Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review - 17/12/2007

Ready for the holiday season comes one of the last big hitters for Sony, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Coming from the studio that brought Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter this is really something. I say this as this is a massive departure from the normal titles that the studio has turned out, I mean both Crash and Jak & Daxter are as far away from reality as you could possibly get, but Uncharted is the complete opposite, at least in terms of setting but not so much in story.

You take on the role of Nathan Drake, who believes that he is a descendent of Sir Francis Drake, who happens to be on a quest to find the only treasure that his supposed ancestor never found, El Dorado. Drake Junior is adventuring alone he has two trusty sidekicks to help him out, namely Sully, who is an old time friend of Drake's, and Video Journalist Elena Fisher. The search takes Nathan's team from the burial site of Sir Francis to the deep jungles of a forgotten island in the middle of the Pacific. But as with all good adventure stories it is a race against time as Navarro, a man to whom Sully owes a lot of money to, is hot on Drake's tail.

Now, I know that the story doesn't sound anything special in terms of any action movie around these days, but the key to Uncharted isn't the storyline but the characters that it draws up. Take Nathan Drake for example, he isn't the archetypal hero by any means sure he has a charm and knows where to put a bullet (in the gun sense, not the James Bond sense), but most over he seems to stumble into situations completely by accident. This sense about Drake makes him a very likeable character, which works in the games favour as otherwise half of the incidents that happen to Drake really wouldn't be at all funny or interesting at all.

Along the lines for why Drake is so likeable is down to the wonderful voice acting given to the characters. The voice acting is just spot on when it comes to some of the games big blockbuster moments, and even in-play moments have been given the nice touch with some great and funny dialogue, such when a grenade lands nice him Drake will say "Oh no" or some other exclaim as the explosive lands. One of the best cut-scene dialogues that stick in my mind is where; upon entering an old German U-boat Drake describes the scene as "Something nasty happened here, there's blood everywhere... and soup!" Pure brilliance when coupled with the scene that you are looking at. But Drake isn't the only one with excellent talent voicing him; the supporting cast is just as good and at times better. But it still bugs me that the bad guy in American action films or games has to be British.

The other sounds in the game are equally good, bullets sound like bullets especially when they hit a wall at ricochet off. There is one very important thing to note with the guns in Uncharted, they do sound very similar with each weapon type. Shotguns sound all the same no matter how they are used the same with assault rifles and handguns. Though not a massive thing it does take some from the atmosphere created, but that is a very small quibble that most won't notice.

Much like the sound effects the graphics are just right and really show off what the Playstation 3 can do. Games aren't just about the graphics but boy, does this game pour it on. The main character models are wonderful to look at with some great details to the faces. But that's nowhere near the best part; the in-game and cut-scene graphics are nearly the same. There is a small loading time between them but all the angles and edges on the character's faces look the same in both. The bad guy models don't fair as well in regards to looks and diversity, unfortunately there are only five or six models for the different types of enemy, this mars the game slightly as killing clone number seven of the first baddie in the level really isn't good to see, but there normally is a fair gap before you see the clones appear. Some of the best graphics in the game are pointed at the cloths that Drake and his partner wears also the water effects. The cloths and the water affects really go together as one as though the cloths do seem to have the uncanny ability to stick to the character and never move the wet effect that you get once you have been in for a dip is stunning. Much like what we have seen in latest Tomb Raiders, cloths dip with small drops of water and have a lovely shine to them, just awesome to see. Finally the actually water has a full fat milk affect, the water from waterfalls really does look like it hits the water below. Along with the waterfall effects the sun reflects off of the water spectacularly causing simmering ripples on the water.

By now you should be able to tell that with this Sony has produced an amazing looking game but sound FX and graphics don't mean squat, if the gameplay isn't up to scratch. But thankfully the gameplay really does live up to the splendour of the game so far. The game really plays very similar to any normal Action/Adventure and really if you closed your eyes and thought of Drake as a small furry rodent and changed the setting then you could be excused as to think that you are playing Jak PS3. That said there really is something special about what Naughty Dog has created here, Uncharted feels much more like an Action film than a Third-Person Shooter. This really all boils down to how the gameplay is handled and quite frankly it is just plain excellent. There are three massive features of Uncharted that make the game, namely the gunplay, the cover system and most importantly of all, the free running.

Looking at each in turn, let's take a look at the gunplay. This is handled quite nicely as you look at it, but not as well as one would have hoped in some respects. Drake certainly comes armed to the teeth with fourteen different weapons that can be picked up throughout the game. These list as anything from 9mm pistols to sub-machine guns and assault rifles to M79 grenade launchers, but they don't feel that different from the last, which really does spoil overall feel of the weapons. Nevertheless that can be overlooked in the grand scheme of things as other features really do over shadow that. Like the damage system that is heavily borrowed from the Call of Duty series but wonderfully implemented, along with some weapons dealing death in a single or double shots depending on range. This may sound harsh, but really it isn't, the AI is clever but well balanced for someone who keeps their wits about them.

In the main the most well thought out feature is the cover system, at times it can leave you on the wrong side of a wall if you're not precise but the majority of the time it is intuitive to the nth degree. To active the system a simple tap of circle and a push of the analogue stick in the direction of a wall and Drake will roll and instantly attach to the cover, once in cover Drake can blind fire or sacrifice protection for precision shots. But possibly the greatest thing about cover is not only is some of it destructible for your enemies but also for you so with a well aimed grenade you can have your foes diving for cover with ease.

Finally comes the free running feature of the game. This isn't as well built up as what we have seen recently in Assassin's Creed but still as a distinct feeling to it. Drake can climb some of the rock structures in the game area, but it is hampered by the linear direction of the game meaning that only rocks and monoliths that follow the storyline's course can be assailed which is a massive shame in the view of Assassin's Creed's scope. That said it really doesn't feel that much different to that of most of the acrobatics that you can get in all of Lady Croft's adventure, but still gives some brilliant thrills.

As I mentioned before the AI is somewhat of a larger step forward than most in titles in this genre. They almost act a way that you would believe a real person would act in the same situation. The AI will seek out cover is you lay down fire on them and most of the time stay there until you have to reload or cease fire, similarly they will cover each other as they move around the area. But the most impressive thing is that the AI will flank you if you're not careful and keep an eye on their movements.

All in all, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of the best games on the Playstation 3. Although that could be seen as an easy thing to be as the first year of the platform's life has been filled with sub-par ports this title is really something giving all PS3 owners something to smile about.

- Alec Hilton



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