Review by discoinferno84

"Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin' through Kashmir..."

El Dorado. A city of gold, sought after by conquerors and archaeologists alike. It's hidden somewhere deep in the jungles of South America, and despite centuries of searching, no one has a clue of its exact location…except for Nathan Drake. He's come across a journal that hints of something buried within the Amazon, and a statue of incredible value. Given his current financial woes and questionable job security as a treasure hunter, Nathan is more than ready to follow the clues wherever they lead. With his cohorts Sully and Elena acting as his backup, he thinks he's more than ready for what lies ahead. They'll have to move fast, though; there's more than one expedition to find El Dorado, and their rivals won't hesitate to kill for the sake of glory.

It's got the makings of a great adventure story. You've got rivaling teams of explorers, a legendary treasure, and only a handful of clues and historical context to guide the way. While plot pays homage to Indiana Jones and similar concepts, Uncharted goes a step further by providing its audience with unique and relatable characters. Nathan Drake is far cry from the generic action hero; he's clearly intelligent, but there's always this nagging sense that you can't quite trust him. His claims of being a descendant of Sir Francis Drake seem dubious, and mortality is questionable at best. He's also fully aware of how absurd the whole situation is, and has enough common sense to avoid danger whenever possible. His partner/mentor Sully is even worse; he's a dirty old rogue whose greed and poor judgment of character make him strangely likeable. Even Elena, who is relatively kinder and idealistic, is far braver and more capable than her appearance suggests. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast didn't get the same kind of treatment; aside from the scene –stealing Eddy Raja, the antagonists are one-dimensional and predictable. Thanks to the strength and depth of the protagonists, however, the story narrowly avoids being doomed to mediocrity.

While Uncharted thrives on its character-driven plot, its most important feature is its platforming mechanics. Thanks to years of archaeological expeditions and treasure hunting, Nathan is capable of performing incredible jumps and grabbing on to the tiniest of handholds. It could be a windowsill, a vine hanging from a nearby tree, a couple of loose bricks sticking out from a decrepit temple wall, or even the intricate mosaics decorating forgotten ruins. The most seemingly barren crypt could be hiding a series of platforms, and you've got to find it. That's actually one of the most annoying parts of the game; thanks to the occasionally poor lighting and inconsistent jumping physics, you waste several minutes leaping at random objects to see if Nathan will grab onto them. It's fine as long as you stick to the prescribed path, but if you try jumping toward a different object – something well within Nathan's range – he'll fall far short of it and scream as he plunges to a grisly demise. It's pretty jarring, and it prevents you from feeling fully immersed in the experience. While some of the platforming segments are quite lengthy and complex, it feels limited.

The same goes for the combat. Nathan's foes are more than happy to wipe out the competition, and they'll send in dozens of generic mercenary baddies to do their dirty work. You'll know you're in for a battle when you suddenly come across a large space with all kinds of ruins and obstacles to hide behind. As soon as they someone sees Nathan, every enemy will immediately start unloading their rounds at his position, and then attempt to flank him. You'll have to take cover behind something, endure a hail of bullets and explosions, and then pop up and return the favor. Your weapons consist of pistols, grenades, assault and sniper rifles, and rocket launchers. There's all just as bland and generic as they sound, and you can only carry two of them at once. That can be hassle, especially when you're frisking the dead bodies and constantly have to switch up for something with more bullets or better firepower. If you're careless, Nathan's bullet wounds cause the screen to gray out, and you'll have to run away until he somehow magically recover. It lessens the importance of strategy and timing, and it cheapens the overall challenge of the game. You could make things more interesting by having Nathan kill everyone out with his bare hands, but the unarmed combat mechanics usually boil down to timed button presses and random punching. Needless to say, the process gets repetitive; after a few of these gun fights to the death, you'll find yourself wishing for more platforming.

There's a good reason for that, too. Considering the huge emphasis placed on finding platforms and pathways in the unlikeliest of places, it's not surprising how incredibly detailed and visually stunning everything is. The first jungle areas are crammed with all kinds of thick and lush foliage, and the shadows change with the trees as they sway in the breeze. You can see the grand spectacle of a ruined fortress, from the overgrown trees to the chipped and rotting bricks of its facade. Sometimes it's not so much about the setting as it is about the scale; you could find yourself navigating some wall, only for the camera to take a few steps back and reveal that you're desperately clinging to a tiny crack in an enormous cliff face, with the ocean surging oh so far beneath you. There's an entire sequence involving you exploring and fighting through an ancient sunken city, and you can see the water lapping at what used to be the height of a civilization long past. The characters are just as detailed too; you can see the dirt and grime covering Nathan's shirt, and facial animations in the cutscenes are decent. The nicest touch, however, are the voices; your supposedly fearless hero screams as he makes a particularly long jump, and he frequently approaches deadly situations incredulity and sarcasm. While of the one-liners are cringe-worthy, the superb voice acting makes the whole experience much more entertaining.

That doesn't mean Drake's Fortune is perfect, though. Far from it. The platforming mechanics are superb…as long as you stick to the pre-determined path. There's not a lot of freedom to be had, and kills a lot of potential depth and exploration. Thanks to the questionable physics and occasionally obscure handholds, you can waste several minutes jumping at random objects and falling to a needless death. The combat breaks up the monotony fairly well, but the constant running for cover and shooting everything that moves gets old pretty quickly. The repetitive enemies and generic guns make the gun fights seem more of a chore than anything else. At least it looks pretty; aside from Metal Gear Solid 4 and a handful of other games, this easily one of the most beautiful games on the PS3. More importantly, Drake's Fortune does what few other games even attempt: it provides its audience with clever and appealing characters. Nathan isn't the typical action hero; his personality gives him depth and makes him seem more human. While the game may not be perfect, it's far too likeable to pass up.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 11/07/11

Game Release: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (Greatest Hits) (US, 08/16/09)

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