Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is the perfect blend of Indiana Jones, Gears of War and Tomb Raider. While short it is fun as long as it lasts.
The first year of a console always is a bit barren when it comes to good games. This certainly has been the case with the Sony PS3 where several of the expected hits like Heavenly Sword and Lair have performed below expectations.
Because of this, the expectations for Naughty Dog’s action adventure game, Uncharted: Drakes’s Fortune has been quite high. Luckily most of these expectations have been met and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a really fun action adventure for anyone that at some point has dreamed of being Indiana Jones.
THE STORY, ATMOSPHERE AND CHARACTERS
You play Nathan Drake, an Indiana Jones-like guy who says he is a descendant of Sir Francis Drake. The game follows Nate as he and his two friends hunt after a treasure they think that Sir Francis Drake found: the treasure from El Dorado. Throw in some bad guys, a few Nazi references and some mysticism and you got the story.
To some extent the story is actually quite refreshing. Yes, it does get a bit weird towards the end of the game but overall it feels like a regular treasure hunt adventure. To many games these days bog down into mysticism, aliens or creatures from hell and I personally am a bit tired of that. Unfortunately the game ends pretty fast (around 8 hours on normal difficulty) and I feel that the story isn’t fleshed out enough and that there are threads left that could have been explored more.
The characters are taken right out of an Indiana Jones movie. You have your unwilling hero, an old friend that always smokes a cigar, a young “spunky” female that either helps you or needs rescuing and a bunch of bandits complete with the arrogant British boss and the Mexican gang-leader. Sure, the characters are stereotypes but in a game like this is works.
Since this is a game of exploration the atmosphere is very important. Naughty Dog uses the combination of sounds, music and graphics to create a cool atmosphere where you never really are sure what to expect. They also have removed the hud almost completely. The only time you see a hud is when you fire a weapon and even then you only see a small icon in the top left showing the ammo level. Your health level is indicated by the color of the game. As you get wounded the colors start to fade and go towards black and white. That is when you know you have to stay covered and recover.
GAMEPLAY AND CONTROLS
Before the game was released a lot of fan boys were comparing this with Gears of War on the Xbox 360 (and now PC). The reason for this was mainly the use of cover, which looked remarkably similar to that of Gears of War. I think the game play more should be described as Tomb Raider with a hint of Gears of War. While in Gears of War you basically fight all the time this game is more focused on exploring, climbing and jumping.
The game play can be divided into 4 different types.
The first type is the platform game. In large parts of the game you will be completely alone and not under attack. Instead you have to find your way around the different ruins and caves you visit. Just like in Tomb Raider you jump around and often dangle from ledges and windows trying to find the next ledge to jump to. This part of the game works pretty well and is luckily pretty forgiving meaning that you do not have to time a jump on the microsecond. At some times it almost is a bit too easy as you just have to make sure that you jump reasonably close to the edge for Nathan to reach the next ledge. You never really are lost regarding where to jump next and again this makes it almost too easy.
A few times during the game you encounter puzzles. These start with you arriving in a room and “remembering” something from Sir Francis Drake’s journal. Then you have to figure out what you are supposed to do. In one puzzle you just have to ring two bells at once, in another you have to align statues correctly. These puzzles are really easy and far too few in my opinion.
Combat is a mix of Tom Raider and Gears of War. You can only carry two weapons at a time; a smaller handgun and a larger gun. You can pick up weapons and ammo from fallen enemies or find it around the jungle and ruins but as you only can carry two types of weapons at a time you need to think about what to pick up. There are not that many types of guns so you probably will stick to one or two during the whole game.
Shooting is done with one of the right triggers and you can either shoot from the hip or aim with one of the left triggers. Shootings from the hip actually works pretty well although you will spend more ammo. I found it mostly useful at later stages of the game where you met enemies that kept charging you.
Since you cannot take much damage taking cover is essential. Naughty Dog has made sure to fill the environment with crates, stones and other things to take cover behind. Cover works pretty similar to Gears or War. You run up to cover and press the circle button to “hug” to the cover. You then either can shoot freely without aiming or press L1 and aim from your cover. You can of course roll away from cover and jump over it to move to the next spot.
On the rare occasion that you get close to an enemy you can also punch him and even punch a combo (a sequence of button presses in a row) which makes him drop a bit more ammo. You very rarely will get the opportunity though to trade punches.
The AI of the enemy is pretty nice in combat. They duck and keep in cover and try to flank you if possible. At the same time they can take quite a lot of damage unless you hit them with a perfect head-shot. I got annoyed quite a few times that they kept getting up even though I had put several bullets into them. This normally works if you are fighting aliens or monsters but when a regular human can take so many hits is becomes a bit stupid.
