Review by Crofty

"A reason to own the PS3?"

Usually, in a game, I'd move somewhat swiftly through environments towards my destination as the game intends. Sometimes I might slow my pace to check for anything I may have missed or to plan my next move, I very rarely, however, opt to walk in a game when run is available primarily because the visuals are that good. And yet that is something I did with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

Like a lot of people, I had some big reservations about investing into a PlayStation 3. I usually tend to wait around a while before purchasing a new console, mainly because the prospect of polished and enjoyable games being available early on is pretty low. Occasionally a console will have a standout superb offering to make it worth buying the console alone for, however, I saw no such title for the PS3. That mindset soon changed when I found myself playing Uncharted. I'll say this right now; Uncharted most certainly is a game worth buying a console for.

The developers at Naughty Dog have managed to incorporate so many elements of gaming into one game, but unlike other developers, they've also managed to do it well. Shooting, platforming, swimming, vehicle use, puzzles, melee combat and exploration are all elements used in Uncharted, and each one of them is used so well that finding any gaping flaws is a challenge in itself.

The only actual flaws in the design can mainly be found in the technical aspect of the game, rather than anything directly linked to the gameplay. The flaws mainly consist of tearing (usually in heavily detailed areas) and minor texture-build (most noticeable on initial boot-up). But even then, those flaws are hardly enough to taint the excellent display on offer. It's even more forgivable when you see that the environments in Uncharted make use of so much colours and lighting, compared to other games which seem to stick to the bland, dark and gloomy get-up. Quite frankly, it's refreshing to be exploring a lush jungle environment.

Of course, jungles have been done in other games, but the one in Uncharted is the first I can think of that uses the technology on offer to equal such successful results. The sheer detail cannot be expressed enough without playing the game for yourself. The sound only helps to reinforce the superb atmosphere, with effects and sounds you'd expect to hear if you actually ended up in a jungle.

With foliage that moves realistically while you pace through it, or birds that scatter when you break into a shoot-out, the jungle would offer a perfect setting for the entire game, and yet the developers have managed to add variation in the form of old fortresses and long forgotten caves. It's been the first time in a while where I've not ever got even remotely bored of playing in the same areas. I don't think it would be possible to slap any form of the word ‘repetitive' on any aspect of the environmental design in Uncharted, and that deserves the utmost credit.

And again, the detail doesn't just end at the environment, the character you play, Nathan Drake, is so realistically realised , to the point where you'll find yourself in awe at his clothes that actually looked soaked through when he pulls himself out of a river. The other characters he interacts with look just as good too, including Elena (a documentary maker and potential love-interest) and Sullivan (an old maverick, and Drake's longtime friend), not to mention the countless mercenaries you'll have to deal with.

The actual plot isn't of the highest intellectual quality, but if it were, then I'd probably mark the game down for it. Uncharted is the type of game that benefits from being as uncomplicated as possible, though that's not to say the story is pointless and the characters are lame because that simply isn't the case. I found the three aforementioned characters very likeable and the storyline quite enjoyable. If I could find a movie reference to help express what the game's plot is like, then I'd probably say it has most in common with the likes of Indiana Jones, which is surely a good thing for a game in this genre.

The voice-acting also helps to keep things from ever becoming too cheesy, with the voices adopting the characters perfectly (motion-animation of the voice-actors was actually used for the characters, which may explain why it works so well). The young bold tone of Nathan, to the curious and enthusiastic Elena, the characters wouldn't seem at all out-of-place in a Hollywood adventure movie.

