By David Mayne
Having just “acquired” a Playstation 3 (thanks Jeremy), I found myself instantly drawn to the much-acclaimed “Uncharted” franchise. It was finally time to see what all the hub-bub was about, if the gameplay was really that great, and if the graphics were really that good. So let’s pop in the first installment of this grand series, “Drake’s Fortune”!
Released in 2007, Uncharted hailed the beginnings of an all-new Playstation franchise, one that promised to put players into the shoes of a suave and daring Indiana Jones-esque swashbuckler, traveling the globe in search of fame and more importantly, fortune.
The greatest achievement of the PS3, in my opinion, was to incorporate Blu-Ray technology into their console, not only allowing for superior playback of movies, but for vastly increased storage space for, you guessed it, GAMES. With the Xbox360 and Nintendo Wii only using standard, dual layer DVDs (6.8GB), Sony knew that by using Blu-Ray discs they could go upwards of 50GB, allowing developers much more room to play with. While the PS3 technically doesn’t blow the 360 out of the water with its hardware specs, the ability to develop games without the need to “dumb them down” due to media size restrictions was a huge plus, allowing games to feature countless hours of spoken dialogue, uncompressed audio, and sometimes superior graphics (textures often don’t need to be compressed because of space restrictions). While few games have actually used the PS3 to its full potential, the Uncharted games seem to have realized what the console was capable of and they capitalized on it. While not overly long games, the term “quality over quantity” definitely sums up Uncharted: Drakes Fortune.
In Drake’s Fortune, you play as the main character of same name, Nathan Drake, a direct descendent of the famous explorer, Sir Francis Drake. Nathan travels the globe, sometimes with his sketchy but reliable sidekick, Sully, and together they chase fabled riches and lost cities in search of that one big payday. Whilst searching for the legendary lost city of El Dorado, Nathan and Sully are ambushed by an organized crime syndicate bent on finding the city and the gold for themselves! With Sully shot and left for dead, Nathan must not only evade the small army of para-military goons, he must beat them to the treasure before it falls into enemy hands.
The first thing you’ll notice about Uncharted is that it looks, quite simply: gorgeous. For a 5-year-old game, Drake’s Fortune still shines graphically as if it were brand new. With highly detailed environmental texturing and magnificent lighting technology, this game will definitely draw you in with its lush visuals. Water in video games can be a mixed bag, yet Uncharted seems to have mastered the concept of realistic looking streams, lakes, and rivers. Bordering on photorealistic, this game sports some of the best water graphics I’ve seen to date.
Drake himself is not as detailed as I would have hoped, save for his hair, which seems to have gotten much of the attention. Thanks Vidal-Sassoon. Nathan sports a perpetual 5 o’clock shadow, yet finely detailed stubble is not to be found, and I was left wondering why they could nail amazing texture on rocks and trees, but not on the main character’s face. It’s not bad by any means, just curious that they didn’t spend a little more time to make the faces a bit more detailed.
The environments in Uncharted are highly ambitious, and while this series doesn’t tout itself as “open world”, you’ll definitely get a sense every now and then that you are in a very big place. Amazing vistas, great use of color, and amazing animation brings it all together into a nice, neat package. Putting the bow on this visual feast is a steady frame rate and almost no screen “tearing”. Although one more level of anti-aliasing might have made the overall look of this game the stuff of perfection, Drake’s Fortune is nonetheless a magnificent sight, and while not everything is perfect, it will serve as one of the best looking PS3 games to date.
With good graphics must come good sound, ideally, and Uncharted has good sound in spades! From eerily quiet jungles and desolate caverns to seaside castles and echoing ruins, Drake’s Fortune immerses you. Combine that with a decent 5.1 surround sound setup and you’re in for an aural treat. Guns and gun battles all sound realistic and frantic, with every little ricochet and shell casing adding to the realism. Explosions are loud and booming, with crackling fire and swirling smoke all hitting their marks in the correct locations. Rounding out the sound effects is a well-acted script featuring Nolan North (Desmond Miles – Assassin’s Creed) as Nathan Drake, and veteran voice-actor Richard McGonagle as Sully. North provides Drake with the perfect balance of funny, cocky, and risk-taking…all while not being overly annoying. I laughed out loud several times at Drake’s underplayed sarcasm, which brought a more human aspect to the character. A beautiful score accompanies this grand adventure as well, giving a sense of old-school spaghetti-swashbucklers in its overall presentation.
