Review by druchrist

"PS3 owners now have something to hold over the head of 360 owners."

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review

Let's face it, PS3 owners haven't had much to be happy about lately. The price of the system and the fact that there is a thin list of solid exclusive titles are at odds. We've seen some lackluster titles as of late and if you had to choose between the PS3 and 360 versions of many games, the 360 version would win out more than not. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is here to solve that exact problem. It could easily be said that this is the best game for PS3, period. It could also be said that this is best game of the year. Simply, the game is outstanding.

Uncharted doesn't bring anything particular new to the table besides it graphics. But what it does do is execute, very cleanly, rock solid game play that has a good balance of gun fighting and unique platforming. It is in this way that the game is God of War-esque; the button sequences as well as the fact that the game play is just so darn fun. This is all told through a cinematic epic-sized scope, which makes these games similar again. God of War also wasn't by any means a breakthrough either. It built on its excellent combat and platforming, in the same way Uncharted does. To put it plainly, Uncharted is one of the most underrated games of the year and you will find it a very rewarding experience. I had not had this much fun playing a video game this year, and thinking back it had been a wile since I was this much engrossed in a game. Uncharted will leave you saying, “wow” and wanting to play through it again.

Before I get into the graphics, which are incredible, to say the least, something needs to be said about the story, particularly, the writing of Uncharted. Typically, in video games, when you talk about how good a game is written, it's like talking about the skinniest kid at fat camp. By that I mean, video games are a young medium which still lack in solid, truly artistic and creative writing. Let's face if you're going to be a writer and take yourself seriously today, you're not going to write video games. And if you are into writing scripts, you'd be more inclined to do screenwriting. This is not the case in Uncharted. Amy Henning has taken a new direction, away from her vampire games (Legacy of Kain series), and has helmed an incredible story that is not only exiting, genuinely funny, but very real in emotion. At its best Uncharted is like the Indiana Jones of video games, which is very positive comparison. Playing as Nathan Drake, a descendant of explorer Sir Francis Drake, the story blends history with Indonesian, German, Spanish, and South American cultures. Finding El Dorado is the main driving force of Drake, but he soon realizes what a difficult and dangerous task that is when Gabriel Roman, a rival treasure hunter gets a hold of the same map. Elena Fisher, a strong secondary character (and positive female figure, which is rare to see in games) armed with her camera, is trying to get the inside scoop and story the whole time while keeping up with Drake. The story takes off with itself and has fun. Even in act four, when the twist and turns come a bit out of left field, it feels ok and still flows. The subtle set up that you catch on the second play through will make up for it. Part mystery, part suspense, part adventure, part romance, this is everything you'd want in a game.

Continuing on this slight tangent, it is important to note that many times in video games the story is just there to fill the space of the game play and the dialogue is didactic, just talking heads. Character arcs are more like character slight bends (see example Master Chief and Kratos). Rather than creating the ultimate badass as a central character, which most games do, Nathan Drake is an everyman. This is the concept that Alfred Hitchcock uses with characters such as Cary Grant's portrayal of George Kaplan in North by Northwest. That is, he creates a person that you could imagine being. He's humanistic, flawed. Drake is no James Bond, which is refreshing for a video game. Drake's arch is noticeable and real, albeit subtle. It shows that main characters in video games can compete with main characters in films or fiction. Hopefully more games will step up to the plate like this when it comes to the story and characters so that video games can get the artistic credit that they deserve but rarely, if ever, get.

As far as the meat and potatoes of the game play goes, you will not be disappointed. The mix between gun fighting and platforming is done fairly well, although the gun fighting is much harder than platforming. I mentioned God of War before, and sometimes the gun fights remind me of that game when going from one group of enemies to the next. When playing on crushing especially, which is the hardest difficulty, you have to restart the fight many times in certain spots because you can't even see who's shooting you. The overall AI is good, and even when the game gets repetitive, it is still rewarding to beat. Armed with an array of pistols and heavier, automatic guns, Drake can take out enemies in a few ways. He also can engage in hand to hand combat (which is a little bit of button mashing and unbalanced) or use grenades. Some of the fun in the game is trying out all the different weapons and finding your favorite combination of pistol and automatic gun. What makes Uncharted's game play smooth is the cover system. Although not as easy to use as Gears of War's or as hard as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter's it works well. And it works because it feels real. When getting shot at, unlike Marcus Fenix or Master Chief, we die. This is why when Drake has to hide and cringe while bullets are whizzing over his head, it doesn't feel all that repetitive or tedious. Also, with smart AI that flanks you and tosses grenades in your direction, it keeps Drake moving. A small thing that is worth noting is the rewards system. Basically the same as 360 achievements, there are in-game rewards you can unlock by doing certain tasks such as killing ten enemies in a row with headshots. This adds to the replay value of the game and gives you some fun stuff to play with such as changing filters and alternate costumes.

Moving onto graphics, Uncharted makes it clear that it is a next-generation game. I feel confident saying that it is the best looking game on the PS3 which puts it very high in the running for best looking game on the market today. The absolutely spectacular environments and character designs show us the raw power of the PS3. Lush jungles, beautiful architectures, and incredibly realistic water are just some of the background features that stand out. The facial animations on the characters are another way the graphics shine through. In fact, all of Drake's movements are very fluid and natural looking. From the way he walks and jumps to the way he platforms, Drake looks almost clumsy at times, showing his human frailty. Also, watching his mouth move and facial expressions show just how detailed these characters are. Naughty Dog really stepped it up in the animation department. Beautiful looking (and obviously well written) cut scenes, wonderful lighting, and a solid frame rate make this game extremely smooth. There is a bit of a hassle with load times though, particularly loading a save file from the main menu. But other than that, the game renders well throughout.

Matching the visuals is the audio. Greg Edmonson composed the game's score which is up there as being one of the year's best. With the excellent musical direction of Chuck Doud (God of War), the music gives the game an epic feel. Edmonson's various tracks capture different elements of the game, and does so in a very cinematic and refreshing way. Good music adds so much to any game or film, and Edmonson has delivered that here incredibly well. Whether it's the exciting chase scenes, the mysterious clue finding, the moments between Elena and Drake, or the main theme, Edmonson's music is top-notch. Even the subtle drums and exotic, jungle-like sounds add volumes of depth. Kudos should be given to the entire sound department. The background noises are excellent as well. From the animals, to the water, to the various fighting sounds, everything is natural and placed well in the environments of the game. One final note in the audio is the superb voice acting. I stand by the statement that this game is by far and away the best voice acting ever done in a video game. There are few that compare. This goes back to the excellently written dialogue which flows off the tongues of Nolan North (Drake) and Emily Rose (Elena) very well. Rounding out the cast is Richard McGonagle as Victor Sullivan and Simon Templeman as Gabriel Roman. Both of these secondary characters come alive through terrific voice work. Special attention should be given to Gordon Hunt who directed the motion capture and voice over work. He did a great job bringing out some extremely strong performances.

Overall the presentation of Uncharted is some of the best in recent memory. The game play and story back it up strongly as well. Visuals are wonderful, and killer production values make this game a “gotta have it” for PS3 owners. Not as tough and lonely as Tomb Raider, and not as unrealistic as most modern shooters, Uncharted walks a fine line. It delivers in almost every element, some stronger than others. And even though the game is on the shorter side, it is filled with so much good stuff that it doesn't feel that way. If you have a PS3, this game should either be in it, or next to it. When it comes to PS3 exclusives…scratch that, when it comes to video games of 2007, Uncharted is near the top.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 04/16/08

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

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