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Friday, October 14, 2011

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review

Written 04/01/2010
Note: Screenshot and video courtesy of Google Images and Youtube respectively, and credit goes to the original recorders.
The year is 2007, and the PS3 is having a really rough start. Most of what was available were cross-platform sports games and only one exclusive to truly rally around (that being Resistance: Fall of Man). Many believed that Sony had permanently lost its edge to Microsoft and that the PS3 would flop in a similar fashion to the Dreamcast. Undaunted by these speculations, Naughty Dog unleashed Uncharted: Drakes Fortune as a PS3 exclusive. With that, Sony loyalists finally had a game worthy of the then high priced PS3, and 360 owners had their first bouts of jealousy.

Visuals and Presentation

Uncharted is the first game of this console generation to truly tap into the extra power offered by the PS3, and it shows. The character models and textures are of a quality practically unseen in games up to this point. The clothes of every character wrinkle and stretch realistically depending on the movement of the character exactly like it would in real life. They also react to water in the most realistic way I've ever seen in a game. In most games, when a character gets wet their entire body becomes slightly darker for a moment then lighten up again; even if only their feet are actually wet. In Uncharted, only the part of the character that actually makes contact with water becomes wet. The effected clothes also become visibly heavier, drip, and take up to 2-3 minutes to dry off. Speaking of the water itself, it looks fantastic and behaves very naturally. Having attempted to make water myself in multiple game engines and seeing how truly difficult it is, I can attest that Uncharted's water is both an artistic and technical feat.

The environments also enjoy the same treatment as the characters, with lush jungles and ancient ruins. The lighting is dynamically rendered and is particularly awesome in the jungle environments where every leaf of every tree casts shadows along the environment and characters alike. My only qualm with the lighting is that it can be quite bright at times and hurt your eyes. Also, there these odd little dots that the light casts on some objects. The textures are colorful, but not so much so that you're distracted by it. My only complaint with the textures is that Naughty Dog gave too much specularity (I think that's the right function) to every texture; thus making 90% of the game look very wet when it doesn't necessarily need to.

The animations of the characters are top-notch work. Nathan Drake hardly ever does the same jump or lands the same way twice. He'll stumble, flail, and nearly fall over during movement. While in cover, he'll protectively cover his head when under heavy fire and flinch when bullets hit too close to him. Enemies will dodge and weave when shot at, dive for cover, and generally make you wish they would just stand still for just half a second. Overall, the visuals of Uncharted, while clearly topped by more recent titles, are still great eye-candy and will not disappoint.
Visuals and Presentation Rating:4 Star

The sound in Uncharted is just as good as its visuals, if not better. The voice acting is superb to the point that most of the voice actors should win film awards for their excellent performances. Nathan Drake in particular is a joy to listen to simply because he has so much variance in his tone and it all sounds completely natural. He can be cocky and self-confident one moment, immediately switch to being terrified and crying like a little baby the next, and go back to his usual self with a corny yet funny comment. Then there's the banter between him, his companions, and his enemies. All of it is very well written and performed. The quality of the voice acting never diminishes throughout the entire game.

Weapon sounds are also of the same great quality, with obviously weaker weapons sounding well, weak, to stronger weapons with an audio kick that makes you very happy to have upgraded your arsenal. The ambient sounds are very appropriate without being overpowering. For example, it's possible to know you're in the jungle simply by listening. The music is an original score of somewhat tribal music and modern melodies that fit the game perfectly. It's not often sound can beat visuals of Uncharted's quality, but that is done here and then some.

Sound Rating:5 Star

Uncharted is broken down into three major gameplay elements: platforming, shooting, and story. The platforming sections of the game are a sort of hybrid between what you would see in Assassin's Creed and Zelda: Ocarina of Time (minus the excruciatingly difficult puzzles). You are presented with the exit to an area, and you must find a way to open that exit and then run, jump, climb, and swing your way to victory.

The shooting sections are similar to something like Gears of War or Mass Effect 2 where cover is absolutely essential to success. Basically, you find cover that gives you the best possible position to view the whole area, figure out where the enemies are typically taking cover themselves, wait for them to poke themselves out of cover, and attempt to take them out before they duck back into cover. That sounds like a simple task I know, but it's not once you learn how smart the enemy AI can be. The enemies in Uncharted know when you're aiming at them and do everything in their power to prevent themselves from being shot. They will duck, dodge, weave, and dive for cover so often and so quickly that it will often feel like you're trying to squash a particularly fast and agile roach and keep missing.

The story section is...well...reserved for the story section of this review!

Gameplay Rating:5 Star
WARNING: Minor Spoiler Alert!
Unlike most games from the last 10 years, Uncharted's story is firmly set in the real first. Even when the story does go into strangeville though, it makes a lot of sense in the context of what's going on. It's the sort of thing that that'll make you say “y'know, if this or that really would have happened hundreds of years ago this could have been realistically possible”. I seem to be getting a little ahead of myself though.

At the beginning of the game you are introduced to the main character, Nathan Drake, a very witty and likeable guy who would be great to have at a party. Nathan is a treasure hunter and supposedly a descendent of Sir Francis Drake. He is looking for a vast treasure that he believes his ancestor was on the trail of before meeting an untimely demise. After breaking open the coffin supposedly belonging to Sir Francis Drake, Nathan finds not Sir Francis's body, but his diary instead. This diary gives a detailed account of Sir Francis's search for the Lost City of Gold, El Dorado, and every clue he had found up to that point.

To help fund the trip where Sir Francis had been searching for the city, Nathan agrees to have a History Channel-type person, Elena Fisher, follow him around and record his search on a TV program. Nathan also employs the help of his friend, Victor Sullivan, to bring him to this tropical island.

After the trio reaches the island, things get hairy very quickly. I don't want to say much beyond that as I'll be revealing some major spoilers, but expect a story worthy of a summer blockbuster release with some great action sequences, good character development, and witty/corny humor. To prove my point, a relative of mine who frequently sees me gaming walked into the room while a cutscene was happening and thought Uncharted was a movie. I had to agree that it certainly could pass off as one, but it was in fact a game. Overall, if you're looking for good (not utterly great, but still quite good) story with very believable characters that you would enjoy being around in real life, Uncharted is definitely for you.

Story Rating:4.5 Star
Replay Value

Considering that Uncharted is a very linear game that can be completed in 10 hours max, typically I would say that the replay value on a game like this is hardly worth talking about. Fortunately though, Uncharted is not a typical game in that respect. Scattered throughout each chapter are treasures that you can find which will earn you both PSN Trophies and in-game unlockables such as making-of videos for the game and concept art galleries. I'm unsure if those are the only types of rewards available, but the gameplay and story are so refined and fun that I wouldn't mind replaying the game just for that. So whether you're a completionist or you just enjoyed the game enough, Uncharted is definitely worth at least one replay, if not two.

Replay Value Rating:3 Star

Final Thoughts and Overall Score

Quite honestly, having never played a Naughty Dog game before, I was unsure what to expect from them with Uncharted. Not only was I very pleasantly surprised, but now I can't wait to play Uncharted 2: Among Thieves when I get more time!

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Overall Score:4.5 Star

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