Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Reader Review
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, is brought to us by developers Naughty Dog, most famous in the past for their Jak & Daxter series. The action plays out wholly in third-person, and sees adventurer Nathan Drake set off in search of the lost city of El Dorado, and his ancestor, Sir Francis' treasure; the location of which he's tipped off about by records in a diary belonging to the famous seafarer, in whose freshly-recovered, otherwise empty, coffin the book is found.
At the start, Drake is working with a fellow treasure-seeker, Victor "Sully" Sullivan, who has found himself in a large amount of debt over the years, with some greedy, unsavoury sorts. Happily for him, though, he also owns the transport that "Nate" needs to get about. The two then, set off to find their fortune, and clear Sully's debt. They're accompanied by a TV presenter, Elena Fisher, who, when the game kicks off, seems more at home shooting objects, and old documents with her video camera for historical documentaries; than using firearms.
Set in the modern day, it's clear early on that the content of that coffin is considered very much "hot property", as it becomes apparent that Nathan and co. aren't the only ones searching for the missing haul, or the plans to locate it.
Much of Drake's journey involves traversing natural geometry with hidden depths, such as jungles, rivers, and cliff faces; towards his objectives. Natural elements such as greens, stone, water, fire and rockfaces are largely pushed to the fore. Speaking of geometry, it is vast, epic, and organic. Rivers flow, wonderful use of lighting does as good a job with canopy as ruin, and most of the time playing, you'll surely believe that the game's title rings true. These places haven't been used and inhabited for a long time. So, you're very much a stranger, in a strange land. You know as much as Drake about what's ahead.
It's well worth taking some time to explore the places that you'll visit, as the developers have carefully placed trinkets and indeed treasures of the long-lost peoples whose structures you discover, about the levels. The game is taking note of what you're up to, throughout, and awarding points at milestones which all tallies up towards a "Rewards" system (think exclusive achievements, the points for which relate to fun or informative content unlocks, which go a good way beyond the usual art/movie gallery, rising to things which alter aspects of the game, and live up to their moniker, being some good fun to fool with.)
Finding these objects, earns points, as does skill (or persistence) in combat. Yes, COMBAT. As mentioned earlier, Nate isn't going exploring alone, and he's not always the first visitor to arrive at his destinations, either. A group of pirate mercenaries are regularly seen engaged with the adventurer in a deadly cat-and-mouse affair for the gold!
You'll use pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles of varying power to disable your pursuers, although there's also a competent hand-to-hand combat system you can fall back on, and you've a stash of grenades on hand, should you run out of ammo clips, which can be collected from fallen foes. Judiciously placed explosive barrels can sometimes give an edge, but largely, your success in firefights comes down more to how well you can make use of the cover.
Enemies can fire from practically all angles, and a lot of the environment can give extra cover options, so shootouts are usually fairly high-tension affairs. Especially since enemies have really well developed AI. They'll work to flank intelligently, shout instructions to their comrades, throw grenades to draw you from cover, and can use the same cover system as you, to keep themselves from the path of bullets. The combat system is another brilliantly-realised part of the package. If you die during one, it was your fault, not the game's, which gives you all the control and maneuverability your surprisingly lithe explorer could ask for.
Drake adopts a credible, heavy-handed, unrefined approach to fisticuffs, which is skillfully animated, much like the other characters in the game. In fact, it's not only the characters, but also their clothes that have been given a great attention to detail. In a nice touch, entering bodies of water causes the fabric of Drake's top to become visibly drenched, and dry out in the sun shortly thereafter.
The game employs a system whereby, hitting the circle button, providing you're near a piece of cover, will snap Nate to it, allowing you to move as usual in cover till you reach an edge hold your aiming button (default L1) to peek out, fire a round, and release to return to safety. You're very much exploring the game's locations, and will regularly find that you'll need to solve some clues, or refer to Sir Francis' log, to proceed past the numerous intelligent puzzles on offer, amongst the game's ruins, to uncover their secrets. There's levers, but you'll be relieved to read, I'm sure, that you'll only be using them sparingly.
Though you can enable game hints in the pause menu, I didn't, on my playthrough on normal difficulty, which left the game manageable, as long as I put a little thought into what I was doing.
You'll regularly find though, that the environments themselves can in fact, be puzzles, too. It may be that you spy a seemingly out-of-reach ledge, or the tell-tale shimmer that the Reward-bringing treasure beckons you with, perhaps a deep pit, but you quickly find the game has a very strong vertical element to its navigation and level design. Which reinforces the epic nature of the load-free world, that's been created. Drake's particularly skilled at untethered rock climbing, and it's a great plus point for this, that the artists were able to find a way to highlight potential paths so they're visible to the player, without pulling them from the experience, and relying on hand-holding. Refreshingly, you explore. You choose your path, here. Drake will stop at the edge of ledges, and a further push will cause Nate to motion towards any adjacent hand-hold he can see, a further press of the cross button (also jump in the game) sending him on his way across the gap.
The camera is a great help throughout, sometimes prompting you to push a button to focus Nate's gaze on something of interest, and relevance to the task at hand. At others, it will give the proverbial tap on the shoulder, gently directing towards the right direction, in areas where the right path isn't immediately clear. Given the size of the game, vehicle transport is a must to get around, and Naughty Dog were happy to oblige, throwing your explorers sets of keys for a gun-mounted buggy, and a water speeder, for some largely on-rails, but enjoyably action-packed sequences.
The colour palette employed is really rich, with a strong contrast to most games released at the moment. Take my word for it, some of the sights are stunning, and well worth your time reaching the higher vantage points to experience them. It would be little use for Naughty Dog to have provided a fantastic oil painting to experience, but fear not, because the game world seems lived in, and animated, and aids your immersion in what you're doing - I found that the opportunity to witness what lay around the next corner was more than enough motivation to continue on, and the realisation never once disappointed. Audio too, plays a highly noteworthy part in the construction of the piece, with compelling use of ambience, along with motifs, and pulse raising clashes, as applicable to the onscreen action.
Finally, the actors of both leads and supporting cast do a great job, especially the voice actor of Drake. All of the main characters develop throughout the adventure, and the story they take part in should have no difficulty holding your interest (I found this to be an "enough hours in the day?" kind of game, so compelling was it) throughout the game's 22 chapters. I really had little complaint to find with this game. There was a time or two, where I'd have liked to have moved the camera, but found it rooted in place, uncharacteristically; but this wasn't in any critical location, and probably more a reality of the situation of being in a confined passage. There was a minor moment of draw-in delay, but again it was a benign failing, and one barely worth the mention. I'm not too technically minded, but I think I experienced occasional V Synch issues, but again this was isolated, and never impacted on my enjoyment of the game.
This game is categorically worthy of any PS3 owners time. I think most people will find it a very rewarding and well-done game to enjoy, which remains fresh throughout thanks to some standout design decisions, that keeps aggravation at bay, and interest high, and in the nature and diverse variety of surprises and narrative reveals that Nate's adventure brings to the player.
All in all, a hugely satisfying, consistently enjoyable, and progressively challenging game. I couldn't feel confident giving Uncharted: Drakes Fortune anything less than a score of...
10 / 10