Monday, September 26, 2011

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

With the launch of the PlayStation 3 in 2006, Naughty Dog, Insomniac, and Sucker Punch began developing more mature titles for the current console generation. In 2007, just a year after the console's launch, Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Similarly to Sucker Punch's Infamous, Uncharted contrasted with Naughty Dog's Jak and Daxter IP by crafting a third person shooter, but also by going for the feel of a Hollywood movie. The game received critical acclaim, leading to a sequel in 2009 and a third entry to be released this November. To build up to a review of that game, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, I will review the first two games starting with Drake's Fortune.

The story involves the protagonist Nathan Drake, essentially a modern day Indiana Jones, who finds the coffin of his ancestor Sir Francis Drake. Inside, he finds a clue that leads him to search for the legendary treasure of El Dorado. As he goes off to search for it he is accompanied by TV documentarian Elena, who also serves as his love interest, and his shady partner Sully. The narrative surrounding the events that follow is masterfully crafted, filled with plot twists, double crosses, and cliffhangers that are perfectly weaved into the game. I felt like I was invested in what was transpiring onscreen and the characters it involves, giving me more incentive to keep playing to find out what someone would do next.

What helps greatly with this is the graphics. For an early PS3 title, the game is still amazing to look at thanks to its heavy photorealism. From the lush and beautiful foliage to some incredible water flow and physics, the environment really contributes well to setting up the atmosphere of the game. Equally amazing are the range of expressions the characters can emote, especially in the cutscenes, assisted well by some great choices for voice acting. While the game may be almost four years old at this point, the effort put into it all helps it stand the test of time. From an overall graphical standpoint I would consider this game a landmark in what was possible at the time.

Thankfully, the gameplay manages to match the game very well, its design traits consisting of intense shootouts, well-done combat, light puzzle solving, and challenging platforming. While the guns are fun to use and control in the right ways, there is more of a focus on finding and moving between cover to stay alive. This helps to keep the player at the height of their senses, making them more aware of the three-dimensional plane around them. If an enemy gets particularly close, you can easily exchange fisticuffs with them, using timed button presses to gain even more ammo compared to simply shooting them. The AI is also pretty smart and challenging, but like with Duke Nukem II, it's the right level of difficulty that makes winning a firefight all the more satisfying once you outsmart their tactics. The platforming is also in the vein of Prince of Persia, with some slick animations and a more streamlined approach.

Since this game is very well constructed even now, I only had a couple of fairly minor complaints. When you get the chance to pilot a jet ski through tropical waters, it's an enjoyable change of pace but the controls felt off and sometimes it took the pace with it. The only other thing I found weird was the sudden genre shift close to the end of the game, which, while justified for the plot, felt odd to play through nonetheless.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a masterfully crafted gem from the dark early days of the PS3 worth playing even now. It knows what it's doing and definitely delivers on it, coming very close to feeling like an actual movie. If you have a PS3 and want to experience gaming to a new degree, go out and get this game (it should be fairly inexpensive by now). Next up is Uncharted 2, and I can't wait to see again how it improves on this already great package.

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