Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3) Review

I'm slowly defeating my backlog one game at a time. I finished Uncharted: Drake's Fortune this past week, and I wanted to write a review in anticipation for Uncharted 2. Here's the scoop.

Charting A Course For Adventure

Naughty Dog is best known for giving birth to Sony's earliest mascot, Crash Bandicoot. They later went on during the Playstation 2 era to create another phenomenal platforming series, Jak & Daxter. Now with the Playstation 3, Naughty Dog is once again coming out with a brand new intellectual property to capitalize on Sony's new hardware with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune featuring girls, guns, thrills, chills, treasure, and adrenaline-inducing moments. Is this action/adventure game buried treasure or a red herring?

Players take the role of charming Nathan Drake, ancestor of famed explorer, Sir Francis Drake. The story of Uncharted starts off with Nathan uncovering the coffin of his ancestor, but there's one catch. There's no body inside-- just Drake's journal that leads Nathan and friends on adventure to find the fabled El Dorado treasure. Unfortunately, Nathan and crew are not alone on this quest. A group of pirates is also after the gold, and they'll stop at nothing to get Nathan Drake out of the way. Voice acting is phenomenal, especially the quick-witted Drake who is just a likable character. There's enough twists and turns to keep the player engaged, but there is a quirky plot twist near the end of the game that may put some players off.

One extraordinary man, one extraordinary game.

There's three different main gameplay elements to Uncharted. The first that is introduced is Nathan's exceptional ability to scale mountains and traverse cliffs and ledges alike. Nathan can grab a hold of ledges, shimmy across them as well as swing on vines and ropes, climbing up them as well. The game does an excellent job of streamlining the climbing and making the act very enjoyable to do. Oftentimes you'll have to scan your surroundings in order to see what can be climbed on in order to progress. It's sort of like a puzzle element all on its own. Several times throughout the game's twenty-two chapters, you'll come across puzzles of the mind-busting variety. Thankfully, you're given hints via Sir Francis Drake's journal in how to solve them, so they don't become too cumbersome to pass.

If you can reach it, you can climb it.

Borrowing a chapter from games like Gears of War except without the steroids, Uncharted features gunplay. When you're not climbing or solving puzzles, you'll be taking cover behind crates, barrels, and natural objects, picking off hordes of enemies who have their eyes set on eliminating Nathan for good. Nathan can roll from cover to cover, fire blindly behind cover, peak out and shoot, and even change which side of the body he shoots from. Enemies aren't pushovers, however. They'll happily flank Nathan, gang up on him, toss grenades to smoke him out, and wait for him to come out before shooting. They're very good shots, too, even on the easiest of difficulties. Be prepared to die a lot in later modes, but thankfully there's more than enough checkpoints so repeating long stretches of the game never happen. As the game evolves, so do the enemies' weaponry. They start with meager pistols, but by the end of the game, they're using grenade launchers, sniper rifles, and magnums.

I'm kinda liking these odds.

Speaking of weaponry, Nathan can hold three weapons at a time. The first is always some type of pistol or handgun, the second is a larger automatic like a shotgun, machine gun, or rifle, and the third are grenades. When an enemy falls, Nathan can pick up his gun and start blasting away. When dealing with enemies, it's best to take them down from faraway with a one-hit kill headshot, but there are times when Nathan will have to get up close and personal taking foes out with powerful fists of fury and other melee attacks. Other than those times, cover is key because your health will quickly deteriorate shortly if you don't utilize it. The health system in Uncharted regenerates and is indicated by the screen greying up and Drake's heart beating faster and louder.

Sometimes getting touchy-feely helps.

Drake always won't be alone in the game, thankfully. There's several times where he'll be teamed up with a helping hand. The AI is surprisingly good. They'll seldom get in your way, they'll help clear a path for you, and they won't stay in harm's way. Nathan's good friend "Sullie" or Sullivan even leapt to help out with a puzzle before I was even ready to. That's efficiency!

The final type of gameplay in Uncharted are vehicle-based. One chapter has you riding on the back of a vehicle with the aim to fire at and destroy all persuers. It's easier said than done because you don't have any cover to hide behind, and your vehicle doesn't exactly have the plating of an armored van. You also take control of a jet ski in two chapters where once again, not having cover available to you makes the point of the game more frustrating than fun. Regardless, only three of the twenty-two chapters utilize vehicles, and the parts are relatively short and full of checkpoints.

Uncharted will take anywhere from 7-10 hours to complete on the easier difficulty levels, and a few hours more on the hardest challenge setting. That's just going through the game normally. Nate's a treasure hunter, so why not scour the land for booty? There's sixty-one treasures hidden throughout the game, some hidden in dastardly locations. Trophies have been enabled on top of the already in-place reward system. Completing in-game challenges like defeating five enemies with brutal combos give you points. The more points you earn, the more bonus material gets unlocked such as new skins for Nate and enemies, as well as visual touches like a sepia tone on the screen.

Who'd want to play this game in black and white though as the game is just gorgeous, and it truly is one of the best looking games graphically and design-wise. Vegetation is vibrant and lush, mountainsides are rough and rugged, and character models are exceedingly impressive. I think it's an awesome touch how entering water will make Nathan's clothes completely drenched, and it will slowly dry back to normal after awhile. These kinds of small touches make the entire graphical package a joy to look at, so those who are put off by Gears of War's grim graphics may just find a friend in Uncharted. The lack of apparent loading screens between chapters is also terrific, too.

Nathan Drake will travel the continent
over in search of fame and fortune.

Naughty Dog's latest magnum opus is a terrific game. It's part exploration, part third-person shooter, part Jet Moto, all fantastic. The climbing is a blast, the shooting is adrenaline-inducing, the pacing is magnificent, and the vehicular action is fine in short bursts. There's enough content to last the player well beyond the asking price. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a wonderful game for any Playstation 3 owner's collection, and it's the type of game that players will want to keep coming back to, at least until Uncharted 2 hits.

[SuperPhillip Says: 8.75/10]

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