Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Imagine the most beautiful jungle setting you've ever seen, either directly with your own eyes, or from a film or photograph. If you take that image, enhance the colours, make everything more vivid, beautiful and shiny, and wrap every leaf in pure silk, then you're part way towards imagining how beautiful the scenery in Uncharted actually is. The jungle setting in the game is easily the most impressive, living, breathing world of foliage I've ever witnessed in a game, and it's the perfect home for one of the best adventure games on the PS3.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune features Nathan Drake, who believes he is a distant descendent of the great explorer, Sir Francis Drake. With a tremendous passion for treasure hunting, combined with a good understand of historical artifacts and a nose for mischief, Nate (as he's called in the game) is the ideal Indiana Jones-style hero. You can tell immediately, watching the very first cut scene in the game, that Nate is the sort of hero who finds that nothing really ever goes according to plan, but that, somehow, it'll be alright in the end. Of course, no good adventure featuring such a hero would be complete without a woman to poke holes in flimsy plans (a journalist called Elena, documenting the discovery of Sir Francis Drake's coffin is there to get caught up in the mess) and a more business-savvy partner (Sully) who has clearly had to keep the main hero from getting too carried away on numerous occasions. The trio of strong characters setup the story perfectly, with the great treasure of El Dorado to find, bands of pirates to escape from and a far more serious threat, loan sharks with an eye for all things valuable, meeting them every step of the way.

Uncharted

The game is glued seamlessly together with cutscenes that blend perfectly with the core gameplay in Uncharted, which is split into two key areas: exploration and gunfights. The latter part is actually quite satisfying, considering the game is not primarily a shooter. Though the guns are not as weighty as those that appear in dedicated First Person Shooters, they are varied and introduce a decent tactical element. Fighting as Nate, you'll be able to take cover behind objects and, all in third person, reach around from cover and take shots at enemies. The transition is perfect, allowing you to hide, reload, then get back into the fray. Alternatively, you can simply sprint around taking shots at the opposition but, particularly on harder difficulty settings, don't expect the enemies to sit about or shoot lazily - the pirates and other foe you meet in Uncharted can be deadly. Using weaponry ranging from pistols and uzis through to shotguns and sniper rifles, or even making use of melee and grab combat techniques, Nate will need to fight through cavernous rooms filled with mercenaries, traverse rivers with pirates lining the shores and engage in close-combat craziness in ancient catacombs. It's all very neatly done, though it only narrowly avoids over-using the combat in the game. Ideally, the combat would be slightly more spread out, but it does just avoid making the fighting seem stale. The difficulty curve for the fights is well gauged though, with intensity and challenge increasing steadily as the game progresses.

The second major element of the gameplay, and arguably the best, is the exploration. Though the puzzles are very noddy (usually matching symbols together or flicking switches), getting to the switches and symbols in the first place is actually a fun challenge, simply because they are often in hard-to-reach places. Well, hard to reach for the average human perhaps but, thankfully, Nate is actually quite an athlete and gymnast. Where Lara Croft might rely on a tight-fitting swimsuit to distract from annoying jumps that require a minute each time fighting with the controls to accurately line up the next attempt, Nate simply does what you want him to. Though it can, on very rare occasions, get slightly confused (and it really is rare), the system in Uncharted basically takes the controls you've inputted, and aligns them with something that actually works. If you were going to fall short on a jump by an inch, there's a good chance that Nate will make that extra stretch and find a way to reach the next ledge. It isn't done in a patronizing way either, the game simply avoids being an irritating mess. Basically, it avoids cliches similar to infamous flaws like First Person Shooter characters being stuck by two-inch-tall walls if they don't have a jump button. It's more faithful to real life and more enjoyable at the same time. There's still some challenge in the exploration though, with some mighty jumps and platform sequences requiring some speedy reactions.

Uncharted

Graphically, it's worth emphasizing again just how beautiful the jungle really is. It's not photo realistic, but actually looks more shiny and beautiful than the real thing. It is perhaps influenced by the colourful world of Jak and Daxter, a series that certainly made Naughty Dog, developers of Uncharted, famous, but manages to find a comfortable balance between realistic features and dazzling fantasty worlds. The character models are also exceptionally good, with the main characters Drake ane Elena having a great range of expression, with cutscenes created using motion capture. Pleasingly, the cutscene motion capture work, despite being very good, doesn't totally outdo the animation in the game itself, so the transition from one to the other isn't too jarring. Another feature of the game that sets new standards for beauty is the water, with beautiful lagoons and streams that, once again, are actually prettier than their real-life counterparts.

No living, breathing jungle is complete without appropriate ambient effect though, and in this respect, Uncharted continues to succeed. Without resorting to overwhelming insect noises, the sound effects implemented are truly convincing. The rustling of leaves and crunching of grass underfoot form a subtle basis for the sound, which is in perfect contrast to the crashing cacophony of water hurtling into rocks at the foot of mighty waterfalls standing proud in the midst of dense jungle. The gun noises aren't up to the standard of major First Person Shooters like Resistance and Call of Duty, but they do the job very well and, as a result, don't overwhelm the action. If the guns were too maniac-friendly, perhaps the jungle surrounding would be diminished in comparison. Instead, the sound effects package is a well-balanced mixture.

Uncharted

Of significant assistance to the lastability of the game are in-game medals. The game rewards you for in-game achievements with concept art, documentaries and even alternative character skins. The tasks range from numbers of kills with a particular weapon through to completing the entire game on a particular difficulty setting. More importantly though, there are hidden treasure items, sixty in total, scattered throughout the game. Finding all sixty is a reasonable challenge (there are two or three that are particularly tough to spot) and there are further medals for finding particular numbers of hidden treasure. The game is so enjoyable that searching for the treasure is never a chore, even when replaying the game for the third or fourth time. As a result, the game which suffers from being perhaps a little too short, is aided considerably by significant replay value. Even so, the length of the game is certainly something that could be improved for Uncharted 2, assuming there will be one.

Small points of criticism aside, there's very little wrong with Uncharted. By the end of the game, you may find yourself really caring for the characters, hoping that they'll manage to succeed. The whole story experience is thoroughly entertaining too, with no characters that grate, and plenty of exciting and tense moments. There are a few cliches in the story, but this sort of adventure has to have a few, otherwise it wouldn't be left with much material. Nathan Drake is an excellent lead for the adventure, and it'd be great to see the series continue with more treasure-hunting madness. Uncharted is, quite likely, the best adventure game of 2007, and shouldn't be missed.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Sony

Developer:

Naughty Dog

Players:

1

Online:

None

Release:

2008-12-07

Trophies:

48

Review summary

Gameplay:

Slightly repetitive combat, but a great game

Graphics:

Stunning to look at, truly beautiful

Sound:

Great voices, music and sound

Lastability:

Plenty of replay value and treasure to find

9.2

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