Review by Suprak the Stud
"The Path Looks Awfully Well Worn For This to Be Uncharted"
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is lot like a burger you'd be able to get at a fast food restaurant. And while I'm tempted to end the review here, brush my hands, and head off early, GameFAQs has a word limit on these things so I guess I can draw out my comparison a bit more. See, there isn't anything particularly wrong with a fast food burger. It is completely satisfactory, and heck, every once in a while there is nothing you want more than a quick burger. And yet, after your meal on your way home if you catch a family eating a nice steak dinner through the window, you're going to end up regretting your decision (and you'll end up regretting it a lot more four to five hours later if you chose White Castle). Similarly, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a completely passable experience. There are certainly better games, even in the same genre, out there on the market, but as long as you don't go in expecting too much, it provides a fairly entertaining experience even if it is about as generic and by the books as you can get.
I usually go into a bit of background story here to set the mood, but I feel like I wouldn't need to here if they had gone ahead and call the game what it actually is, which would be Indiana Jones and the Magical Widget Featuring Appearances By Nazis. While this game doesn't go as far as actually ripping off Indiana Jones, it does feel a bit like an Indiana Jones madlib, where people removed key plot points from the movies and Naughty Dog went in and refilled them while keeping the basic structure the same. You play as Nathan Drake, professional treasure hunter and hair model, and the ancestor of the famed Francis Drake. Well, at least he claims to be one; I'm assuming he found this out using one of those fake ancestry websites that also claimed he was related to Pocahontas and Elmo. He seems pretty hung up on the idea, and manages to convince a woman by the name of Elena to finance a trip to find the location of Drake's coffin. She hosts a television show on ancient civilizations that is apparently doing very well as her company has the finances to fund every disheveled treasure hunter that comes in and wants to dig up a body. Turns out Drake isn't as crazy as his hobbies indicate, and they actually find the casket which is only missing a body. Admittedly, the body is kind of a big deal, because without one all you have is an oddly shaped box that is just as useful as a paperweight as it is a holder of dead things. However, while the body is M.I.A., Drake does manage to find a diary from Francis Drake, which points him in the direction of where he might find his body, along with some pretty awesome treasure that he might be able to use to buy some more hair gel and whatever razors he uses to keep himself in perpetual scruff mode. From here, Drake, his partner Sully, and Elena (if they'll let her tag along) must follow the clues left by Francis to find the legendary El Dorado.
So the story has a sort of Indiana Jones type feel to it, but only if someone had come through and sopped up the charm and with that is most often associated with the series. So, it is basically Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. That's too harsh, as nothing deserves to be compared to that movie. I'm overstating it a bit here, as I actually sort of enjoyed the story in this game. It does feel a bit predictable at times, and the characters are pretty clear archetypes that tend to get used a ton in adventure games or movies. Despite this, the story is still fairly strong, and at the very least is more than adequate for the bar set by typical action movies and games. Again, like the Indiana Jones films, the game does take a drastic turn during the last portion, where the whole set up feels like it could be a realistic documentary type film, and then all of a sudden it feels like someone mixed up the scripts and we're staring in a scene from aliens. It does manage to still feel cohesive, and everything is explained well enough within the context of the story, so overall the twist is pulled off effectively. It does take a while to get going, and towards the early portions you feel like you're staring in Indiana Jones and the Never Ending Search For Something Interesting, but when it does start picking up the story is interesting enough to keep you enjoying it.
The characters are also fairly well done and interesting in context of the story. Nathan Drake is a suitable lead, and while he does fall dangerously close to apathy territory for me, he is still significantly better than most male leads in this sort of game as he is at least a character. While most lead characters in this sort of game could be replaced with a punching bag filled with rocks and testosterone without many people being able to tell the difference, Drake is a bit more substantial and exhibits emotions more complex than murder rage and testosterone frenzy. He makes self deprecating, smarmy one liners every once in a while, and it was nice to have a lead that was at least able to communicate in more ways than grunts and bullets. That doesn't mean he is great, just that he is far better than the incredibly low bar set by other action game characters. He does come off as trying too hard at times, like he desperately wants to be liked by us and he just seems a bit needy at times. I think the designers wanted him to be viewed as cool, like John McClaine or the Fonz. But the effect is someone diluted, and it would be like if the Fonz kept on running around behind Richie the entire episode yelling EHHH! in a desperate attempt to get more attention.
