Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Reader Review
Second only to post-apocalyptic distopian landscapes...
...I'd have to say that one of my favourite game settings has got to be the mysterious spooky jungle-encrusted island. Lost Incan architecture, lush foliage, twinkling streams and the whoops and squawks of unseen fauna. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune does indeed have all of those things. What it doesn't have is a soul.
Let me explain. Take as an example that other well known treasure hunting series featuring the wonderfully pneumatic Ms Croft. Argue all you like but even though the series has gone through more versions and changes than Michael Jackson's fizzog, Tomb Raider has some of the best core gameplay elements of any exploration / combat game. Level design is peachy, character design is great (I mean you cannot stand there and tell me that you'd rather stare at Nathan Drake's rump than Lara Croft's? Even if you're female you're not excused) and Tomb Raider sells by the bucketload (we'll pretend Angel of Darkness never happened just for the duration of this review, OK?)
Drake's Fortune starts off by attracting you with some quite truly stunning visuals (with the odd bit of droppage and tearing here and there as you'd expect from a first-run PS3 title). It even has a pretty nifty storyline (though I'm not sure Sir Francis Drake dipped his wick in the New World so the spurious relationship with ol' Nathan is a loose one at best).
What Drake's Fortune really seriously lacks is challenge and something to get your teeth into. Unless of course you like a lot of combat on your biscuit...
Shoot 'em! All of 'em!
Many reviews have described the split of combat gameplay vs exploration as 60 / 40 in favour of exploration. I'd switch the ratio around, perhaps even describe it as 70% combat, 30 % exploration and platforming which is a shame because the combat masks the fact that anyone who's even had a passing experience with any other type of Tomb-Raider-Wannabe games will breeze through Drake's Fortune's actual exploration and puzzley bits like a whirlwind.
The odd thing is that the combat's not even that tactical or pleasurable either. It's challenging mostly because the enemy AI is quite tidy and does a good job of sniffing you out and grenading your arse into the back of beyond, but if you start to ramp up the difficulty levels, all you get are tougher enemies that are near-impossible to kill unless you're an absolute crack shot with the Dualshock 3 (Sadly I'm not, I don't like the long-travel sticks on the DS3).
I won't be completely horrible to Naughty Dog for producing a mediocre first stab at a new IP though. There are some truly lovely moments in Drake's Fortune, and more often than not I found myself admiring the subtle little effects that appear in the game by the truckload. The fact that Nathan Drake's jeans soak up just the right amount of water if he stands in a rocky pool. Or the fact that the dynamic lighting on some levels really does add immensely to the atmosphere of crawling through musty old ruins and steamy jungle landscapes.
Naughty Dog have categorically stated that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is intended to be the first game in a trilogy, and that makes me happy because it really does need revisiting, polishing up a tad, and injecting with more intelligent level design and puzzle design (hopefully at the expense of the combat). All told, it should be reasonably high up your list of priorities if you bagged a PS3 for christmas but if you've played Tomb Raider Legend or Anniversary on the 360 recently, don't get your hopes up that Uncharted will blow you away.
7 / 10