Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Preview
It's always the lesser hyped games that take us by surprise if they turn out to be top-quality, but the upcoming Naughty Dog production, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, falls somewhere in between. To this point, the videos and previews have looked great - check out the demo on the PlayStation Store if you haven't already - but some questions have been raised over the past few weeks. Most PS3 owners have probably heard of the game, but they likely don't know much about it. Therefore, it's our job to get you all caught up, and we have the benefit of using some very recent info thanks to the Games Convention 2007 in Leipzig. This one looks very promising...provided the developers can work through a few kinks here and there.
The story is intriguing enough: the coffin of Sir Francis Drake holds a four-century-old clue, and this clue causes a modern-day treasure hunter (kinda like Indiana Jones only without the archaeology degree) to take off on a rousing adventure. His name is Nathan Drake - don't think too hard about the possible relation - and he's searching for the legendary treasure trove of El Dorado. However, before he can locate El Dorado, he finds an undiscovered island in the midst of the massive Pacific Ocean. The island is mostly non-descript, but it's also overrun by mercenaries, who are hell-bent on taking out Drake and his comrades...and the horrendous secrets of this island will slowly come to light. Naughty Dog is well known for great stories and relatively intricate plotlines, and that ability should come to the forefront in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Oh, and it should also look very realistic; they've promised extremely "lifelike environments."
Because this title is particularly difficult to clearly categorize, it's best to compare it to games you're familiar with: as you can see from some of the screenshots, you'll be utilizing an over-the-shoulder view for some of the action, and platforming aspects (like we find in Naughty Dog's famous Jak and Daxter titles) should also be evident. But it's not all action; there will be multiple puzzle-solving sections, which remind us most of the Tomb Raider series. In other words, you're looking at the quintessential next-generation action/adventure game...which may or may not clarify the situation for you. There will be plenty of action, but you can't just blast your way through because you'll need both platforming and puzzle solving skills. Therefore, you should expect a blend of many different styles, but we're hoping that it all comes together into one cohesive and ultimately entertaining experience.
One of the more interesting visual components of the game is the "layered" animations. In addition to the downright beautiful tropical environment, the developers are using a brand new system for animations that literally allows them to be layered, which allows for ultra-realistic reactions and movements. We won't get too technical here, but essentially, this means there is no start-and-stop script for the animations in Uncharted; a character won't have to complete one animation before he/she can start another one. The second action will actually overlap the first - thus, the "layering" label - which should translate to a very dynamic and seamless graphical presentation. And given the fact that there are supposedly thousands upon thousands of animations, this game could end up being one of the most visually impressive titles on the PS3. Take a gander at some of the screenshots to get a better idea of what to expect.
Obviously, the player will be using standard third-person shooter controls, but from what we've heard based on demos on display at the GC 2007 and at PAX, it seems there is one ongoing issue- when aiming or controlling the camera, testers have found that everything seems a little loose. A loose aiming control would certainly cause some issues with the gameplay, and a floaty camera would only add to the problem. However, it's something that can be fixed before the game releases this fall; it's simply a matter of tightening up the controls and offering a more compact experience. One other question centers on the issue of balance; demo players have found the pistol to be strangely more effective than automatic weapons like the AK-47. Maybe this is a Halo-esque maneuver, where the military pistol was very effective if used correctly. But if it has nothing to do with strategy, than it's just a balance problem.
Thankfully, Naughty Dog has already heard and processed this feedback, and they've said they're working on several potential fixes for the aforementioned negatives. For example, each weapon may end up having different distance and accuracy ratings, which would be a welcome addition. After all, it does make perfect sense that the pistol might be more accurate than the AK-47, but of course, the pistol shouldn't be more powerful. A shotgun would have a poor range while a rifle would have better range, the accuracy of any weapon should decrease as the distance gets longer (but at altering rates), projectiles could be aimed but only up to a certain point, etc. Really, if the developers hunker down and make the appropriate changes and updates, we have no doubt the gameplay will come together very nicely. We certainly understand the challenge in presenting a game that includes styles from multiple genres.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is scheduled to arrive on November 20, and we fully expect this to be a major holiday title. It has all kinds of promise and it could very well be one of the most unique and engaging games of the year. Just fix those little hiccups, Naughty Dog!
8/30/2007 Ben Dutka