The support cast is perfectly adequate, if a bit underdeveloped. Elena is particularly likable, if only for the fact that she falls somewhere in the middle of the dichotomy for female characters shown in most action movies of helpless damsel and hyper sexualized murderbot. She has a discernable personality and acts like a human most of the time, so at the very least she is relatable. Still, it is somewhat troublesome that the host of some history show is perfectly alright with shooting guns and murdering people, at least going off the presumption she isn't a psychopath. Your partner, Sully, plays the role of gruff and cranky older man, and he is at the very least entertaining from time to time. The three work fairly well together, and their back and forth interactions are typically worth listening to. The villains are far less satisfying, primarily because they never really seem that much worse than the people we're supposed to be rooting for. Yeah, they are after the treasure we're looking for and they're shooting at us, but we're pretty much doing the same thing back. It isn't like we're trying to get the artifact into a museum or anything noble, and I'm pretty sure Drake and Sully are in it just for the money as well. The main villain's motives aren't even really established until the last ten minutes of the game, and by that time I couldn't even really remember what his name was as he had like two lines of dialogue.
If the story and characters have a sense of familiarity and seem like they borrowed a bit from other sources, the gameplay feels more like flat out theft. The gameplay revolves around cover based shooting, platforming, and elementary puzzle solving, and feels like what would happen if the developers of Tomb Raider and God of War got together and didn't feel like creating anything original. This isn't to say that the gameplay is bad or that Uncharted isn't fun to play, just that things get repetitive at times and it can drag a bit and the game never really takes us anywhere we haven't been before.
The puzzles are undoubtedly the worst aspect of the gameplay, as at least the platforming and shooting are fun for a while. The puzzles here are just woefully designed and so entirely brainless that I feel like I need to put quotation marks around puzzles or I might be giving them too much credit. Whenever you get to one of these puzzles Drake mumbles something about gee, this looks familiar and you whip out Drake's diary. This is intended to provide you clues as to how to progress, but I felt like I was in possession of the Cliff's Notes version of the diary, where the person who had it before me had scribbled out the answers. Opening it to a page that shows the four icons I see on the wall in front of me with four numbers scrawled underneath isn't a clue to the puzzle; it's the friggin' solution. It would be like if Sherlock Holmes exclaimed that he saw a clue, when what he saw was the murderer holding a bloody knife and I sign that says I totally did it. Puzzles need to be at least somewhat challenging, otherwise there is no satisfaction to be gained from solving them.
The platforming is a definite step up, but also suffers from being a bit too oversimplified. The focus of the game is primarily on the shooting, so when the platforming does come around it is a nice little break. Drake has to shuffle his way around various ledges and ropes, in an effort to climb around on various ancient buildings and loose detritus in what I assume is a result of Drake's death wish. Despite the curious choice of ledges that Drake decides to entrust his life to, these segments work fairly well and finding your way through various scenic backdrops is a nice way to provide some pacing in the game and prevent it from becoming one big shoot em up. The beautiful visuals really help these segments stand out, and every now and then I'd take a break from the platforming just to admire my surroundings.
However, these segments are far from perfect and at times they are as cumbersome as they are fun. The main problem is that the ledge jumping becomes a bit to linear, so while it is in the guise of platforming, you are really just scooting across a series of ledges that are no more complex to navigate than a straight line. There are some pretty fun platforming segments in the game that require you to do some maneuvering to get to where you need to, but there are a lot that are also just mindless shuffling where you just hold down right and press the jump button every couple of seconds. Another frustrating aspect is that the game sometimes does a terrible job discriminating the next appropriate ledge and a meaningless piece of background scenery. This typically doesn't lead to huge problems, but it did have me jumping up at decorative vines like a drunken monkey, when the perfectly good functional vine is a couple of feet off to the side. This also lead to a couple of exploratory deaths as I searched for treasure, because some ledges that looked climbable were actually just there for visual effect, and Nathan Drake too selective as to what he was willing to grab on to. Overall, the platforming sections certainly aren't bad, but they are more frustrating at times than they need to be.
The shooting relies heavily on cover based combat, in so much that if you choose not to use cover based combat you might as well be playing with your feet. Enemies have frighteningly good aim so standing out in the open is a great way to make sure Drake's clothing gets dyed a nice shade of brains. This leads to some fire fights feeling a little like whack-a-mole with enemies popping their heads in and out behind cover. This is especially true on easier difficulties, and the enemies pop their heads out at close to the same level every time, making it easy to predict where you will have to shoot. Because of this, the game can begin to drag somewhat in the middle, where these shoot outs are the most prevalent and most drawn out. The combat can also come off a bit sticky at times, particularly when Drake is hiding behind cover and someone is charging you. It is a little bit messy trying to get Drake to release from cover in a way that doesn't immediately put you in the line of fire, and he can feel a bit clunky to control at times. This is mostly a minor gripe though, as it doesn't break the gameplay and only acts as a minor annoyance during some of the more particularly intense fire fights.
