Review by horror_spooky

"International Treasure"

Having only just recently purchased a PlayStation 3, I have been trying to catch up with all the great system exclusives that have been released over the years. The first game that really made me want a PS3 was Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and for good reason. The game looked amazing, fun, and was developed by one of my favorite developers of all time, Naughty Dog. Finally, three years after its release, I have played through this wonderful adventure. Let's just say, I really don't regret purchasing a PlayStation 3 after playing this game.

Uncharted is an action-adventure game with the emphasis on adventure. The title really feels like a combination between the National Treasure films, Indiana Jones, and the Tomb Raider games while also carving out its own identity. The end result is quite exciting. The game is mainly set in tropical jungle regions, where explorer Nathan Drake is attempting to find a hidden treasure he believes has been left behind to find by his ancestor, the legendary Sir Francis Drake. Drake is accompanied by Elena, a reporter looking to find her “story of the year”, and Sully, Drake's long-time partner in crime.

What unfolds is a grand adventure the likes of which gaming hasn't really ever seen before. The characters develop swimmingly along the way, and they become so damn likeable and cool that I felt like I'd known them for years. The snappy dialogue and excellent storytelling on the part of Naughty Dog attributes to this. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be shocked, and it will come as no surprise why PS3 owners have been bragging about this system-exclusive title since it landed on store shelves.

All that is fine and good, but when it boils down to it, the one thing that matters above all else in a game is the actual gameplay. Thankfully, Uncharted satisfies there as well, albeit with a couple of bumps in the road along the way.

To describe Uncharted, I've seen many people use descriptors like “Gears of War meets Tomb Raider” and things of that nature. While I will admit that Uncharted definitely borrows a lot of elements from a variety of different games, it does so in a way that makes it feel like it's truly new and innovative. I am reminded of Naughty Dog's buddy studio Insomniac and their Resistance: Fall of Man launch title. Resistance took a lot of the best aspects of basically every major first-person shooter ever crafted and still managed to feel like a brand new way to play an FPS. Uncharted does this for third-person shooters as well, giving us something we've never really seen before.

Players control Nathan Drake, who has apparently been hanging out with Ezio or the Prince (of Persia, that is). Drake can complete some rather insane platforming segments without much trouble. He jumps across wide gaps and just manages to grab a ledge with one hand to avoid falling to his death. He can scale tall buildings and even swinging on vines like he's Donkey Kong or something. Platforming does indeed play a big role in Uncharted, and while it's mostly awesome and exhilarating, there are control issues. There were times when I tried to jump onto a ledge only to have Drake jump in a completely different direction for no reason at all. This would have been a huge gameplay issue if Uncharted didn't have generous, fair checkpoints, and it never really gets frustrating. It's just a flaw that needs to be ironed out in future entries.

Combat is done in a neat way. Instead of the camera always hanging behind Drake's shoulder like the Resident Evil and Gears of War games, the camera is mostly hanging out away from Drake. It zooms in when necessary, backs out when necessary, and never gets in the way of the gaming. When Drake wants to aim more efficiently, a simple pull of the left trigger is all that is necessary. The camera then swoops down behind Drake's shoulder. I loved this. A lot.

Unfortunately, the combat sections are not perfect. The main reason this is happens to be the cover mechanic. Just like most games that employ a covering system, there are times in Uncharted when you will try to get behind cover only to have Drake zoom over to a piece of cover in the open, where he is vulnerable to being filled with holes by enemies. The regenerating health system helps to alleviate these headaches, as do the generous checkpoints, but this is a design flaw present in many games that desperately needs addressed for games to improve.

Melee combat is also present in the game, but it's far more advanced that simply running up to an enemy and pistol whipping them. There are fast combos that players can pull off by tapping the square button four times in succession, or brutal combos where players can alternate between square and triangle with devastating results. The combat is slick and animated perfectly, with the action on screen making sense. Drake doesn't just throw random punches. Instead he reacts naturally to what the enemies are doing. If Drake goes for a kick and an enemy grabs his foot, the next button press will have Drake use an enziguri to take the guard down. A game that has a very similar combat system is the Batman: Arkham Asylum game, and it's nice to know that since its release, other games have borrowed this new ideal combat system from Uncharted.

I actually enjoyed the hand-to-hand combat much more than the gun fighting. Don't get me wrong, the system in place here is fine, and with flashes of awesome. It's really fun to blind-lob a grenade from behind cover, having it land perfectly at an enemy's feet, and then watch him flying through the air like a ragdoll. My only issue with this is that the game limits players to only holding two guns at a time. What tends to happen is ammo will become scarce when it is needed the most, and players will have to pull some suicide runs to restock on ammunition. I understand that this two-gun system works in games like Call of Duty and Halo, but is it really necessary for it to be present in every action game ever nowadays? I don't think so.

Puzzle elements are also present in the game, and are oftentimes combined with the platforming. These environmental puzzles are fun to solve, and bring back memories of the golden age of survival-horror games in the fifth generation. The line between action-adventure and survival-horror are blurred even more by the time the credits roll, but I don't want to get into any more details in order to avoid potential spoilers.

Uncharted is quite possibly the best looking game I've ever played. And if it's not, it's up there in the top five. Simply put, the game is gorgeous. The environments are sleek and sexy, the character models are amazing, and the animation is unprecedented. Explosions are jaw-dropping and the water effects would make BioShock blush. The lighting and shadows are unparalleled in games and the level of detail is rivaled only by the Mass Effect series. I could really not believe how good looking this game is. It's practically photorealistic. It's the most visually pleasing video game I can remember.

I wish the technical aspects of the game were as perfect. The framerate does tend to drop occasionally, especially when there's a lot of luscious, green foliage taking up the majority of the screen. Glitches appear occasionally, with enemies getting their heads stuck in walls after they are killed and getting stuck on objects—things like that. There was one time when I reached a checkpoint, saved, and quit, and then came back to find that I was actually farther in the game than I was before. It was quite strange, but I was only a couple minutes ahead of myself so it wasn't game-breaking.

In order to make the characters as likeable and memorable as they are, superb voice-acting was a must. Thankfully, the voice acting in Uncharted is truly amazing. It's done perfectly, actually. Each character really feels like they are actual people. If that wasn't enough, the soundtrack is crazy-good as well. Featuring a wonderful orchestrated score mixed in with a variety of exotic sounds, the audio quality in Uncharted is, like the visuals, unparalleled in video games. It's really something that has to be experienced to be believed.

Uncharted is a surprisingly lengthy game, ranging from ten to fifteen hours depending on skill. However, the fun doesn't stop there. Back before the PS3 had trophies, many games added their own achievement system. Drake's Fortune has a system like this, rewarding players for getting so many kills with a specific weapon or collecting the hidden treasures in the game. Since the inception of trophies, however, players with PlayStation Network access that play Uncharted will be prompted to download the latest update. This update adds trophy support, giving even more incentive to fully complete the game. Each chapter can be individually played as well, adding even more replayability. Oh, and upon completing these achievement-like challenges, players unlock concept art, videos, and a whole slew of extras. There's really a lot of game here, and Naughty Dog, once again, doesn't disappoint.

Owning a PlayStation 3 and not owning Uncharted: Drake's Fortune just doesn't make sense. It's a must-have title for the system, and it's one of the best games this generation. There are minor issues with the gameplay that need ironed out, but the rest of the package is perfect. The visuals and audio are amazing. The storyline and the characters are unforgettable. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is an excellent example of how games are an art form, and if you haven't played this game yet, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy as soon as possible. It's time to do some adventuring.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/22/10

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

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