

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Kenneth Seward Jr

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Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Reviewed by:  Michael Gettings
System:  PlayStation 3
Genre:  Action Adventure/Shooter/Platformer
Rated: T
Players: 1
Cost:  $59.99
Release Date: 11/19/2007
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog

There was a fair amount of hype preceding this game – by the developers of the ever popular, but mostly waning “Crash Bandicoot” series and the ever popular, and still going strong “Jak” series. After watching some preview videos of the game, I was wary. It looked as if they had taken the best parts of Winback and dummied them down for audiences that are slightly less patient. However, when I picked up the game myself, I was very pleased to find that it did not disappoint, and for the most part... It lived up to the hype.

When you start playing the game, the first thing you’ll notice is the game’s sweeping score. The score compliments the graphics and story quite nicely. It’s an epic, sweeping sound that follows you throughout the game, and makes you feel like you’re really playing through an adventure movie – like you’re living it. The opening scene finds the camera following a coffin deep at sea being lifted onto a chartered boat by Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher. Fisher is a documentary filmmaker who was called by Nathan to help fund his expedition to find the coffin of legendary privateer Sir Francis Drake, who Nathan claims to be a descendent of. The story arc changes when you, Nathan Drake, begin tracking down El Dorado – not the city of gold, but a gigantic golden idol.

The level design is somewhat linear. Each of the 22 chapters has no specific goal, other than to get to the end of it and survive. Uncharted is pretty much broken down into 3 sections – Shooting, climbing, and melee fighting.

The most unpolished aspect has to be the melee. You’re given 2 combos to use in game (Strong, and weak), which makes the hand-to-hand fighting over simplified, and making it more about timing. However, depending on the situation (you’re running, he’s standing, he’s running, you’re standing) Drake will perform any number of actions from drop kicks to more complicated maneuvers, giving you a nice feeling of accomplishment.  

The gunplay is more refined, using a very nice cover mechanic, much like in Gears of War or Winback. If your cover is low, you automatically duck. You can blindly return fire without exposing yourself, or you can pop out and aim. It’s a good thing this mechanic works well as the enemies in this game are relatively smart – they will flank you, taunt you, send shotgun wielding foes closer for more damage, and use grenades.
And Good Lord, do they ever use grenades. During my first play through (on Normal), I was fragged more times than I’ve won kick-boxing tournaments... And I’m a professional kick-boxer*. However, if an enemy is holding a grenade and you shoot them, they do drop the grenade and then blow up. Very fun stuff.

The most polished part of Uncharted’s gameplay has to be the platforming mechanics. If there’s a ledge, you can probably climb it, shimmy along it, and do the cliffhanger from Ninja Warrior along it. If there’s a vine, swing from it. A window, crash through it. The game rarely mixes fighting with platforming, but on the odd chance that there is an enemy, you can pull yourself up from the edge and aim, using the ledge as cover.

There are multiple difficulties to play on, but the only thing that changed for me from Normal to Hard was how frequently the enemies used grenades. It rains grenades in Hard mode like frogs in Magnolia. Some of the gunfights are extremely difficult, and some of the jumps are hard to gauge. So be prepared to die a lot. Learn to love the sight of Drake falling off a cliff or being demolished from behind by an enemy that can take an inordinate amount of bullets before dieing.

One thing I didn’t like was the lack of a health bar. Your screen goes from full color, getting progressively more monochromatic, until you’re dead. If you hide long enough without taking damage, your screen regains color. Gears of War did something similar. Halo 3 did something similar. I just want a game like this that gives you a predetermined amount of health that I can see.

When it came to the visuals, I was very surprised at how fluid the animations were – from regular motions such as running, to crouching, everything seems to be perfectly defined. The water looked exceptional, and when I managed to blow up one of the pirate boats, the bodies flew through the air realistically. After you hit land, you’ll find that the majority of the game takes place in the jungle, which has been rendered almost flawlessly. The jungle looks vibrant and alive, and the island that you traipse across is decorated by old buildings, plane wreckage, the ocean, waterfalls, lagoons, jeeps, sunken cities – the variety is overwhelming, and the graphics are breathtaking (as is the attention to detail).

