Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Actually, I can’t even remember why I got this game, now that I sit down and think about it. I sure hadn’t been paying it much attention, and had only heard a little about it due to it being released in the 160gb ps3 bundle.

But, I did, and I’m glad, because this is one great game.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune follows explorer Nathan Drake (who is supposedly descended from explorer Francis Drake) as he searches for clues left behind by his ancestor to El Dorado. He is accompanied by Victor Sullivan (aka Sully) and Elena Fisher, a reporter documenting his journey.

Drake is a smart talking guy with a sense of humor and a generally laid back personality. This becomes immediately apparent at the beginning of the game, when him and Elena’s boat is ambushed by pirates. Drake, unfazed simply tosses a gun to Elena and starts shooting.

Elena is a bit more serious, but settles into the other two’s stride quickly. She has surprising proficiency with firearms, and has quite a left hook, as Drake later finds out. Throughout the game, she carries a portable camera to film Drake as he delves deeper into the mystery of El Dorado. Though she is initially a very no nonsense person around him, she warms up to him as they spend more time together.

Sully is a middle aged man who has been friends with Drake for a long time, apparently. He’s hoping whatever treasure they find will help get him out of the mountain of debt he’s in. Like Drake, Sully has a sense of humor and is quite laid back, but knows when its time to be serious.

The game is an action adventure comparable to the Tomb Raider series. You’ll play through the whole game as Drake, who, though very human, has a fair amount of physical prowess. As you go through the game, you’ll jump, climb, and fight your way through tropical jungles dense with trees and moisture, caves and ruins with plenty of puzzles and ancient artifacts, and forests, heavy with fog and abandoned structures.

As you traverse these environments, you’ll primarily spend your time 1)behind cover, as enemies will ambush you very, very often (fighting/shooting is a probably a larger part of the game than the adventuring) 2)climbing walls, navigating gaps, and hiking 3)gazing around for a way to proceed to either #1 or #2 as you observe the amazing graphics of the game and perhaps a glint of treasure 4)solving puzzles.

As briefly mentioned a few seconds ago, this game has really, really great graphics. Its easy to see that Naughty Dog is putting the Ps3’s processing power to work. Forests and jungles seem alive, as light bounces off of leaves that bristle in the wind. The background music blends well with the environments, and everything just feels well done.

The effects also work well too. If something explodes too close to you, a sharp ringing will blot out other noises (including the BGM) and gradually fade, just as a sudden loud noise would cause ringing in your ears in real life. Following a recent trend going on shooting games as of late, Uncharted has a minimal HUD. There’s no health bars, and your ammo indicator, though easy to read, only shows up when it’s needed. That is, when you switch weapons, or start shooting. Instead of a health bar, as Nate takes damage, the screen will lose color. Its a subtle effect at first, but still quite noticeable. You’ll know you’re just about finished when the screen is devoid of color and you’ll hear Nate’s heartbeat (each beat is matched by a gentle pulse from your controller, if you’re using a Dualshock 3, to make it more immersive). Avoid taking damage for a few seconds and the environment will regain its lush color and detail, and you’ll be back in business. Many actions in the game are coupled with a steady commentary from Nate or his partners. For example, early on in the game, as him and Sully explore a jungle, you’ll have full control over Nate as the two converse, give each other suggestions, and voice their observations. In another part of the game, as Nate climbs across the outer wall of a fortress, he’ll often re-assure himself (or call himself insane for doing such a thing). Nate supplies a steady commentary of certain actions and events, such as frequently expressing annoyance at yet another pirate or mercenary ambush, or observing something the player might have missed (the game’s way of giving hints).

The AI is also fairly well done. Enemies, occasionally stutter, and seem to prefer quantity over quality, but aren’t incredibly stupid, and aren’t going to continue simply trying to shoot you if you run up to them and hit them in the face. They don’t really use tactics, but generally make good use of cover. The one complaint I have is that there’s really no way to stealth kill enemies. This seems to be one of those games where once you pass some invisible line, all the enemies in the area automatically know that you’re there, regardless of where you are, and whether, realistically speaking, they can actually see you. But this isn’t a big deal, as the game doesn’t really provide for much sneaky killing anyways.

Your allies are much more reliable, intelligence wise. Elena and Sully will make use of cover, and know when to duck and hide, when to flee (grenade!), and when to take a peek and maybe fire a potshot. Even if they weren’t invincible, I feel like I wouldn’t have to constantly worry about them over my shoulder.

As I said earlier, combat is a constantly recurring affair. You’ll be ambushed by about 10 or so pirates, defeat them all, then take maybe 5 steps from the given area and be ambushed all over again. Though its fun and well executed, it does get repetitive, being constantly, constantly ambushed over and over again. When things do die down long enough for the game to give you some time to solve a puzzle or two or get back to just adventuring, though, I found it hard not to forgive the game all over again.

The control scheme is easily remembered, and well done. The D-pad lets you reload, switch weapons (Nate can only carry one pistol type weapon, one assualt rifle or two handed weapon, and a couple grenades), and use grenades. The circle button is an action button of sorts. While running you can do a combat roll, or stick to most walls and structures to use them as cover. While behind cover, you can press R1 (the fire button) to blind fire (same can be done when running around), or peak out with L1 to aim and fire more accurately. If you have a grenade ready, you can further refine its arc and distance beyond the analog controls with the SIXAXIS motion sensing. The X button makes Nate jump (and subsequently latch onto any ledges), and square is for hand to hand combat.

Getting up close and personal, as risky as it tends to be (what with a bunch of other guys with guns trained on you, running out from cover is foolhardy), is a fun and amusing thing to do (and rewarding, as there’re a lot of Trophies revolving around hand to hand combat). Mashing square executes a quick combo, but Nate also has an array of “Brutal combos” in his arsenal that come with tapping a combination of square and triangle. Brutal Combos are pretty mean, and are indicated by one hit that occurs in slow motion.

Like Gears of War, cover is an essential thing through the first 3/4 of the game. I say 3/4 because very late in the story, the enemies change dramatically (I won’t give much away, but I will say that cover becomes obsolete). Nate won’t last very long out in the open (especially since they eventually start using snipers and grenade launchers, which can easily down you in two hits or less), so its important that, during fights, you spend most of your time behind some structure, showing yourself only long enough to squeeze out a shot or two. Your enemies will do the same (except for snipers, who will always be visible, and enemies toting grenade launchers, who will run around the area like idiots).

Overall, the game was a really fun playthrough, with an immersive story that blended well into the gameplay, likable and dependable characters, and some of the best graphics I’ve ever seen. Though its completely single player, and has no other modes, there’s plenty of Trophies and unlockable rewards to keep you playing at least a few more times. A 9/10.

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