Review by Fallen Horseman

"Sony's Playstation 3 Enters Uncharted Territory with Naughty Dog's Masterpiece!"

When I first heard of this game I have to admit I was a little sceptical. In my lifetime I have only played one Naughty Dog game, which was Crash Team Racing on the Playstation. Since then Naughty Dog has created the acclaimed Jak & Daxter series which were extremely solid entries into the platforming genre, a genre which I have to admit, I am not a very big fan of. I played the original Tomb Raider, which this game drew many comparisons to, and I hated it. But I tried the game out and was pleasantly surprised.

You play as an ordinary treasure hunter named Nathan Drake, and from the get-go you are immediately put into an extraordinary situation (which is one of the official Sony taglines for the game). The game begins in a boat in which our protagonist and a female reporter named Elena find the coffin of legendary explorer Sir Francis Drake. In it, they find no traces of the Englishman but instead find his diary. This diary contains notes about the fabled city of El Dorado which interests our hero greatly. (Nathan) Drake now sets out to find the lost city uncovering clues, mercenaries, and other prominent characters along the way. This is about as much as I can say without divulging any spoilers, but the story will keep you interested throughout the whole game.

Of course some people might draw some parallels to stories in the Indiana Jones movies as well as the Tomb Raider series, but that is to be expected, since they are all about treasure hunters. The story flows very well in the game keeping the gamer on the edge of their seat eager to uncover more of the plot. I mean, where else can you find a German U-Boat in the middle of a waterfall only to find its crew were killed in a horrific manner?

Graphically the game is beautiful. The textures, animations and lighting are all expertly done. The jungles are lush and vibrant, though there are only a small amount of different animals in the levels. It doesn't take away from the experience much, but it's just a small quirk I have. The camera angles are also very well placed. Most of the game the player can control the camera with the right analog stick but there are times when the camera becomes static due to some sort of platforming that must be done. This adds to the experience greatly as the camera during those times is placed in such an angle that it adds an “epic” feel to the game. Simply, some of the camera angles make it look like you are watching/playing a motion picture. Cutscenes are also full of life and colour. Definitely one of the best looking games for this generation at the moment.

Characters look wonderful as well. The action of each character and their facial expressions adds to the realistic experience that the game tries to provide (at least graphically). Something I found very cool was the fact that Drake's shirt would look wet once he is in the water and proceed to look dry once he is out of it.

The game also does a great job in the audio department. The background sound creates a nice ambience to the game. There is also some top-notch voice acting without any of the voices seeming to be too over-the-top or out of place. Each of the main characters has their own voice style which adds authenticity to the game and to the characters themselves. The mercenaries though have really only a few lines of dialogue, unless it is part of a cutscene. The lack of mercenary dialogue does not make the game suffer, as their chatter is few and far between to make it too annoying, but enough to keep the game flowing well. The sound effects are also top notch. Gunfire, explosions, and motors all sound very realistic and of course the game plays great with surround sound.

How the game plays is always the most important part of any gaming experience. First off, I have to say, since this is one of the features I like best in this game, is the lack of loading mid-game. The only loading that is done is during a loading of a game, and in some cases, loading after you die. But other than that, the game is basically load-free so you can expect a seamless, uninterrupted experience when playing this game. The game also carries a very nice pace. You can basically complete this game in one sitting (assuming you have a fair bit of free time) and there won't be any interruptions with your gaming. There is a cutscene here and there but they don't cause any distractions. To simplify, a lot of the game is just platform, gunfight, and the occasional “exploration”. Sometimes if a player gets stuck (which will happen in some cases), the game will prompt you to press a button which will display where our protagonist has to go or do which is very helpful.

In essence the game is a third-person platforming shooter. Let's start with the platforming. The platforming is very simple. Drake can hold onto most ledges or cliffs without any problems (though it's not on the level as Assassin's Creed). Of course this is a major part of the game but it is not difficult to master. A few chapters into the game and you'll be a pro at the platforming. There isn't a lot of variety in the kind of platforming one does in the game, since a lot of it is climbing a ledge here and jumping to a cliff, but the game does this element very well that variety becomes a non-issue. Like I said in the graphics paragraph, sometimes the platforming is helped out with amazing camera angles that show a great scale of how much you have to do to get to one side to another. There is loads of fun to be had with the platforming aspect of the game. Puzzle solving is not too tasking either. For all the puzzles, our hero will have a document that will help him complete his tasks. Though not too descriptive, the documents carry enough information to solve any of the puzzles found in the game.

This leads me to the other main part of the game, the combat. There are two different types of combat, melee and ranged (gun fighting). Melee is very simple to do with just a few button presses which will knock/kill an enemy. There are extremely simple combos with pressing the square button repeatedly and there are more “advanced” combos which require timing and different buttons to pull off. At times the player can even go for the “stealth” kill when you approach an enemy from behind and activate the melee button in which Drake will snap said foe's neck. Drake can also do a few flying moves such as drop kicks or flying forearms which also act as a one-hit knockout. Either way you attack an enemy, the melee portion of the game is very satisfying, even though it might require some time to get used to.

