Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review
Every video game generation has at least a few titles that push the graphics envelope – the kind of visual experience that makes non-gamers stand up and take notice. Games like Shenmue on the Dreamcast, or the Gran Turismo series, for instance. The problem is this: developers can sometimes focus so much on the look of the game that the other elements fall flat. What good is a beautifully realized world if the controls suck, or if it has terrible voice acting? There can be no doubt that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is dazzlingly beautiful throughout. The real question is, did developer Naughty Dog get anything else right?
The plot of Uncharted follows the adventures of the brash, Indiana Jonesy Nathan Drake as he searches for El Dorado, the legendary lost city of gold. As is to be expected, undertaking such a quest has more than its fair share of traps, detours, puzzles and enemies. On paper it sounds fairly typical and uninspired, but the story has enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. Uncharted also has hauntingly realistic looking cut scenes to propel the tale forward. Cinematic is a term too often bandied about in the world of gaming, but I would have to say that Uncharted is approaches the quality of a good B-movie in its presentation and plot. Excellent music and top-notch voice acting complete the presentation. Uncharted is one of those games where I never WANTED to skip past the cut scenes, which is quite a feat for a busy, time-challenged gamer like myself.
It’s well-known that Uncharted is a heck of a game graphically, but I really had no idea just how crisp it would look. The characters are as realistic as I’ve seen, featuring expressive faces and true-to-life movements. My only gripe in this area is the look of hands when they interact with objects. I have yet to see a game come close to getting this right, and they often end up looking more like paws to me than hands. Outside of the characters, I was particularly fond of the water effects. Waterfalls are appropriately majestic, and the various bodies of water (and there are many) are as good as I’ve seen. Heck, even the “wet” look of Drake as he exits various pools and rivers is just short of stunning.
Uncharted plays like a platformer mixed with a shooter, ala Tomb Raider. You work your way through the game shooting and platforming your way through various ruins and structures. The gunplay here works well enough. The shooting controls are reasonably responsive, but I took issue with the slow tracking while aiming. There were quite a few times I found myself assailed by a baddie outside my view, and the painfully slow tracking led to more than one death. This springs in part from the typical complaint I have about any kind of FPS or shooter on consoles – no controller is as responsive as a mouse. There is also an adequate selection of weapons ranging from pistols of various power levels along with a host of high-impact firearms like machine guns and grenade launchers. Each time I found a new pistol variant I could feel the difference immediately, and the same goes for the various shotguns and machine guns.
Outside of weaponry, you can also choose to speak to bad guys with your fists. The melee combat here, though, is some of the worst I’ve seen. I never felt like I was actually in control of my punches and kicks, but rather felt like I was participating in glorified quick time events. I rarely found a use for melee because of this, and only later used it extensively in order to unlock a few trophies.
Uncharted also uses a cover system. You can hide behind walls and boxes and such, then pop out and fire fairly easily. (It’s interesting to note that I could always tell when a room would be the scene of a big firefight due to the presence of obvious cover points.) The sticky covering system did occasionally cause some irritating issues. There were quite a few times where I found myself sticking to cover I didn’t WANT to stick to, like right in the middle of a firefight. There were also many times I found it difficult to get OUT of cover quickly enough to respond to moving enemies.
As for the platforming sections, I’m being kind by saying I found the controls lacking. Platformers in the 3D age often suffer from what I’d call mushy controls – which is the last thing you want when perched precariously above a waterfall. I’m certain the vast majority of my deaths in Uncharted came courtesy of the poor controls sending me over the edge, literally. The camera also contributes to the troubles. Quite a few sections required diagonal jumps that were difficult to get right due to poor camera placement. You do normally have some control in regards to camera positioning, but there are times you have almost no control at all. It’s just plain difficult to jump at a precise angle with an uncooperative camera. Another issue is that it isn’t always easy to ascertain where you need to go to reach objectives. Some things LOOK like you could jump at and grab, but you can’t, and some routes through levels were very easy to miss.
The selection of puzzles in the game really aren’t worth discussing. They are your typical mix of pushing statues, lighting torches and pulling levers. I didn’t find any of them particularly challenging. I suppose if I had anything nice to say about them its that I found them at least reasonably organic. Nothing I had to do to progress felt completely out of place in terms of the game world.
I don’t have any alchemical formula to tabulate the overall scores I award. A 5 in graphics coupled with a 2 in gameplay doesn’t equal a 3.5 overall, for instance. Particularly strong elements can often cancel out bad elements, and vice versa. What I look for is how I felt once the final bad guy was bested and my proverbial hero rode off into the sunset. Was I satisfied with how it ended? Did I enjoy myself most of the time? Did it leave me wanting more? Uncharted’s amazing visuals and cinematic storytelling outweigh its shortcomings in terms of overall gameplay, at least for me. I found myself enthralled by the tale of Nathan Drake, and any misgivings about mushy controls and the like were forgotten by the time I reached Uncharted’s climactic final battle. I left Uncharted with a smile on my face, itching to rush out and buy the sequel – can you really ask for anything more?