As I was running Nathan around the island, I began to notice that he tended to stumble. Not a lot – just enough so that his center of gravity shifted slightly, although it had no bearing on the gameplay. I could find cover just as fast, but it made the game feel slightly more realistic. When I was punching a mercenary, I saw Nathan’s arm flex. It’s little details like these that make Uncharted’s visual quality jaw dropping. When Nathan emerges from water, his shirt realistically clings to his body as he moves, and dries over time. It really looks quite stunning. They could have done a little more with the water when you were actually in it, however. There aren’t a whole lot of waves that you kick up, and the spray coming from your wake is pretty generic.

Cutscenes look fabulous, with each character having an assortment of facial expressions that help bring you in. There were a few times that I laughed at someone’s reaction to what was happening, because I could see in their face how bizarre the situation is.
The high graphic quality and attention to detail keep up throughout the entire game without a hiccup. They truly are great.

The voice acting is, by and far, some of the best I’ve heard in video games, so much so that I looked the actors up on the Internet. The voice of Nathan Drake (Nolan North) has done bunches of video games, but Elena Fisher (Emily Rose) has some TV and theatre appearances under her belt. Every line of dialogue in the game is naturalistic, not forced. It wrapped me up and made me want to move the story along just so I could get to the next cutscene and lose myself in the dialogue.

There’s plenty to unlock in Uncharted. 60 treasures are scattered across the locales, and collecting them will net you “Medal Points.” The more Medal Points you have, the more goodies you unlock. You can also gain Medal Points by doing things in game other than finding treasure, like completing challenges such as, “Shoot 5 Enemies in the Head.” Doing this nets you 10 Medal Points, and there are other challenges out there – some of them can be frustrating with their higher degree of difficulty, but will give you a great sense of accomplishment when you finally nail “Soften 5 enemies in a row with gunfire and then kill them with a single punch.” Overall, there’s a total of 1,000 Medal Points in the game. That’s a lot of stuff to do/collect.

Most of the stuff you unlock is production art and making of movies, which sounds lame in theory, but they’re actually very well done. There are also a few videos you can unlock giving you a behind the scenes look at the actors in the mo-cap suits performing scenes in a studio. I looked forward to these especially, because it was fun to see how my perception of Nathan or Elena would translate into the real world. And yes, Elena just happens to be very hot in real life, too.

What does this game offer new to the genre? Well, it’s hard to pigeonhole the game into a specific genre, so I’ll give it that. As a shooter, it doesn’t bring much other than substantial difficulty. As a fighting game, it’s too simple, and as a platformer, it’s hard not to draw comparisons to Prince of Persia. But when you mix all these elements together, you get something very, very good. Uncharted can be played multiple times to collect Medal Points you may not have gotten -It is actually impossible to collect all the Medal Points in one play. Higher difficulties, more videos to unlock, and the fact that it’s just a fine game make it worthy many, many plays, especially given the fact that after your first play, you unlock a weapon select mode. Some weapons require more Medal Points to unlock, but it really does help to raise the fun factor with subsequent sessions.

There are some parts that I didn’t really care for, that I dread playing on Hard. The Jet-ski levels control horribly and the enemies in these sections are very hard to spot, leading to cheap deaths. The game has a few glitches here or there, and sometimes it’s difficult to gauge if Drake is going to make a jump or fall to his death. And some of the gun fights – I’m supposed to hit an enemy at 75 yards with a pistol? Come on. Give me something else.

But none of these negatives detract from the fact that I had so much fun playing this game. The story is riveting, the acting is perfect, and the score makes you feel like you’re in a movie. I’m counting the days until the sequel arrives. Which, it is inevitable – I hope.

Gameplay: 9
The game melds genres very effectively, but shines the most as a platformer.

Graphics: 9
Facial rendering is excellent, the jungle is life like and ambient, and the water looks amazing.  

Sound: 10
I can’t get over how perfect the voice acting is and how well the score suits the game. I mean, yeah, explosions sound good, but they are no replacement for a good one-liner delivered perfectly.

What’s New: 10
This isn’t a progenitor of genres, but it effectively gives a swift kick in the butt to other competitors. Take that, Tomb Raider!

Replay Value: 9
New ways to tackle situations, new guns to use, and a whole lot of goodies to unlock; Awesome!


Final Score:

9.4

*(EDITORS NOTE: Michael is not a kick-boxer.)