Review by TheDerpMeister

"A well-crafted guilty pleasure"

Introduction:

As you probably know by now, developer Naughty Dog's latest IP, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a good looking game. Even to this day, nearly a year after its release, it still ranks as arguably the best looking console game to ever hit the market. It also still receives some criticism, notably being labeled by some as a copycat game, one that relies on tried and true formulas from recent stalwarts such as Tomb Raider and Gears of War. It's an unfair assertion, and even though I make direct reference to some games for comparison's sake (including Gears) in this review, I completely disagree with the labeling. Sure, Uncharted doesn't necessarily do anything that hasn't been done before, but it is more well-crafted eclecticism than uninspired rehash. Thanks to an amazing presentation and some the best attention to detail you will ever see, all of the game's elements blend together to form one of the most enjoyable, and unique, gaming experiences in recent memory.

The Review:

Consummate everyman turned action-hero Nathan Drake, direct descendant to Sir Francis Drake, is our protagonist in a search for the lost treasure of El Dorado. Elena, a dedicated journalist, and Sully, Drake's cantankerous sidekick, are along for the ride, which quickly shifts from harmless treasure hunt to a desperate fight for survival--full of narrow escapes, dire situations, and hordes of pirates. The team forms a lovable trio, and does well in engaging the player.

The narrative in which they play is 80s popcorn flick in every sense, lifting countless conventions from films of the type and time. That doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad story--it is actually fairly enjoyable--but if you've seen any combination of action/adventure movies from yesteryear, this story is bound to seem somewhat hackneyed. Greatly benefiting the story is impressive motion capture and voice work (particularly Nolan North and Emily Rose as Drake and Elena, respectively.) Their strong and charming performances highlight the game's narrative, effectively overshadowing the corny, albeit amusing, plot.

With one foot consciously entrenched in the realm of cinema, Uncharted pulls no punches when it comes to production values. The game is undeniably pretty, exhibiting some of the best graphics ever seen on a console game, and contains plenty of picturesque moments that will give your controller's right analog a workout. One of the first things you'll notice is the omnipresent attention to detail. Plants sway as characters walk through them, light refracts perfectly through the trees onto the jungle floor, and diving into any body of water leaves visible saturation effects on your character. It is an environment perfectly tailored to fit Drake's abilities, who flawlessly interacts with just about every piece of geometry. Not only that, but Drake himself turns out be a triumph of animation, most noticeably inside of one of the game's two big gameplay elements, the platforming.

Leaping and hanging from various ledges and pillars showcase Drake's seemingly unbound athleticism, while occasional stumbles and near falls help reinforce his everyman status. It's a balance that serves well in immersing the player, both with their hero and his near insurmountable odds. But these sections are somewhat of a mixed bag. As aesthetically satisfying as these sections are, the game's overly-simplified approach to them makes even the most daunting challenge easily conquered, preventing any of them from feeling particularly rewarding. Slick timing and the ability to judge distances is completely unnecessary here; progressing up or around an obstacle is as simple as looking for something to grab onto and jumping in that direction. Deaths from ill-advised leaps of faith feel needless, but checkpoints are so abundant and generous that you'll probably never get too frustrated. Challenge is sacrificed for spectacle's sake and, from a gameplay perspective, the payoff only ends up being truly worth it during the most stunning set pieces.

While the platforming sections play like a dumbed-down Prince of Persia, the fighting borrows heavily from recent standout Gears of War. Adopting the third person, stop-and-pop shooting mechanic with a cover system, these sections are where Uncharted shines. The majority of the areas in which the standoffs take place are generously proportioned and full of various structures to take cover behind, encouraging strategic movements to aid you in picking off the bad guys. The AI is impressive, and makes for an engrossing experience. Idle in one place for too long and you risk being surrounded. Enemies react to gunfire, dive for cover, and aggressively pursue your location. They have no problems picking you off when you're not behind cover, and will eventually start coming at you with laser scopes attached to their weapons, heightening the intensity to levels only recently matched by Resident Evil 4. Given an advantage, they will make quick work of you, so it is a good idea to always be on the move.

Another reason to stay mobile is to keep these sections from becoming tedious. The larger battles, which can take a long time to complete as wave upon wave of enemies come after you, can start to drag and feel repetitive if you stick to only one or two places of cover.

The weapon selection is limited, but sufficient. You are for the most part relegated to the standard “handgun/shotgun/rifle” combo. The aiming is very smooth, even without an aim-assist, and lends itself well to precision sniping and headshots. Grenades, which effectively utilize the SIXAXIS motion controls, are also at your disposal. Weapons are assigned to the four D-pad buttons, while the shoulder buttons are used for aiming and firing. It sounds like an awkward control scheme, but it is very fluid and easy to get the hang of.

Also, there is the hand-to-hand combat. With only three separate button combinations, the combos are a bit shallow and limited. However, sending a bad guy flying with an uppercut to the jaw is very rewarding visually (as are the other “sneak up / rush” one-button finishers,) and Naughty Dog should be applauded for including something that would likely have been an afterthought for many other developers.

Uncharted is a short game, clocking in around ten hours. In lieu of multiplayer, there are trophies. Other than that, there are some clandestine treasures spread throughout the game, but that is about it. The things that traditionally come to mind when gamers think “replay value” are not present here, a flaw that could be deemed unforgivable in a time where games cost $60. There is however, something undeniably endearing about this game, something beyond the fine-tuned design and presentation. Perhaps Uncharted works because it is excellently paced. It is structurally solid--the transition between story, platforming, and gunplay segments are seamless and almost perfectly executed. However, it still has some faults that make it hard for me to give the game a higher score.

Conclusion and score:

You can always find a reason not to give a game a good score. When broken down, Uncharted has some serious flaws. When judged as a whole however, the game is just flat-out enjoyable--both to play and (especially) to look at--and is an experience which should not be missed. A guilty pleasure of the gaming world, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune deserves at least a spirited rent, but don't be surprised if it charms its way into a permanent place in your PS3 library.


Story - 7
Design - 9
Presentation - 10
Gameplay - 7
Replay Value - 8

Overall - 8.2


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 10/03/08

Game Release: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (US, 11/16/07)


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