Control and gameplay are the only areas I had a few minor issues with and some of the problems were due to the switch-over from both PC (mouse and keyboard) and Xbox360 controller play. Sony has stuck to the same controller design since the early days of the PS1, and while its not necessarily a bad thing, if you’re not a regular Playstation gamer it’ll take a few to get re-aquainted. It’s not that the PS controller is alien in any way, in fact it’s closer to a Super Nintendo or Sega controller than either Xbox or obviously Wii’s is, but after years of PC and Xbox gaming, I have to admit the PS controller felt a little wonky to get back in to. Combine that with a run-n-gun game like Uncharted and it’s gonna take a minute to acclimate.
Uncharted is more or less a combination of three gaming genres. Much like the Tomb Raider series, Uncharted divides its time between being a shooter, a puzzle solver, and a straight-up platformer. Much like Desmond in Assassin’s Creed, Nathan is a skilled climber, and while not really a “free-running” experience like ‘Creed, the climbing and jaunting is all great fun and serves to show off some of the more magnificent views that this game likes to show off. In the puzzle department, nothing is too hard to figure out with a little bit of exploring, and I never found myself “stuck” on any one puzzle. If you need, there is also a built-in help system that pops up when the game feels like you’re struggling. Then we have the gun fights, where I felt that the game shined 98% of the time. With a great cover mechanic, easy-to-navigate weapons selection, and good aiming control, Uncharted provides a fun and often furious stage to battle the bad guys. That said, this game also falls into a category that I often find myself at odds with. Several times during play, I would face a gun battle that, no matter what I tried, would end in me getting killed. Having to repeat a particular part of any game until you “devise” the perfect strategy is usually lost on me, and while I do welcome a good challenge, there is also a line in the sand for hard and then downright infuriating. More than once I had to put the controller down and shut off the PS3, only to come back hours later with a fresh batch of patience. I was never stuck too long on any of the harder shoot-outs, yet the controller almost mated with the screen on more than one occasion, and the obscenities put forth would put a Marine combat unit to shame. Being a huge fan of open-world games, I am used to being able to approach a situation any way I see fit, with a careful plan and plenty of room to escape if shit goes down. Since Uncharted is not as “free-range” as say, Skyrim, once you’re in a battle it’s do or die, sucker! While I passed away a bit more than I would have liked, in the end I did feel strangely satisfied that I had successfully negotiated some of the more difficult fights through perserverance. All in all I would say that practice makes perfect in a game like Uncharted, and as a side note, I’ve had a much better go so far in Uncharted 2, perhaps due to my previous “training”?
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a near-perfect action/platformer that reaches back into the past to high-five games like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia, yet comes to the modern table with its own unique arsenal of new things to offer us as gamers. I found that in my roughly 10 hour play-through, I was never once bored or thinking about another game. With flawless pacing and an intriguing story with characters that you’ll actually care about, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is the perfect beginning to a now-established Sony franchise! Stay tuned for the next review, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves!
Fun Factor: 10 – An action-packed roller coaster of a story!
Graphics: 9.5 – Beautiful lighting and textures, some of the best on the PS3. Faces could have been a tad better.
Sound: 10 – A shining gem. Perfect surround sound, amazing effects, and great voice work!
Control: 9 – Took a bit to get used to but became second nature. A few unintended jumps led to death, but overall excellent control.
Lasting Appeal: 10 – With 4 levels of difficulty, a great story, and plenty of things to collect for completionists, Drake’s Fortune is an easy adventure to go back to!