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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

 

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

ESRB: Teen - T
Platform: PS3
Category: 3rd Person: Action
 
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Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog

Features

Players: 1
Required Hard Disk Space: 2.56 MB
HDTV: 720p

After much anticipation since the game was originally announced back at E3 2006, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune finally arrives on the PS3. As the release date loomed, I have to admit several concerns surfaced on my part. For one, I could not help but wonder if this would be another Lair or Heavenly Sword, which delivered lots of sizzle but little steak. My second thought was while the videos and trailers look good, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune sure reminded me of games such as Far Cry and Tomb Raider. Well, after playing my review copy I am happy to say that it did not take long to put my concerns to rest. Right from the get-go Drake's Fortune for the PS3 stands as a game which not only delivers on style but substance as well.

Graphics

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of those games that come along every so often and you simply say “wow, what a beautiful game”. Not only is it a fantastic looking game but it is wonderfully presented as well. I played the game at 720p on my HDTV and the visuals are simply breathtaking at times. When you first fire up the game you are greeted with a rather long black loading screen with a spinning gold coin in the bottom right hand corner. Immediately I started jumping to conclusions thinking this was going to be another game with great visuals arriving at the cost of long load times. Amazingly enough, other than when you initially turn the game on, the game suffers from no lengthy loading times and everything runs very smoothly and at a great pace. Even when the games jumps into a cut-scene and then back into the gameplay nothing is lost. You would think that a game which is as visually deep and detailed as Drake's Fortune would cause you to experience sufferable loading times. Fortunately enough, this is not the case.

Speaking of some of those fantastic cut-scenes, the opening scene is quite engaging and overall all of the cut-scenes in the game not only flow smoothly but look incredible too. Often I left my character just standing in a level following a cut-scene as I did not even notice the cut-scene had ended. This was because virtually nothing is lost from the transition. These cut-scenes give you the feeling you are watching a block buster movie and it is incredibly appealing. I can’t help but think it almost seems as though Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of the first PS3 games which fully shows off what the PS3 is capable of doing.

I found that all the character designs and movements are also noticeably well done. The detail in all the characters found in Drake’ Fortune was quite involved right down to such things as the weapon(s) that he or she was carrying and how dirty Drake’s clothes were. The characters animate very smoothly and very lifelike as well. From Drake jumping from one rock to another to his ability to hang on the side of a ledge and shimmy along it, all the movements are very fluid and help immerse you in the story, environments and gameplay. I thought that with all the different moves that your main character has at his disposal that something would look out of place, but to my surprise I was wrong. Add to this that all the other characters are animated just as well and you have quite a good looking, and moving, cast of characters in the game.

Simply put the environments in Drake's Fortune are awesome. From the mountainous terrain, to the water, to the dense jungle, the game's environments are perfectly rendered. The levels are large and the detail is simply amazing. Granted it very much reminds of the same type of terrain you encounter in Far Cry but it is simply looks so much cleaner and crisper. I truly believe that the environments in this game truly demonstrate what a next-generation console is capable of doing. I know that I may be starting to sound like a broken record but I was simply blown away with how good the textures are and the overall look of the landscapes. I was equally impressed with the water as it incredibly clear, sparkles and bounces off the screen. The way the water moves when Drake is swimming or running is detailed to perfection.

The lighting effects are also very good in Drake's Fortune. From the glare of the sun to the scenes where you and your partner are using flashlights in the jungle tombs, the lighting effects are stellar and arguably the best we have seen to date on the PS3. You will even notice some of the amazing shadow effects in the game. For example, as you move about the various levels shadows drift off you, off of other characters and off of objects realistically. Even when swinging on a vine, you see your own shadow, and even the vines shadow, as you glide along a mountainside. My only concern with the lighting effects as a whole is in some cases the dark scenes can be a little too dark causing it to be somewhat difficult to see where to go unless the characters have some method of light.

As I ventured across the various levels within the game I did notice some occasional screen tearing. Occasionally, when moving your characters line of sight from one side of the screen to the other side you will notice some tearing where your screen is slightly disjointed. It’s not a major issue and I doubt very many casual gamers would notice. Regardless of my two minor concerns with the dark scenes and occasional tearing, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for the PS3 is definitely one of those games where you call a buddy up and demo the game for him on your home theatre system to show him what it can do.

Sound

As far as the sound is concerned, Drake's Fortune plays and sounds like a motion picture action flick. You really get immersed in the game and much its’ fantastic atmosphere is created by the musical score which is big and booming. The soundtrack is excellent and sounds terrific in 5.1 surround sound. The music effectively ‘amps-up’ as the action becomes more intense. Even after shutting off the game I found myself thinking about some of those big sweeping musical tunes hours after playing the game.

The voice acting is also incredibly well done. Nathan Drake’s voice is played by Nolan North, whose voice sounds familiar but he does a formidable job as the games main character. The chatter and banter between Drake, Sully, and Elena is excellent and quite humorous at times. The voices are clear and engaging too. You almost get the feeling Drake is a modern day Indiana Jones and the dialogue certainly contributes to that feeling.

Overall, the in-game sounds are well done. As far as the weapon sounds are concerned, Drake's Fortune fall’s a little short compared to other big weapon shooters out on the market. For instance, you do not get Call of Duty 4 type weapon sounds which were done to perfection. It’s not that the guns sound poor; it is just that you don’t get near the detail as you do in some of the weapon based games out there. Some of the different weapons do manage to have unique sounds but nothing will jolt you out of your chair. Other than the shotgun and handgun I doubt many of you will be able to tell what kind of weapon is being fired just by the sound of the gun. Nevertheless, the guns and explosions do the job. On the flip side, some of the other sound details in the game are very impressive. The sounds of the jungle such as birds in the distance, falling rocks, waterfalls or tress blowing in the wind are all very nice and sound great.