Action is broken up every once in a while by the aforementioned platforming, and some obligatory vehicle sections and quick time events. The vehicle sections are actually pretty fun, and allow you to blast apart bad guys without having to worry about little things like ammo or cover to find. They sort of feel like a somewhat simple shooting gallery, but strangely I still found these to be some of the most enjoyable segments of the game if only because it allowed me to get out of cover for once and blow up multiple people with my endless supply of rockets. The quick time events were far less appreciated, primarily because there are only like three of them and they come out of nowhere. I actually died during the first one because it appeared suddenly and annoyingly without warning, like a ninja Louie Anderson. Quick time events weren't even introduced during the first quarter or so of the game, so when it popped up in the middle of my platforming it felt a bit like someone had come to my house to trick or treat during Thanksgiving. Worst yet, the final boss fight is just two quick time events after a pretty decent lead up sequence. It would be like sitting through an entire fireworks display on the Fourth of July, but then the big finally was just a couple of sparklers that were held too far away to even be visible. The final boss is just tremendously disappointing, causing the game to just sort of fizzle out.
While repetition comes close to killing the combat, overall the game manages to keep its head above water and the game is for the most part pretty enjoyable and fun. Especially on the harder difficulties, enemies do tend to use tactics more advanced than poking their heads out every couple of seconds to reveal the best place to shoot them. Enemies will charge you or try to flank you, and battles become more entertaining and a little less mundane. There is a pretty good selection of weapons in the game, but your choice is pretty much limited to whatever the enemies are carrying at the time as they serve as your only source of additional ammunition. For the most part, everything here feels pretty much by the books, and while the combat isn't likely to awe you, it is still enjoyable enough that the game doesn't become stale.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is also beautiful to look at, and despite the fact that this is one of the earlier titles released on the PS3, the visuals are still very impressive. Little effects on the water, and the amount of detail that went into each of the backdrops and leafy scenery is great, even if at times the leaves end up blocking stuff you're trying to see. The production values are just impressive all around, and like the visuals the various sound effects, music, and voice acting are all top notch. The package as a whole here is just really nicely polished, and while the stuff inside might have suffered some wear and tear during the delivery, at least the presentation doesn't suffer.
While the game itself is beautiful, a lot of times the level designs don't really make too much sense. For instance, a lot of the ancient puzzles that you have to solve in order to proceed lead you to rather pointless areas that enemies seem to have been able to access by other means. After solving a couple of puzzles and climbing around some caverns, the area that was trying to be hidden from those not acquainted with Drake's diary is part of an area you already had been to, just another part of it that was previously blocked by some collapsed stairs. So, either the building was originally designed with the collapsed stairs in mind, or the level layout is just unnecessarily circuitous. While these might sound like minor complaints, it breaks the immersion when you are meant to think you are progressing through a series of tunnels meant to lead to some secret area hidden off by an ancient civilization only to emerge on the other side of a gate that you could have just climbed half an hour ago and saved yourself a lot of effort.
At times, you really get the impression that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune has aspirations of being a movie, and is sort of settling for being a game. And, truth be told, it does sort of feel like one of those high budget action films that tend to get released during the summer months. You can tell the production value is great, and it is pretty entertaining to sit through, but it doesn't really bring anything new or thought provoking to the table and most of it is likely to be forgotten within a month or so. Despite getting a bit dull in the middle, the game is still good enough to warrant a playthrough as both the story and the gameplay are above average. If the combat had been improved a little bit and if the game featured a bit more variety, it could have been great. As it is, it is probably still worth trekking along with Drake on his adventure; just don't be too surprised if you feel like he has been raiding Tomb Raider a bit too much.
Uncharted (THE GOOD):
+Fairly entertaining story, especially toward the later portions
+Great presentation, including beautiful visuals, nice sound, and good voice acting
+Nice mix of platforming and action
+Pretty good cast of supporting characters
+Entertaining vehicle sections
Off Course (THE BAD):
-Poorly implemented quick time events
-Main character seems desperate to be liked; villains seem desperate to be forgotten
-Game can get a bit dull at times; combat becomes too repetitive
-Minor annoyances in platforming; game doesn't always do a good job indicating where you need to go and where leads to death
-Terrible puzzles that basically give you the answer
Completely Lost (THE UGLY): One of the unlockable extras is the ability to swap out the character you play as from Nathan Drake to Sully or Elena or even one of the villains. While this is all fine, they didn't bother to swap out the voices, so you have Elena running around, but talking in the same voice as Nathan Drake. There is something decidedly unnerving about hearing an attractive blonde woman speaking in the voice of a gruff man, particularly one that isn't hiding some sort of terrible surprise.
THE VERDICT: 6.75/10.00
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/24/10
Game Release: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (US, 11/16/07)
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