Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Uncharted places you in the well worn shoes of Nathan Drake, supposed ancestor of Francis Drake and all round treasure hunting adventurer. The game opens with Nate discovering his ancestor’s diary containing some interesting information about El Dorado, the legendary city of gold. Some pirates show up to spoil his good fortune and what follows is an adventure with enough action and intrigue to make Indiana Jones envious.
As a Playstation 3 exclusive, there was a lot riding on Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune but I am happy to say that the game lives up to all expectations. The adventure of Nathan, his old friend Sully and tenacious journalist Elena is one that kept me hooked from start to finish and I enjoyed it so much that I immediately started over on a higher difficulty level as soon as the credits rolled. This is definitely something that doesn’t happen very often!
It’s hard to pin down exactly what it is that makes this game so great. The 3rd person action adventuring is something that we have seen many times before in the likes of Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia and the cover based shooting is taken straight from Gears of War. There are even some obligatory vehicle sections and on rail shooting to indulge in. The game seamlessly moves from exploring and solving puzzles to epic gun battles against smart enemies that will really test your skills. The platform traversing isn’t too tricky and requires less precision than Tomb Raider for example, but the gun fights are another matter.
When engaging enemies you absolutely have to take cover as it only takes a few bullets to end your life and your foes are very accurate. Nathan can only carry one pistol and one rifle at a time and ammunition is limited. Enemies will pin you down, flank you and use grenades to flush you out behind cover. They also attack in waves which make these sections very tense affairs. Even on the “Normal” difficulty settings you will die many times as enemies use their numbers against you. There is no auto aiming so you have to shoot very precisely to dispose of foes which is no easy task when they are running, jumping, diving and sliding around all over the place. You can blind fire around corners, but enemies are rarely stupid enough to be taken down this way.
The game also features melee combat, although it is rare to get close enough to an enemy to engage in this. When it does happen the results are quite impressive as Nathan can pull off some mean combos and attacks. The fights tend to drag on a bit at times and can become frustrating, but at least the restart points are more than reasonable.
Visually the game looks stunning and the artists over at Naughty Dog did a stellar job bringing the gameworld to life. You’ll spend most of your time in tropical locations with lush vegetation that moves in the wind. Birds will fly up when you startle them and the sun shines through the jungle canopy casting shadows everywhere. The textures are stunning and special mention should go to the water effects which have to be seen to be believed. Characters will get wet when they venture into the water, which looks pretty cool. If I really had to nitpick it would be that Nathan clips straight through the foliage in the gameworld instead of disturbing it as he walks. There are plenty of stunning set pieces, but the dark caverns and caves from the latter half of the game never quite matches up to the outdoor areas. There is no onscreen health indicator with your screen instead draining of color when shot. A quiet rest behind some cover will restore the color to the world along with your health.
I really loved the animations in the game and it is clear that a lot of work went into them. Everything is motion captured and looks extremely realistic. What really sets it apart is how Nathan moves like a real person who makes mistakes. You might slam awkwardly into a ledge instead of always catching it gracefully like Lara Croft or stumble slightly when running over uneven terrain. Nathan will also flinch when bullets impact in the scenery close to him. Its small touches like this that make the game just as much fun to watch as it is to play.
The game has very little padding and continually pushes you from one scene to the next. There are hidden treasures to find, only given away by a glimmer, but levels are very linear and do not leave much room for exploration. The game is also rather short, but like I said, I immediately restarted it upon completion to pick up a few more trophies. I did encounter one instance where the game froze during my second playthrough, but fortunately an auto-save meant that I did not have to repeat anything. Battling enemies can be a bit frustrating and mastering the art of sticking to cover is essential to survival.
Nathan is voiced by Nolan North who does a great job with his lines. Nathan is more a Rick O’Connell (from The Mummy) type character than an Indiana Jones, and North conveys this very well. Hearing your character freak out when a grenade lands close to him or curse in exasperation as more enemies come pouring into the fight is a treat. The other voice actors also do a great job with their characters, especially Elena. The music is another highlight and features some pretty good tracks. Lots of weird instruments and effects are used which fits the game perfectly. The sound you hear when dying will soon become overly familiar however.
I definitely had a blast playing the game and while it doesn’t exactly break any new ground it is a great title. If you enjoy the genre, then there is a lot to like about Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, although you had better be prepared for the challenge.
*Review originally published February 2008.