Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Naughty Dog is for years already one of the top developers for Sony’s Playstation. On the good old PSOne they came with the excellent platformer Crash Bandicaat, but it wasn’t until the PS2 with the excellent Jak&Daxter saga that they catapulted themselves to eternal fame. On PS3 they now start with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune which is again a new franchise. Being equally good as its predecessors is going to be tough, but if anyone can do it, it must be Naughty Dog.
You’ll quickly notice that Uncharted won’t win any prizes for originality. The story looks like it ran away from a Hollywood blockbuster (Indiana Jones anyone?); the puzzles have a high Tomb Raider level and the combat looks a lot like the take-cover-and-start-shooting mechanism we know from Gears of War (which in its turn looked at Kill.Switch but who’s counting?). But as a wise man once said: better well-stolen than badly invented. The lack of original ideas is therefore also the only big downpoint we can blame Uncharted for as the game plays incredibly nice.
The interesting story starts in the middle of the ocean when you, Nathan Drake, a far descendant from the English sailer Sir Francis Drake, fish up Sir Francis’ coffin and discover it’s empty except for a notebook. Even before you have time to check it out you’re attacked by pirates who seems to have an unhealthy interest in Drake’s coffin. You barely escape and together with your friends, the blond journalist Elena and the old treasure hunter Sully, you go looking for the mythical treasure of El Dorado, which presumably was found by Sir Francis. The story is filled with interesting plot twists (except the latest), but you’ll discover those when buying or renting it yourself.
The great presentation of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune immediately drags you along. The cut-scenes are of excellent quality, with almost perfect lip sync and ditto voicing. Also the animations are of an unseen level. The fluidness with which Drake hangs on ropes, carefully manoeuvers over tight edges of climbs walls is a feast for the eye. Uncharted is without exaggerating one of the best animated games ever, if not thé best. And the visual boldness doesn’t stop there. Textures really look like they’ve got relief, branches and trees go with the wind and the water is ultra realistic. Half-Life 2 eat your heart out! When Drake comes out of the water, you’ll see his clothers are soaked, but as the tropical sun shines on them they dry up. The game is filled with such minor details that may look unnecessary at first but do add to the atmosphere and realism.
Meanwhile, the levels have been beautifully designed and are very varied. Whether we’re talking about the great jungles where sunlight barely gets through the leaves (only Crysis does better), a rusty German U-boat amidst a waterfall, a labyrinth beneath the earth, or a 16th century fortress, the very colourful environments will often make your jaw drop to the floor.
But what would a visually outstanding game be without suiting soundtrack? Luckily also there Uncharted doesn’t disappoint. I caught myself multiple times humming along the theme song of the game, and that really isn’t one of my habbits. The sound effects (or at times freezing silence) are also well-done, as we can expect from a modern day top game, and the voice acting is – as said – spotless.
The gameplay is roughly divided into two parts: fighting and puzzle/platform work. As Lara has shown us countless times, it’s a lot of fun to find your way through all kinds of obstacles, ruins, towers and tombs. But where Tomb Raider sometimes can be extremely frustrating, Uncharted is a much more forgiving. If you jump a little too soon, too late, or too much to the left or right, Nathan will always find a way to still hang on. This doesn’t mean you won’t ever fall to your death, but you won’t have to replay all that often which is also thanks to the very fine checkpoint system.
The fights are also multiple times more interesting than in Tomb Raider. No silly lock-and-shoot stuff, but challenging combat with smart adversaries. As said the fire fights look a lot like those from Gears of War. Taking cover is crucial for survival, staying too long in one place will result in a one way trip to heaven. The opposition throws grenades or will try to outflank you if you don’t move enough. Most walls are destructible by the way so you’ll often have to run from cover to cover place. Enemies can also get almost as much damage as you and their aiming isn’t bad at all. You do have a wide range of arms to get rid of them though; think of pistold, shotguns and AK-47s to more exotic stuff like grenade launchers and sharpshooter rifles.
Finishing the game a first time (on normal difficulty) will take about 10 hours, which isn’t bad for the genre. Having some more playing time is something we wouldn’t mind though, time flies when you’re having fun, but that’s made but for a large part thanks to the large replayability of the game. Naughty Dog has implemented an addictive reward system where you get medals and points (read: achievements and gamer points) that you can use to buy all sorts of unlockables like Making Of’s, art work, trailers, music fragments, interviews and more.
With Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune Naughty Dog again delivers a game you shouldn’t miss. In my opinion this is the best PS3 exclusive of 2007 and that means something in a year where we got to see Resistance, Motorstorm, Ratchet & Clank, Heavenly Sword and Ninja Gaiden Sigma. The Naughty Dogs may quickly come up with a sequel for me, but I would prefer a Jak IV first if possible..