Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Reader Review
Having enjoyed Naughty Dog�s output through the whole Jak series, I nevertheless have always stuck to the view that the first game of the trilogy was the best. The over-emphasis placed on shooting (Jak II) and driving (Jak 3) never quite lived up to the pure platforming goodness of Jak & Daxter. I also always thought it was harsh that Daxter�s name got dropped from the series� title, but there we go�
Upon hearing that Naughty Dog�s next game moved away from the cartoon platforming antics of Jak in favour of a more realistic portrayal of a classic Hollywood-style adventurer with gunplay at its core, I was a little concerned that this would be more Jak II: a good game, but not great. I needn�t have worried though - Uncharted is brilliant.
The story follows adventurer Nathan (Nate) Drake, who believes himself to be a descendent of the famous Sir Francis, on a quest for his long lost ancestor�s hidden treasure. Nate is accompanied on and off throughout his journey by pal Victor (Sully) Sullivan and TV presenter Elena Fisher (and her video camera). The plot sounds hackneyed enough, but it�s presented in such a way - and the characters are so warm, humorous and well-rounded - that you�ll enjoy this game like an Indiana Jones movie, no matter how far-fetched things might get.
From the outset, the learning curve is quite steep. Although this is a third person action adventure title, the opening level teaches you very quickly that you can�t play this game just by running around blasting everything in sight. Cover is key and you soon realise that getting the hell out of sight when your enemies are shooting at you is vitally important. Fortunately Naughty Dog have very sensibly kept things simple - the action of moving into a cover position is a simple matter of pressing the circle button. This snaps Nate to the wall, crate, rock, pillar or whatever you happen to be standing next to and then, from that cover, you can blind-fire or poke your head out to take aimed shots (holding L1 to aim, R1 to shoot) at the bad guys. It�s a system that works brilliantly and one which is still delivering plenty of entertainment as you close in on the game�s finale.
Hand-to-hand combat, including combos and more devastating moves requiring timed button presses are also available to you, but in all honesty, they play second fiddle to the gunplay for most of the game - unless, of course, you�re after one of the game�s many trophies, of which more in a moment.
The other facet to Nate�s adventuring is exploring and making your way around the various environments he finds himself in. Nate will jump, climb ladders, swing on vines/chains, leap across chasms, grab ledges - all wonderfully animated and natural looking. Leaps of faith are rare - perhaps the only complaint is that it�s sometimes hard to tell which vines can be climbed and which are just scenery. Fortunately, the game is also quite forgiving in terms of jumping - Nate will automatically grab hold of anything you direct him towards and the developers wisely avoid demanding pixel-perfection out of your acrobatics. Mistakes will still happen, but it will always feel like it was your mistake - not the game being unfair.
The final core gameplay facet, is of course, the puzzling. No treasure-hunting adventure would be complete without blocks to push, statues to move and traps to avoid. And whilst there�s nothing here that makes you marvel at the ingenuity of the design, it�s all good, enjoyable stuff that won�t have you so stumped that you�ll be heading off to GameFAQs every five minutes. They break up the action perfectly and you�ll actually enjoy having the breather in which to exercise your brain before the next bit of shooting or leaping around.
The action is further broken up by occasional vehicle sections. An on-rails shooting segment from the back of a jeep feels comfortingly familiar, but is still huge amounts of fun. Other sections are perhaps less enjoyable, but never to the point of frustration or boredom. They remain entertaining, but without ever threatening to overshadow the main gameplay.
Of course, no action adventure game would be complete without lush, detailed environments to explore, and here Uncharted certainly impresses. Bright colourful jungle environments, temples, ruined castles - it�s all here and it all looks superb. Special mention must also be made of the water effects, which are great when you see them in motion. Honestly, looking forward to seeing what�s around the next corner is hook enough to draw you through this game, and it really helps the PS3 live up to its next generation credentials.
So, are there any complaints? The occasional Quick Time Event creeps in here and there, and they are unfortunately the typical frustrating "instant-death unless you press circle NOW! Oh, you missed it because you weren�t expecting it, back to the last checkpoint" thing. I can honestly say, I got every single one the second time around simply because by then I knew what was coming. It�s perhaps as blessing that they feature so infrequently, but it is frustrating to be killed when they do occasionally crop up and you simply weren�t expecting it.
Other reviews have mentioned that the game�s length is not what it could be, but I managed to clock up a respectable 9 hours 54 minutes for my first play-through on Normal difficulty, although that was with a bit of time spent treasure hunting, so it�s probably fair to say a straight run through the story will take about 8-9 hours.
The treasure hunting, though is one of the core aspects of this game that makes it quite so compelling. As one of the first PS3 titles to include Trophy support, the prospect of playing the game a second (or even third) time to unlock that coveted 100% completion Platinum Trophy is strangely alluring. Trophies are awarded in the game for collecting treasures (scattered in various hidden locations throughout the game) and for dispatching enemies in a variety of different ways and with each of the different weapons at your disposal. The system is so compelling that it makes the prospect of playing through other games that don�t feature such trophy support somehow a little less enticing. Naughty Dog was certainly wise to prepare the trophy patch for Uncharted, since it will almost certainly be a sales driver for trophy hungry gamers, and the refusal of developers like Insomniac (Ratchet & Clank; Resistance) and Infinity Ward's (Call of Duty 4) to patch trophies into their games is disappointing.
But back to Uncharted. It�s a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing adventure which nails the core aspects of combat, gunplay, platforming and puzzling and combines them expertly with great graphics, likeable and well-voiced characters and an enjoyable plot. It�s certainly one of the PS3�s best titles, and with the added hook of trophies to collect, it should have a place in every PS3 owner�s collection.
9 / 10