A game that puts you on an Island and manages to make you believe better than almost any other game that it's all the same island and that it's all fitting together. Similar to Ico this is what makes your immersion into the game ever so much more potent. It does that by giving you vistas where you see architecture in the distance and then moves you there without you realizing it because they don't stop to take a pause (load) once during your treasure hunt.
The game is made up of a mixture of varying game mechanics from a 3rd person cover focused combat system, to puzzles and traversal over, under and through obstacles. The designers also just as all other designers put in smaller sections with different styles of play to keep the game fresh. These sections cover shooting from a jeep during an exciting race through the jungle and two different Jetski sections with you driving and shooting.
Story-wise the game takes inspiration from classical adventure movies like the Indiana Jones series and puts you in the role of Nathan Drake (ND for Naughty Dog I believe) a treasure hunter with brains. Additionally two other main characters are hunting with you and these serve the story well to give it some urgency. They manage to give the guy some character and it's a character you'll want to see again even though he's like a mixture of Indiana Jones and Han Solo (maybe that's exactly why actually).
But what they manage to do in the game which is something that's really hard to succeed with is to give him character while you're actually playing. They've created a staggering amount of animations for Nathan and they've also added a lot of voice over and comments for him to enhance the character of him. This is where motion capture animations aren't enough, to enhance the character with the animations you really have to hand animate (base some of it off of motion capture sure) most of everything to get it across. For example, in normal third person shooters you'll have an animation set for hiding behind cover and shooting and you might set that up to be for crouched and standing and from left and right. In Uncharted they've created a multitude of animation sets for every direction and cover type and added nice touches like being able to hang from a ledge and shoot or throw grenades. But another example is in the combat, usually when creating firing animations you'll create one for each direction and stance (well actually in the last generation of games it was very usual to just use one firing animation) but in this case they've added animations for shooting in all directions while running in any direction and also custom ones per weapon. Then they have some amazing touches like actually animating the normal maps of the back of the shirts, so you'll see the creases move as you're running and then they've made the clothes and skin become wet as you run in water and they also made it take into account the depth of the water.
Now why does things like that matter? Because it allows more freedom, both for the player character and the NPC characters. The player will have more freedom to move through the environment and believe what he'll be seeing, there are minor issues obviously and they might take away from the experience if you are nitpicking but because of the completeness of it you'll hardly care. For the NPCs it allows them a greater scope of behaviour for combat and somehow they've managed to create an AI that is both challenging and fun to watch. You'll see characters hiding behind cover and you expect them to sit there and maybe jump out to charge you but here they pop up, go out to the side, rush away from it to the next cover, creep out from the cover on the ground to avoid your firing. It's great to see.
Game is what you get
Combat wise the game functions well because of all the behaviours and the characters you'll be fighting are all stylized so you'll be able to identify which ones will be carrying what kind of weapon so you'll know how and when to take them out. You'll quickly learn that the fat sweaty guys wearing no shirts are fond of shotguns and the big fat revolvers. You'll learn that the red wearing cowboys (or whatever) have grenade launchers and are extremely dangerous.
Curiously you never grow tired of the enemies of the game, you'll learn to appreciate the standard types as they are much easier than the well equipped bastards that you'll fight later on and the situations where you'll fight are always unique, the environment always seem like it was there and you just happen to have a fire fight in it. It's not quite as stale as the level design of Gears of War even though it shares a lot of similarities with the cover design, Uncharted manages to pull a believable environment off while the AI keeps the combat working well even when there are multiple friendly targets. Uncharted also shares another thing with Gears and that's a monkey style enemy which is quite irritating, but in this game they're easier to take care off because they've implemented this run n gun style shooting which works really well so you never really have to stand still and aim for the bastards.
But the best part of the game is the traversal and puzzling, the puzzles are never really frustrating so you wont get stuck except maybe at one related to roman numerals which was quite different and fun. The traversal and platforming is based around jumping, jumping from ledges, grappling onto vines, climbing and so on and it's extremely well polished but what makes the traversal so nice is the excellent camera system. There is no 'hint'-system ala Prince of Persia that shows you what you are going to do but instead the camera almost always implies in which direction you should move as soon as you figure the first step. It makes the movement so smooth that you almost forget what you are doing.
A great game. Having no loading screens, a believable and well designed world and a well designed and realized main character make for a great immersive game. The combat is great and the extra sequences are fun but I would have liked to see more adventuring and more time to take in the views.
9 / 10