But enough about Uncharted's superb presentation value, it's time I spoke more of Uncharted's shoot ‘em up aspect, among the other gameplay elements. The shooting works much in the way of a third-person shooter, with the player having full view of Nathan and pulling on the L1 trigger to aim, and the R1 trigger to shoot. Nathan doesn't have any health-bar as such, but instead the screen will start to dim and turn dark when he takes too much damage. The best way to keep him alive is to get behind cover which pretty much becomes the main source of defensive action for the majority of the game. It's very much similar to Gears of War, with you being able to shoot blind-fire and dive from cover to cover as you try and take down your opponents, and like Gears of War, it works extremely well. The lack of a health-bar actually makes things more enjoyable, I found, with you having to retreat long enough for your screen to return to normal to prevent Nathan from perishing. It helps reduce the drudgery of locating health packs and the like after a battle, or being worried that you don't have enough health for an upcoming battle.

If you manage to get close enough to an enemy you can even take part in a melee battle which is nearly as much fun as the shooting itself. You can string together various combinations, and if you manage to pull off certain sequences properly you'll be rewarded with a slow-mo view of Nathan knocking his poor foe unconscious (along with their dropped weapon having double ammo). It feels very satisfying to say the least.

If the game was based purely around the shooting aspect, then it'd be a pretty competent third-person shooter. Fortunately, the game delves into the adventure roots by offering lots of exploration and the occasional puzzle. The puzzles aren't usually very difficult, and can usually be solved by looking in your handbook and using some general common sense. The puzzles are more of a respite from the action sections to help break up the game's pacing, and make the whole experience more enjoyable. So it's not really a bad thing that they're easily solved.

On-top of that, Uncharted has sections where you'll control a jet-ski with Elena offering gun support (you control both the movement and firing) along with manning a gun turret on the back of a fast moving jeep. Like the puzzles, these sections are pretty small and limited which works better as doing them for too long would detract from the main experience. But once again, they help to keep the game feeling varied and enjoyable.

Finally, the platforming sections are handled well although it is occasionally possible to not be able to distinguish reachable areas with unreachable ones. However, Naughty Dog have done well to make sure that jumping around from ledges, vines and ropes isn't as frustrating as it could be. The clever placing of check-points helps to make it so death doesn't equal re-doing the same sections over and over again.

On the difficulty side of things, the game has three options to select from the start, though I would fully recommend opting for the Hard difficulty as that felt the most well rounded one to me. I also disabled the ‘Hint' system before I played the game to make sure I could get the most out of the experience too. If you maybe intend to finish the game quickly, then Hints might be needed, but I would recommend you switch them off for a more natural experience.

As for how much content the game has, Naughty Dog have made sure you get what you pay for with the inclusion of many unlockables including movies, harder difficulties, and, you guessed it, concept art (hooray!). The most interesting unlockables, though, are the Award Medals. This is because the medals are exactly like achievements used on 360 titles, however, because they're built into the game they're much more personalised but also serve to help “achievement junkies” who seek something similar on the PS3.

The game itself may take around 6-8 hours to beat depending on how fast you go, but personally I found myself clocking up around 12 hours (that's including trying to locate all the hidden treasures and exploring/absorbing the environment). The main thing, though, is that the game feels complete. There's nothing in the game that looks or feels underused, no gaping plot holes, and at the end you don't feel like you've not got your money's worth. Even though a sequel has already been confirmed, Uncharted is a game that can easily stand on its own merits for a long time to come.

Conclusion

It's hard to not recommend Uncharted in some aspect, simply because it offers so much that it must appeal to even the most selective gamer in some degree. However, if you really do despise the prospect of what games like Tomb Raider offer (though, for the record, Uncharted has bettered that series for me) then maybe, just maybe, you won't be interested in Uncharted.

If you do own a PS3, though, and have somehow managed to overlook Uncharted, then you simply must buy it at the first opportunity. And if you want a reason to own a PS3 then this is it. It is, to date, probably the best PS3-exclusive game available and actually the first one to show what the console is capable of in the right hands. I can only hope that Naughty Dog improve upon this epic effort for Uncharted 2, for if they do, then they will have truly entered the gaming elite of developers.


Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 06/06/08

Game Release: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (EU, 12/07/07)


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