One of the must-play games of the PlayStation 3.
The year is 2007. After probably sick of working with platformers (and one racing game) with an angst-filled elf-like character and his small wise-cracking animal sidekick, developer Naughty Dog decided to take their PlayStation 3 debut in a different way. Instead of making yet another Jak & Daxter title, they went for a more action-movie like game. The result is Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
The story starts out with Nathan Drake uncovering a lost diary of ancestor Sir Francis Drake, talking about the lost treasure of El Dorado. With help from an old friend and a documentary host roped along for the ride, the three eventually find the Ark of the Coven- I mean, the lost treasure of El Dorado, but later on Nate finds a disturbing secret about the treasure, and tries to stop a British man and his hispanic accomplice from acquiring the treasure themselves. It feels like the old film serials of the 1930s-1950s. Hell, the whole plot reeks of cheap B-movie fare that you'd see in a local video store for $10. It definitely has that Indiana-Jones-meets-National-Treasure vibe, which there's nothing wrong with, but it seems... well, to take a word from one of the characters, it seems a little hinky.
Uncharted takes a few gameplay mechanics from Gears of War as well as Tomb Raider. There's loads of shooting "pirates", which are in actuality a bunch of black guys, hispanics, and a few asians in the mix; as well as the occasional platform segment, brief puzzle segment and vehicle segment to spice things up. It's done nicely for the most part, but each part has its flaws. The shooting itself is pretty solid, except it seems enemies take a few more hits than what is necessary to die. You can also throw grenades, but they're haphazardly done: You have to use the SIXAXIS controller to adjust your arc. This is really tacky and hard to maneuver while being shot by enemies. You have better luck just throwing it out to the wild without aiming and hope it kills somebody.
If you run out of bullets or find a good opportunity, you can take a brief fight with them and wail out combos. But the problem with melee, specifically the brutal combo (square, triangle, square) is that half the time it doesn't work. I'll land the first punch, mash on triangle to make Drake continue the sequence, only to have it broken by a stray punch from the enemy. You literally have to fan your thumb between square and triangle to make the combo work. You could also hammer on square, but it takes more hits. Never mind the fact that this is not recommended if enemies are shooting at you, otherwise you'll be dead in seconds.
Sometimes after a good firefight, you take a brief breather to do some platform jumping. Or ledge hopping, whatever you want to classify it. You jump from ledge to ledge to platform to get to your next destination. Sometimes you can skip a ledge, but there's no branching routes. It's all set on one linear path, which makes it predictable after you miss the ledge for the fifth time. There's no "Oh, I can take this route and skip past this" moments or anything. It would've made these parts more tolerable, because otherwise they're a frustrating obstacle until the next shooting segment. It seems we're still at that phase where platforming and shooting don't really mix, as Tomb Raider is guilty of this as well.
In addition, there's three sections during the course of the game where you acquire a jet ski and try to use it. It seems we're still in that phase where vehicles are hard to steer. Maybe actual jet skis are not supposed to turn on a dime or something, but it becomes frustrating to move around and try to shoot enemies while trying not to die. The last occurrence of the jet skis features an annoying segment where you have to drive up a current with it. This, coupled with the rough driving controls, made this section quite annoying. Although, there is one section where you're at the gun turret of a jeep, and that's a more enjoyable vehicle section. It seems Naughty Dog still hasn't gotten vehicle controls down pat, Jak & Daxter had similar problems.
People will constantly deride games for not having that "next-generation" brownish look, but I'm glad Uncharted bucked the trend of brown-looking dystopian worlds. The areas are filled with lush jungle environments and great ambiance in underground areas. Even the water looks damn good. Nate himself can get wet and have the shirt and pants get wet as much as the player dipped him in. Although I don't understand why his hair doesn't move when it gets wet... must use some powerful hairgel. The voice acting is good and fits the characters just fine, and the score, done by Greg Edmonson of Firefly fame, is innocuous enough. Ambient jungle sounds mixed with occasional heroic orchestra. It fits, but it's not really memorable outside of one or two tracks.
There is one other thing that bothers me about the game, and that its difficulty. I'm no means a pro gamer, but there were several segments that kicked my ass even on Normal. Thankfully the only major annoying sections are towards the end of the game, but there are still a few tough sections before that, and it may seem a bit daunting for those who may not be used to the genre. However, it's not bone-crushingly difficult unless you ramp up the difficulty to Hard, so it's not a complete annoyance from start to finish. But nothing is more annoying when you try to get through a difficult platforming segment, only to get shot to death and having to redo the platforming segment.
Naughty Dog definitely made this game for replay value, as there are loads of medals, treasures and other things to unlock. Hidden around the game are 60 treasures for observant players, as well as medals for killing enemies with certain weapons, killing enemies with brutal combos (or other melee attacks), and even doing stunts like killing enemies with grenades while hanging on a ledge. These medals give you medal points to unlock cheats, player models, graphical effects, even behind-the-scenes videos and motion capture sessions. These are nice unlocks, and give the player incentive to play the game again and do something they normally wouldn't do during gameplay.
This is a fantastic game for the PlayStation 3. It's criminal this game didn't do as well as a Gears or a Call of Duty. This is a great single player experience, and if it didn't have some minor issues, this game would definitely be one of my favorites. But with all the unlocks, medals, and various styles of gameplay, this game is worth playing more than once. It is definitely one of the must-play games for the system.
Pros: Good mix of shooting, platforming and vehicle segments; good voice acting, incredible visuals.
Cons: Ridiculous B-movie plot, platforming segments are too linear, vehicles are hard to control.