Review by Archmonk Iga

"Drake's Fortune is the perfect showcase for what the PS3 is capable of."

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was undoubtedly the best game to show what the PS3 was capable of back when it was released in 2007. From its fascinating opening moments to its action-packed conclusion, many agreed that Uncharted was the official model of Sony's “next-gen.” And while its sequels have done nothing but improve upon the series' gameplay to yield much finer products, the Playstation 3 would not be where it is today without this modest yet ambitious effort from Naughty Dog.

PRESENTATION:
Drake's Fortune follows Nathan “Nate” Drake, who claims to be a descendant of Sir Francis Drake himself. Accompanied by his old friend Victor “Sully” Sullivan and journalist Elena Fisher, he travels to an island in the Pacific to uncover the secret treasure of El Dorado.

What's great about Drake's Fortune's story is that it sort of throws you into “a day in the life” of Nate. You can tell he's been doing this kind of thing as a day job for a good while now, because of his amazing athleticism, his skill with firearms, and his surprising historical knowledge. Nate himself has certainly become the “face” of the PS3, and for good reason. He can climb a crumbling tower's outer wall with no effort, sure, but other than that he's got everything a good console mascot needs. He's attractive and he knows it, but his arrogance often gets the best of him. He's also got a great sense of humor, cracking smartass remarks in between every uncovered mystery. Truth be told, he wouldn't be much without such a great supporting cast, since Sully and Elena provide plenty of entertainment too, and the trio's chemistry is completely believable.

Of course, solving the mysteries of the island will take more than some Off! bugspray and a magnifying glass. There are other people trying to get their hands on the treasure for less desirable reasons—incalculable wealth comes to mind. Added together, Drake's Fortune is essentially a seven-hour action movie that you control, paired with a great mystery. What was Sir Francis Drake looking for? What's with the U-Boats? How is Sully's arthritis not slowing him down? Will Nate and Elena hook up? I guess there's only one way for you to find out!
PRESENTATION: 8/10

GRAPHICS:
The Uncharted series only looks better with each sequel, but even nearly five years later, Drake's Fortune demonstrates just how powerful the PS3 is. There is a view in one of the early chapters where you can stand on a ledge, and on one side is the vast Pacific as if it were the real thing, and on the other is the lush tropic setting of the island. Never has a game's graphics immersed me so much—Drake's Fortune proves how important visuals are in the medium, and if you disagree then you obviously haven't played it. Character models are exceptional—Nate may stumble when he climbs an uneven step, Elena will have a focused look on her face right before she pulls out her camera, and all the enemies have varying looks and act accordingly to where they get hit. At times an enemy's death will yield a laughable animation, and now and then you may see a bit of screen tearing, but for the most part the only thing that looks better than this game is an actual tropical island (and Uncharted 2 and 3).
GRAPHICS: 9.5/10

SOUNDS:
“Nate's Theme” is by far the most memorable track in Drake's Fortune, pulling you into the game before you're even able to load up your save. The soundtrack's production is very organic, with wood flutes and exotic percussion sections dominating most of it. It may seem static in many of the cutscenes for those who replay it several times, but it fits the environment to a T.

Even more impressive is the voice work. While the enemies shout the same lines over and over again, the main cast does its job perfectly. Everyone fits so well with their character, it's surprising that other games, even now, can't do it right. Naughty Dog really knew what they were doing here.
SOUNDS: 9.0/10

GAMEPLAY:
The story is great, the characters even better, and the graphics define what it means to be “next-gen.” But what does Drake's Fortune bring to the next-gen table in terms of how you play it? The answer is both a lot and a little.

Fans of Lara Croft will immediately see her inspiration in Nate's adventure. There is a LOT of climbing, shimmying, crawling, and more climbing to do in the ruins throughout Drake's Fortune. In fact, climbing takes up half of the entire game. What makes these tasks bearable is the fact that they're mostly pretty easy and self-explanatory. If you see a brick jutting out from the wall, then that's probably the direction you need to go. The puzzles are similar, except that they are SO easy that they would have been better off omitted from the game. Hell, they're so easy it's almost insulting, to be honest.

The other half of the game comes from the gunplay. With unique enemy AI in every shooting section, there is never a dull moment in the more action-oriented segments. Enemies vary in skill and health, but there's always the one-trick-pony with the headshot no matter who you're facing. Towards the end of the game there is also an interesting plot twist that pits you against many foes that you really cannot plan for.

Nate's skill with a gun is extremely accurate, and the more you play the better you get. You can also perform melee attacks, but their execution is pretty uncomfortable no matter the situation. Also uncomfortable is throwing grenades, which has you tilt your six-axis controller to help you aim—an unnecessary and gaudy addition to otherwise very polished action. There are some VERY intense vehicle sections spread throughout the game too, and they are both challenging and fun.

The pacing of Drake's Fortune could have been better. For the most part, you will spend ten minutes climbing or puzzle-solving, ten minutes shooting bad guys, and repeating this process. It makes the story seem a little less authentic. The fact that Nate's death simply means memorizing enemy spawn points doesn't help. Thankfully, checkpoints are pretty forgivable, so if you're playing on Hard or Crushing modes, annoyance is often replaced with determination.

But we have seen all of this content before, so what really makes Drake's Fortune “next-gen” aside from its aesthetics? There are two things of note. First is the VERY minimal heads-up-display, which only shows your ammunition in the corner. In fact, even this tiny HUD is absent unless you're fighting, which means that there is nothing onscreen aside from the game itself. And with a game that looks this good, that's quite a gift. The way your health is measured is by the screen gradually losing its color. If it turns completely black and white, then you know you've got to get behind cover and wait a little bit. No health pickups in Drake's Fortune—just a little downtime will get Nate back in fighting condition. The second “next-gen” feature is when Nate is fighting alongside Sully or Elena. Unlike other games with sidekicks, there is no babysitting needed. Hell, they might even be the ones babysitting YOU. They CAN'T die and cause you to restart your checkpoint, but they will certainly help you gun down the hordes of enemies coming your way.
Otherwise, there really isn't a whole lot of new content in Drake's Fortune's gameplay department, especially compared to its visual prowess. But both its action and platforming sections are so well conceived and thought through that the game ends up being a pure joy to play. There's nothing wrong with a game simply being fun, now is there?
GAMEPLAY: 8/10

REPLAY VALUE:
My first run of Drake's Fortune barely took me seven hours on Easy mode. Hard mode will take about the same amount of time because of familiarity, as will Crushing. Overall, it took me less than twenty hours to get the platinum trophy for Drake's Fortune—that is, replaying the game THREE times PLUS some finishing touches on the more finicky trophies. Even finding all 60 treasures is pretty easy. Like I said, the game is SO short—many people will find Drake's Fortune to be nothing more than a rental.
REPLAY VALUE: 3.5/10

OVERALL:
Drake's Fortune is a humble beginning to an amazing trio of games for the PS3's beloved series. In terms of videogames in general however, it is a showcase for what a game can be capable of. It's an endearing journey with a great cast that immerses you so much better than many other games on the market. And while its staying power is quite limited, the first Uncharted is still one hell of a ride.
OVERALL: 7.1/10


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 02/27/12

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


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