Next form of combat is the gun combat. This is where the game takes a minute dip in quality. There is an assortment of guns in this game such as an average pistol, Uzis, shotguns, AK-47s and more as well as grenades to provide an extra boost in killing power. Exploding barrels are also littered around levels to assist the player in taking on hordes of enemies. While this may sound all well and good, but there is one minor flaw that might keep players from enjoying the game immediately, which is the aiming. Aiming is hard, especially for beginners. The player gets a small cursor (if you will) for aiming at Drake's targets. Though this isn't really a problem for close(r) targets, the ones in the distance are harder to kill. I found myself aiming for the general area just hoping for a kill in the distance. I suppose the developers did this to add more realism but there are times when aiming gets pretty hard. Even with this small problem (which can be remedied by spending a little time with the aiming system) the game's gun combat plays really well.

But of course to add even more realism in gun combat and everything else, Drake utilizes cover in the game. I've never played Gears of War for the Xbox 360 but I have heard it being compared to that (in terms of covering), which is always a good thing considering that Gears basically pioneered and set the standard for third person cover. The game does it well, providing a seamless experience when running to and from cover. Another thing is that enemies do have a fair bit of health on them. The collision detection is great, as a head-shot is in instant kill, but it does take about three chest shots to take down a mercenary. In some cases, even if you hit an enemy with a full clip, he will still not die as you might have shot him in the limbs and less on the chest or head. When you enter a gunfight, be prepared, because you WILL be swarmed by many enemies. Do not expect an easy and quick firefight as at times you will have to kill more than 10 enemies to progress.

Health in the game is similar to games such as the Call of Duty series. Drake doesn't have a set gauge for his life. Instead the game will begin to discolour and turn black and white when Drake gets really hurt. Staying away from any danger for a few seconds will replenish Drake's health and the screen will begin to colour itself up again. I've always liked this type of health system, as it gives a sense of urgency to the game. It also makes it easier to focus on the action instead of your life gauge when fighting enemies.

The enemy AI is pretty well developed. Since you can use cover, the developers also felt that it would be fair to give your enemies the ability to seek cover as well. Most enemies will try their best to find cover while attacking you. Another neat feature is that they also slide and duck to try to avoid fire and the more properly equipped mercenaries (such as the shotgun-toting maniacs) will even try to flank you. Some of them will even lob grenades at you with a pretty high degree of accuracy. A small quirk about grenades and the AI is that they do not try to avoid grenades in their vicinity. The enemies will just scream but they won't make any effort to run away from the grenade. There are also parts in the game where you will travel with another person (such as Elena). Their AI too is adaptive and well created. These helpful characters will assist you in killing the many foes that attack you and they also seek cover as well. A great thing about these NPCs is that you do not have to take care of them. They are for all intents and purposes, immortal and can take any fire given to them.

Occasionally our protagonists will find a jet-ski somewhere during their travels and you will have to ride the jet-ski to a certain area, as one might expect. The controls for the jet-ski are pretty easy to learn and control. Though the mercenaries have somehow anticipated your jet-ski escapades and have conveniently placed exploding barrels in the rivers that you find yourself traveling in. To add a little more difficulty, mercenaries are also placed in some points of the river to stop your progress. Disposing of these problems is easy enough, as you can shoot at them to eliminate any obstacles you might find. These moments of jet-ski heaven are a nice break from all the usual running and platforming that our character usually does.

There is some replay value in this game. On average, the game takes about 8-10 hours to complete, with options of a higher difficulty which can be unlocked (crushing). There are also medals and treasures to collect which add to the experience. There are also medals and treasures to collect which add to the experience. Some of these unlockables include new player costumes, a weapon select, infinite ammo, and production art.

One year after the Playstation 3 was introduced; the developers Naughty Dog released a gaming masterpiece of a mixture of platforming and third-person shooting in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The game in short, can be described as “epic”. From beginning to end players will be hooked on this game and will be immersed in its rich storyline. It truly is a cinematic experience. It is THE must-have game that the Playstation 3 needed and it exceeded the hype and high expectations many gamers had for this game. Let's just hope that this is the beginning of a long running franchise and that Naughty Dog will continue to wow its players with high quality games like this one. This game nothing short of the masterpiece that Sony's Playstation 3 desperately needed.

Next Gen Review #1: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

- Great production values
- Easy to get into
- Nice mixture of platforming and gun fights
- Great enemy AI
- Decent amount of replayability

- “Short” single player campaign
- Sometimes gun fights become too over-bearing (too many people to kill at one time)

Story: 9/10
Graphics: 10/10
Sound: 10/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Replay Value: 9/10

Overall (Not an average): 9/10

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/26/07, Updated 12/13/07

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

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