Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review
For long now, Naughty Dog has brought us the greenest of games. And no, I'm not talking about games concerned with spreading the word on environmental safety. I'm talking about the brightness and vivid details from each one of Naughty Dog's games, beginning with Crash Bandicoot, leading into Jak and Daxter, and now entering Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Uncharted was first revealed after a series of leaked images made their way on to the net, it was the first real glimpse of the game we were given. Previously, Naughty Dog showed off a few empty environments during a demonstration, and the game was still untitled at that point. Well, after Uncharted's proper revelation earlier in the year, we knew Naughty Dog had once again struck gold. And coincidentally, that's sort of what Uncharted is all about.
What needs to be said immediately is that Uncharted would've made the perfect Tomb Raider or Indiana Jones game. It is absolutely fantastic in how in pulls off its sense of exploration, by making you traverse over these gigantic structures, jump from ledge-to-ledge hundreds of feet above ground, run for safety as the wooden bridge beneath you begins to crumble with every wake, and of course explore lavish environments. If Naughty Dog were to make a Tomb Raider game, I have no doubt in my mind that it'd end up being the best Lara Croft adventure anyone could've imagined. But Uncharted isn't Tomb Raider, nor is it Indiana Jones, it simply pays a bit of an homage to the aforementioned. It is its own fantastic experience.
Uncharted tells the story of a treasure hunter named Nathan Drake. Drake believes he is the descendant of a famous explorer Sir Francis Drake. History said that Francis Drake was murdered and then buried at sea. Nathan goes to look for his casket around where he Drake was allegedly killed; what he finds turns out to be something completely different. The casket is empty, only containing Drake's long lost diary. Could this diary be the key to discovering the treasures stored in El Dorado? And so the game begins, as you find yourself surrounded by pirates.
Uncharted is a mixture of platforming and action. Like I said, you'll do a lot of platforming jumping, but you'll also get to pop a cap quite often. Shooting is done similarly to that of Resident Evil 4, where aiming is done using an over-the-shoulder perspective, with a cross-hair on the screen. You can also toggle which shoulder you'd like to look over, by pressing L3. Enemies are pretty smart, as they'll duck and will know when to run away from your fire. But, they also have a mean eye, so don't underestimate their ability to mark you. If you do get shot at, the health system in the game uses the new-standard of life regeneration. Damage will translate to the color of the screen. The more damage you take, the duller the colors will become, until everything becomes black and white. Once you're seeing black and white, one shot is good enough to kill you.
You'll have a number of weapons to fire back with, such a 9mm handgun, an Uzi, shotgun, M79 grenade launcher, AK-47 assault rifle, Desert Eagle, Dragunov sniper rifle, and more. There is no shortage of firepower for Nathan, as he'll be able to pick up whatever weapons the enemies drop. Furthermore, you'll also be able to hold up to four frag grenades. And if you're unarmed, you always have your hands and legs to kick some ass. There are a number of combos to perform with Nathan, all of which are deadly and nice to see.
There are things I like and dislike about the game's combat. What I like is that once you clear a horde of enemies, they don't respawn endlessly. What I don't like is that killing an enemy can take as many as six shots. And frequently, you'll find yourself facing a ton of enemies at once, so you really have to conserve your ammunition, and make every shot count. I much prefer the way Call of Duty 4 handles, one or two well placed shots and they're done. In Uncharted, shooting someone in the stomach has the same effect as shooting them in the leg - nothing. You'd have to unload in order for them to fall. You can execute a headshot, but the hit point for it seems off, as you'll often see them grasp their shoulder instead, which is frustrating. Keeping your aim away from the neck and jaw area usually prevents this. And the more headshots you get, the more rewards you unlock.
The single-player is about 10 hours long on easy, which isn't bad. And that's assuming you don't lose and restart. You can easily spend an upwards of 15 hours through the story mode, but there's also a lot of treasures, medals, and rewards to find. I'd definitely say this is a worthwhile adventure to embark on, certainly worth the coin.
By now, you should know that Uncharted is probably one of the best looking games of the generation, thus far. It's a proper example of what we've expected out of the "next-generation" consoles. For starters, it boasts that signature Naughty Dog tropical color palette. The greens are absurdly lush, and help present one of the prettiest pictures a videogame has ever seen. The environments are richly decorated with stunning textures practically everywhere you look. No matter if it's the ground, walls, or way above your head, it's all textured with amazing clarity and detail. I simply love just looking at the breathtaking views, and I've already shown it off numerous times to impress a few friends - Uncharted is just that damn beautiful.
Moreover, you'd be hard pressed to find better looking water in any other game, no matter which console you look at - perhaps even including the PC. I've never seen water look that realistic, and thankfully you get to see and swim in a lot of it during the game. When exiting out of the water, Nathan will come out looking drenched, with his clothes completely soaked, and rendering a wet sheen until they dry off. Curiously, Nathan must be using a lot of Glu, as his hair remains well intact. Shadows, and the lighting in general, is drop dead gorgeous. Every shadow line is as smooth as the next, including Nathan's own self-shadow. On top of that, even the characters are highly detailed, and the real-time cutscenes do a great job of demonstrating that.
But there are some quirks. Uncharted does have some frequent screen-tearing, which doesn't mar the experience, but it has to be noted. Furthermore, the framerate can drop a few frames here and there, nothing irritating, but it's obviously not stuck to 30 at all times. The folks at Naughty Dog figured that screen-tearing would be better off left as a substitute, as opposed to more frequent frame-rate coughs. We'd have to agree, but perhaps removing a tree or some shrubbery here and there could've corrected some of that. In any case, these two things aren't nearly bad enough to cause any sort of frustration, because if it did, I'd be the first person to rant about it. Lastly, as far as resolutions go, the game is 720p native, but it can be upscaled to 1080i - a wise decision by Naughty Dog.
Finally, the audio; yet another terrific aspect of Uncharted. The voice acting is nothing short of grade-A, maybe even AAA. Uncharted does a wonderful job with every part of its voice acting, be it during the cutscenes or when Nathan is mouthing a few in-game quips. No matter the scenario, it's always delivered perfect, and best of all, much of the dialogue is funny. The quality voice acting certainly helps bring out the cinematic feel of the game. Furthermore, during tense moments and shoot-outs, the game's soundtrack will come into play. Much like the voice acting, the soundtrack is also exceptionally well done, again, featuring a very cinematic score. Explosions, gun fire, and all of that fun stuff comes through the speakers with great force - and the Dolby Pro Logic II option makes things that much better.
Uncharted is, perhaps, the best implementation of action and platforming available thus far. It delivers in practically every category that makes an action/platformer a great game. You'll instantly find yourself engrossed with the game's amazing gameplay mechanics, fluid controls, gunplay, and will love its monstrous sense of scale. Uncharted is one of those rare games that truly defines its respective genre, becoming the benchmark for everyone to follow. If you've been dying for a proper Tomb Raider game, and have obviously been left disappointed, you must pick up Uncharted. On top of playing superbly well, it also looks a helluva lot better than Lara Croft's rack. Yep, that nice.
11/18/2007 Arnold Katayev