5-6 times during the game you run into something I hate – the “press button X to survive” game type. It almost always comes out of nowhere, a crate that drops onto you from above or a balcony that crumbles, and all you have to do is press the right button quickly when it flashes on the screen. Since it happens so infrequently you never really are prepared and I think I died once every time just because my mind wasn’t prepared for it.
The game play is pretty rigid. There is never more than one way to go and Naughty Dog makes sure you cannot go anywhere else by adding stones that block other pathways and doors that cannot be unlocked. The environment also is pretty indestructible adding to the nagging feeling that you are getting last generation gameplay on a next generation console. Today I expect to be able to demolish almost anything and not one second blow up a crate with a shot of my pistol and then not make a scratch on a window with a shotgun.
The controls of the game are comfortable and work well. As mentioned you aim with L1 and shoot with R1. The camera view can be controlled with the right analogue stick and while the actual camera can be a bit irritating at times the control of it works well.
The PS3 controller of course supports sixaxis movement but the game uses it very sparingly. At one time during the game you use the tilt-motion to balance on a log and at the end of the game you shake the controller if you are getting strangled by a special kind of enemy. That’s it.
AUDIO AND VIDEO
Uncharted certainly is a great looking game. Everything from the environment to the character design is a visual joy. Naughty Dog has managed to create great looking vistas while keeping the framerate up. In fact, I can’t say I noticed any slowdown at all during the game. The game does however suffer from something I call “the next gen shiny syndrome”. This is something we see in many games on the PS3 and Xbox 360 and means that developers have gone overboard when adding “shininess” to the graphics. Rocks and other hard surfaces look like they are shining when they are wet instead of looking .. wet. The game is unevenly affected and mostly you do not notice it and other times it really takes away from the atmosphere of the game. There are also a lot of aliased edges that sparkle white when moving. It’s not bad enough to detract from the gameplay but you notice it.
The sound is equally impressive. Naughty Dog has added a nice bombastic soundtrack which fits into the atmosphere of the game perfectly. There also are no issues with the voice acting. I don’t recognize the names of the actors but they are doing a good job with the script, which is quite witty and occasionally funny.
As the game is short it needs something more to justify the full price. Naughty Dogs has realized this and added a lot of extras into the game.
First of all you have a system which is quite similar to the achievements in Xbox Live. As Sony has not added a global system yet that works on all games Naughty Dog has been forced to create something specific for this game. During the game you score achievements by managing different tasks. You get points for killing enough people with the same gun, scoring a number of headshots and so on. In addition to these “achievements” you also get points for finding enough of the 60 treasures that are littered through the levels of the game.
The points that you get can then be used to unlock videos, new costumes for the characters and even changes to the way the game looks (for example change colors to black&white or sepia or even mirror the whole game).
Things like new costumes and changes to the way the game looks (I still haven’t unlocked the ‘next generation’ option – I wonder if it makes it even shinier) are fun but not really useful more than for a laugh. The developer videos are more interesting. Not only do you get to listen to the guys from Naughty Dog talk about themselves and the game, there are also videos showing how the various cut scenes were made. In the end though all these extras are nothing more than a short diversion and do not really add to the value of the game.
You cannot help to feel that this game screams for more levels, more story and possibly a multiplayer component or at least the ability to play cooperatively.
The fact that I could not put the game down and played this game through in just a few days is a testament that as long as it lasts it is a fun game worth playing. It doesn’t matter that it doesn’t offer a lot of new ideas or that certain elements could have been improved. Just like you sometimes want to go out and watch a good action movie sometimes you just want to play a good fun game even though it might not have a huge depth.
As the game ended I however felt a bit disappointed. I liked the game so much so I wanted it to continue. I’ve recently played another game which I liked just as much and which also was very short: Call of Duty 4. That game however has a kick-ass multiplayer component which has kept me occupied much longer than the single player campaign. As Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune lacks anything to keep me playing I cannot help feeling that the cost of the game is quite high for the time you spend on it. It does however make me hope for a sequel, preferably sooner than later.
+ Great graphics and sound
+ Good story with a fun script
+ Good voice-acting
+ Good gameplay
+ Nice atmosphere
- Too short
– No multiplayer or cooperative gameplay
– Suffers for occasional “next gen shininess syndrome”
– A bit too easy
– Storyline not explored enough
Conclusion: This is a game that is short but sweet. It does not innovate in any way but is fun and engaging and in the end that carries the game a long way.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune gets an solid 8 out of 10 from me and a Bjorn3D Seal of Approval award.