Review by johnathanblade
"Uncharted FORM, well mapped FUNCTION!"
Uncharted is the latest release from Sony developer Naughty Dog. Uncharted is their first Playstation 3 game and a departure from the style of gaming that they have been developing for over a decade. You would never know that this is a new direction from playing the game though. Uncharted is as polished as any of Naughty Dog's major efforts. More importantly, Uncharted is the current graphics/aesthetics technology leader on the console market.
Uncharted is an action-adventure game with the lions share of the focus on the action. It follows a summer movie style story starring Nate Drake. Nate is a descendent of Sir Francis Drake, famed Elizabethan adventurer. He is hired by the tele-journalist Elena to assist her in finding the elder Drakes fortune. In the course of their search they encounter pirates. This is a convenient way to bring his partner in crime, Sully into the story. The story plays out like a more social version of Tomb Raider. There are friendly NPC's and smart, verbal enemies. It is a fun rousing adventure with interesting, likable, well acted characters. They are a bit too likable actually. Nate is a good guy. He is smart. He seems well adjusted. He is loyal, considerate, charming, and handsome. He is a smooth surface. There are no real latching points to the character. He does come off as a real person, which is quite a feat. It is just not a big draw in itself. There are a couple interesting moments where it is made obvious that Nate is trying to live up to his ancestors legend. A more interesting character would have made the story better though.
The other characters are conventional, but effective. Sully and Elena are particularly effective. Elena is especially well acted. The actress portraying her sounds like Jennifer Aniston in her delivery as well as her voice.
The gameplay in Uncharted is bilateral. The main focus is on the darling of contemporary game mechanics, duck and cover shooting. The secondary gameplay style is Tomb Raider style, acrobatic exploration. The duck and cover shooting is done well. There is no aim assist as the aiming is fine tuned enough not to need it. This is necessary as the enemies are very intelligent, very aggressive and very durable. There is some limited specific effect in the enemy damage and of course the ubiquitous head shot. You must take these enemies out quickly because the levels are set up for them to flank you. They will come for you! The player has the ability to carry one side arm and one larger gun at a time. There are a variety of guns with different attributes, but you will probably use what you can find the most of at any given time. As with every other game of its kind, you can use grenades. There are other combat options as well. You have a limited combo system for hand to hand attacks. The timing is tricky and usually if you can get this close to an enemy you should shoot them. There are also stealth kills, but this is something you may have the opportunity to do a handful of times during the course of the game. The duck and cover works well, with plenty of grenade dodging and some destructible barriers to keep turtling from disrupting the flow of the action.
Nate can take a lot of damage. As he does the screen looses color until it is black and white. If you don't get hit during this period your health and consequently the screens color will return. It is basically the shield system that started with Halo and is now used in every game in existence.
The intense fire fights are broken up by acrobatic platforming areas. This is done well. The controls are solid and the puzzles are not at all frustrating. The issue is that the platforming is so obviously a secondary gameplay mechanic. Its purpose is to give you a break between the firefights. You will almost never get stuck and most of the platforming is a two button affair. There is no real exploration as the player usually only has one option for how to get from point A to point B. It is a very simplified version of what action-exploration game players are used to. If you approach it as secondary it is very enjoyable though.
The game is rounded out by a few vehicle levels. These levels are a nice change of pace and they showcase the graphics engine well. One area has you manning a mounted gun in an on the rails driving level. In addition there are a couple jet ski levels that are a bit more involved and very attractive.
The game is all around attractive. I don't mean like hooter's waitress attractive either. I mean like Adriana Lima headlining the annual Victoria's Secret fashion show attractive. The models and areas drip with polygons. The textures are decadently saturated with color and detail. The water and foliage are beautifully active. The multiple lighting models are all tantalizingly effective. The most famous detail is the fact that Nate's clothing gets wet in real time according to how far he is submerged in water. Naughty Dog uses every mapping, lighting and rendering trick in existence and pairs it with masterful art direction. As with most modern games unless you can play it in 720p you will not appreciate the intricate detail of the well crafted graphics. The pretty picture is paired with some of the finest animation ever seen in a videogame. Nate moves like a man not a game character. Naughty Dog was obviously given a mandate by Sony to craft a showpiece for the power of the PS3. They have done just that. At this point you will not see anything like this game on the Xbox 360.
The sound direction is almost as masterful as the visual direction. Gunfire is meaty, the ambient sounds are crystal clear, and the voice acting (for Nate and Elena at least) is some of the most natural voice acting ever to appear in a game. The music is well done, and fits both the visual theme and the summer blockbuster style.
Uncharted is a single player game. This is a bit of a letdown as the style of play would be conducive to multiplayer. Quite a few unlockables are available in the game though. There are various achievements to accomplish and hidden treasure to find. These are the means by which you can open the extra options. This adds some replay value to a linear one player experience. The playthrough clocks in at around ten hours, which is par for the course with contemporary games.
Even though Uncharted is Naughty Dogs freshman effort on the PS3 it is every bit as polished as any of their earlier games. It may be even more polished because it is a more focused game. Uncharted takes a couple things and does them very well. It does them well enough to support an entire game. If this is what Naughty Dog can do with their first PS3 game I almost have goosebumps imagining what we will see at the end of the generation.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 05/05/08
Game Release: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (US, 11/16/07)
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