Review by neonreaper
So much sizzle, so little steak!
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a game that shows off the Playstation 3's performance, has a solid cast and story, great visuals and environments and sound, but struggles to provide rewarding gameplay. It's easy to get into the game, it's fun to follow from start to finish, but it becomes frustratingly repetitive to play. It's worth the time required to play through it, however, it just doesn't add up to a classic early generation game.
Nathan Drake is the protagonist, the descendant of Sir Francis Drake, and clued into some major treasure. He is paired up with a man named Sully as a business venture to retrieve El Dorado, and they are trailed by a reporter named Elena, who seems to care more about the documentary she is making than the treasure. Unfortunately for these guys, they aren't the only ones interested in obscene wealth, as sinister groups also pursue the treasure. Drake is a refreshing character, he's skilled and sharp, interjecting humorous bits during otherwise perilous circumstances. Naughty Dog resists whatever urges they might have had to make Drake a carbon copy "gritty" character, and they don't overcompensate by making Drake a wuss at all. He's the class clown but he's not obnoxious, very pleasing to have a guy like this in a modern game. Elena isn't terrible, but she's a bit inconsistent in terms of quality. She's a journalist that at times values her video camera more than anything else, and doesn't seem to have a proper perspective about the situation at hand. This doesn't become an obtuse character trait as it might seem, but it's hard to relate with what she's thinking. She helps out, has good interactions with Drake, but it's hard to see why she is following him and even pushing him to pursue treasure through a hail of bullets. Sully's role is a bit better and much easier to understand. This all said, the story is straightforward though there are some twists and turns here and there, but the emotional connections from the characters to the player aren't well established in Uncharted.
With a fun character cast, we get some terrific environments. Bright jungles, dank caves, eerie ruins, sheer cliff faces, an old submarine, etc, the game looks spectacular. Again, modern games tend to venture into "shades of brown and gray" but Uncharted takes place in paradise, and even the caves and tunnels don't seem to be entirely dismal, though they are properly dark. Well, properly in that some caves are supposedly old and untouched by humans for hundreds of years, but feature torches and gun-toting enemies. But the designs look good, and combined with some of the cool cut-scene and action elements the game does offer, it's a visual treat.
The game also sounds pretty good, making good use of surround for in-game effects and ambient noise. Jungle noises surround you, grenades leave a whistling effect if they explode near Drake, fire comes from all directions, etc. Menu effects sound generic and outdated but who cares. The music isn't terribly impressive. The voice work is terrific.
So with all this, we have a marketable title and all we need is some great gameplay to land ourselves a "game of the year" level title. Sadly Uncharted falls flat. The climbing sections are pretty good. It's nothing advanced in terms of gameplay, but it's fun and varied just enough to keep it interesting. The controls are mostly fine for this part of the game. Sometimes the camera rotates automatically, so when you want to jump to your right, you're jumping a little too far to the right as the camera rotates to Drake's left, and you dive off a cliff. Not something that happens often, but a groaner when it does.
There are a couple vehicle sections. The jeep is pretty cool, though probably a bit too easy. It's in place for the cinematic appeal so that's fine. The other vehicle, the jetski, is bad, sluggish and clunky and didn't feel very well thought-out or tested.
The biggest problem... third person cover shooter firefights. The controls aren't too bad here, but the general layout and pacing of fights is. There's basically no variety here, and the fights just feel like filler. You take cover, fire at enemies when it seems safe to do so, and that's 95% of the battles. Sometimes a grenade gets tossed you way and you have to take 3-4 steps to avoid the blast. Enemies have a disgusting AI where they all know exactly where you are, even if you moved around in cover and they shouldn't have any clue where you are. Some weapons are massive underpowered. Enemies seem to take too many bullets, but I think the pistol is balanced just fine - it's the assault weapons that are the problem. They are unwieldy and don't really do much damage, you're almost always better off using the pistol. As a result of this, you have to fill enemies full of bullets or simply fire way too many shots. You really only ever get in any danger if you try to get cute. No bosses, no real scripted battles with interesting solutions. It's just the same boring thing over and over. Hand-to-hand combat is barely worth mentioning.
There are a bunch of treasures to collect, which has you poking around every nook and cranny to find. Well, not really, you'll just look at an FAQ to get them. If you're a collect-a-thon fan, there's a spot for you here. It's not offensive at all and indeed fun to look for them on your own, but more of a distraction than anything.
Worth the time to play, an overall fun experience but the action sequences are often tedious at best.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (US, 11/16/07)
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