Gameplay

To sum it all up, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for the PS3 is more than just a game, it is an experience. The developers did a masterful job at creating a fantastic story while blending it in with some solid gameplay. I found this game incredibly difficult to put down as I wanted to keep progressing along to find out what adventures or problems Drake will run into next. It is almost one of those games you need to set aside a couple of days to finish from beginning to end because once you start you won’t be able to stop. That being said, I did have some issues with gameplay. Nevertheless, the overall story itself is intense, heart felt, action packed, and epic.

As I suggested above, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune features arguably the best videogame story I have experienced thus far on the PS3. As such, I do not want to spoil anything as the game takes several twists and turns leaving you on the edge of your seat on more than one occasion. The basic storyline is that Nathan Drake, the game's main character who you control, finds a clue that leads him to the coffin of Sir Francis Drake, where he finds a diary. This diary contains information about the lost treasure of El Dorado. As a result, Nate begins a journey to investigate and hopefully find the lost treasure. However, right from the get-go he encounters a number of stumbling blocks including droves of pirates and a partner who is desperate to pay off an outstanding debt. There is even a little bit of sexual tension in the game between our hero and Elena, a TV reporter who is following Nate’s adventure. The story leads you to a forgotten island full of secrets. Outnumbered and outgunned, Nate and his companions must fight to survive as they begin to unravel the terrible secrets hidden on the Island. The depth of the plot is incredible, and the last quarter of the game is so suspenseful that you'll really be hooked until you finish the game.

While the story itself is very strong, I did have some issues with the gameplay. First, the controls take some getting used to. I envision many casual gamers complaining that the controls are very difficult and take some time to get used to. Drake's Fortune features no aiming assists like we seen in other shooters such as Halo or Gears of War. My first five minutes into the game I could not hit the broad side of a barn; never mind trying to shoot pirates on a moving boat. After a period of time though I did adjust and by the end of the game I wasn’t having that much of a problem. Nevertheless the shooting mechanics, including the re-loading of your gun, did not seem as entirely as smooth as they could be. This is further complicated by the fact it does not take much to take down our hero as two shots and all the sudden your heart is pounding and the screen turns grey. The game employs a cover system which is vital to your survival and when you will take cover quite a bit in order for your health to get back to normal. Where my problems with this lie is that the enemy AI seems quite adapt at shooting you while it can be not only tough to aim your weapons, but they are quite difficult to take down. Granted one head shot will result in an instant kill, but most enemies will take a half a clip to take down and head shots are no easy task. You will hit certain areas in the game where the pirates never seem to stop regenerating. It can become incredibly repetitive and frustrating at times. On the flip side, if you die you don’t have to re-start from too far back to get caught up in the game.

The majority of the gameplay in Drake's Fortune features gun combat, but it also features some one-on-one melee fighting. Unlike games such as Halo or COD4 which feature very quick ‘knock-em out in one punch’ melee kills, Drake's Fortune features a somewhat complicated fighting scheme which after awhile you will find yourself avoiding altogether. The reason: it takes too long to essentially kill someone in one on one combat. Many of you are probably thinking, “What’s your problem? It should take awhile and that only adds to the realism of the game”. Well, you have a point but the melee control scheme is neither fun nor realistic in my opinion. For instance, as you are fighting your enemy one-on-one, a brutal combo will flash on the screen. As you look down to read the combo, you will likely be getting your butt kicked. The timing of the notification seems off.

Fortunately there is more to this game then run, gun and punch action. In fact, similar to Tomb Raider, the game features an abundance of areas where you are scaling high mountains or leaping from platform to platform. You will be able to jump with little effort, grabbing on with one hand or two, or a knee if it comes to it. In fact, much of the leaping around simply involves trial and error. Often I found myself dying but as I stated earlier, you won’t have to re-do the entire level to get back to where you left off. Some other highlights of the game have you controlling a Jet Ski, firing a machine gun off the back of a jeep, and even shooting at the mercenaries while hanging from cliffs, vines, and church windows. The Sixaxis controls are also used in this game as you manipulate Nate’s balance while walking over fallen logs, and to judge the trajectory that he has to put on his grenade throws - both of which put your hands and arms smack dab in the middle of the adventure. Personally, I could do without the Sixaxis controls but some might get a kick out of it.

Overall, the game should take about 8-10 hours to complete provided you don’t spend all day looking for the secret treasures which act as achievements of sort. There are approximately 60 treasures in the game which unlock all sorts of things such as alternate outfits, art and videos. The treasures are nicely tucked away in spaces so it will take you some time to find all of them. There are also other rewards (again achievements of a sort) for completing various tasks such as making a certain amount of head shots, brutal combos, etc. It’s a nice little touch and serves as a great excuse to go back to play the game once again. Bottom line, these two features enhance the games replay value considering there is no multiplayer component.

To that end, I was disappointed that Drake's Fortune did not feature a multiplayer component in the game. Given the large maps and levels featured in the game, a multiplayer component could have been awesome. Even a two player co-op mode would have been stellar. It’s a glaring omission and hopefully something the developers will address in a sequel.


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