HDTV options: 720p
Developer Naughty Dog, best known for their Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter series, takes a plunge into the action/adventure setting with this exploration entitled Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Naughty Dog has been known for their well-polished games ever since their early days with Crash and this one comes as no exception. I'll go ahead and tell you this: it's much more than just a Dude Raider.
The player takes on the role of Nathan Drake, while on his journey to discover the treasure of El Dorado. Nate isn't alone in this journey however. Often times he'll have a female companion with him that will help in shootouts. She is quite smart too and helpful for some of the enemies that Nate encounters.
This game was looked upon as a Tomb Raider clone when it was in its development stages, but it clearly distances itself from Tomb Raider with the heavy focus on action that is spread throughout the game. Firefights happen often and the creators at Naughty Dog really put some slick moves on Nate while he engages in these shootouts. Sure, you have your standard leaning against a wall and ducking behind objects, but Nate performs all of these moves with some unique style mimicking that of an action hero. He has his own unique way of handling each weapon as well.
Shootouts can get quite intense and cover must be taken or you will simply get shot to death. The controls allow for some easy shooting while taking cover - simply lean up against a wall with the circle button then swing out by holding the L1 button. Let go of L1 and Nate will swing back behind the wall. Each gun handles much the way that you would expect it to. Whenever a shotgun is in a game, I expect it to provide a heavy blast with sound effects that will blow me away since the shotgun is usually one of my favorite weapons in an action game. With Drake's Fortune, I am happy to say that the shotgun does just that. Each blast provides a roaring thunder that will knock back any unfortunate mercenary that gets in close proximity with Nate. Way to go for shotgun fanatics, Naughty Dog!
There are a fair variety of weapons available. Not too many and not too few is the best way to put it. You'll find grenade guns, shotguns, varieties of handguns, magnums, desert eagles, and assault rifles among many other types of weaponry present along Nate's adventure.
Nate also has some physical attacks that can be performed on an enemy that gets too close. Nate can perform a few combos that will punch or throw the enemy to the ground. The actual button combination timing doesn't always match up with the moves that Nate will perform, sometimes causing me to miss a combination and allowing the enemy to counter. This isn't too bad once you get the hang of it though - it's only a minor issue.
Not all is well with shootouts however. They are found quite often and they do start to get repetitive in some areas throughout the game. Throwing grenades in the middle of a fight felt much harder than it should be thanks to the Sixaxis motion controls that must be used to judge the distant. You have to rotate the controller toward the screen or away from the screen to throw a grenade further or closer respectively. I often chose to just shoot from a distance instead of relying on grenades.
Not all firefights take place on foot. There are a few jet ski portions and one part where you shoot at enemy vehicles while on a truck turret that speeds away from approaching mercenaries that chase the characters down. Jet ski portions are not as fast moving as one might expect. You have to slow down quite a bit in order to shoot explosive barrels and enemies that try to halt your progress. While on the jet ski, control of the firearm is actually handed over to Nate's female companion, so whenever you aim, she will point the gun. It's basically the same as aiming with Nate, but it's a cool little feature that I found amusing.
Most of the time, Nate will face off against mercenaries but toward the end of the game the enemies change a bit. The change in enemies allows for some much needed variety in combat also. No longer will you duck behind cover to fire back at the enemy - oh no, you will be looking for any safe haven that you can find to reload as you outrun the newer more aggressive enemies. It can get quite intense later in the game!
The game has a few platform areas spread across its levels that mainly resemble Prince of Persia. The movements of Nate are very similar to the Prince. Platform is very easy and enjoyable thanks to the wonderful camera that will follow Nate as he performs each jump. I did have a few problems where the camera would not allow me to zoom in and see a nearby rope thereby having to guess that a rope or vine was there and jump anyway, but this doesn't happen too often.
Puzzles are found in a few places around the game. I can't help but feel that they could have implemented more puzzles here and there however. View Nate's trusty handbook and it will help you to solve just about every puzzle in the game with the hints that it gives you - well, basically just a drawing or set of symbols that will give clues as to how to solve the puzzles.
The graphics in this game are some of the best I have seen in quite a while. They look fantastic! Actual gameplay rivals the FMV's on presentation. The character's hair is the only portion of them with the slightest bit of noticeable jagged edges. Environments are filled with plenty of grass and shrubbery and every tomb area looks dark and creepy with plenty of objects lying around. All environments are rendered in 3-D and provide quite an eye-pleasing experience while journeying through the variety of levels. None of the areas look the same!
Lighting effects are done extremely well also. There are periods of time where Nate turns on his flashlight and that light shines across areas very realistically. Whenever Nate steps into the water he will get slightly wet or become drenched from total submersion in the water - his clothes dry in time. When he first arrives at the island his clothes are bright and clean, but as he continues to fight through the many tasks that lie ahead of him he begins to get dirty.
The overall sound completely matches this game. Guns fire off with believable sound effects and even the menu selection screen has some ear-pleasing sound effects when a choice is made. The music gives the thrill of an epic exploration with plenty of solo instrument pieces and provides much needed quiet pieces while exploring a tomb.
Character voices really draw you into each character's personality. Each voice completely fits the chosen character and makes the game feel much like a movie at times, even during gameplay. The main character has an instantly likeable personality and minor phrases during actual combat really help to boost an action sequence and kept me in tune with the character. The sound stands out very well in this game and fits quite well.
Controls are fairly solid. Nate moves extremely easy with the slightest touch of the directional pad. This lead to a few deaths in some areas for me since the character was a little too easy to move - he doesn't always safety grab from all ledges and sometimes plummets to his doom with the slightest accidental tap in the wrong direction. Platforming is made very easy thanks to the simple controls that allow a player to move and jump across each ledge with ease. Simply lean in the direction of a ledge and jump freely then Nate will grab on.
My only major gripe with the controls are the sixaxis motion controls. There is one part early on in the game where the controller must be leaned to the sides to keep Nate steady while he moves across some logs. They are also used to expand the distance that grenades are thrown by rotating the control pad forward or backward. There is one portion where you must shake the controller to get an enemy off of Nate - you have to respond very quickly in that instance too. All of the sixaxis motion controls have a real "added on" type feel as they though they were thrown in just to say that the game uses them. They're not all the way bad, they're just annoying since I feel as if the analog would work much better in areas where they are used. Thankfully, they are rarely needed.
The game lasted me for about 8 - 10 hours and even then I was still missing out on a multitude of unlockables. There are quite a few achievement-like objectives that must be met to unlock everything in the game. Meet the objective and you'll gain a certain amount of points that will eventually unlock outfits, bonus videos, artwork, etc. As already mentioned, the objectives highly resemble Xbox 360 achievements and like those achievements, they add quite a bit of replay value to the game.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a very solid game and Naughty Dog has really worked a bunch on this one during its development. It's pretty obvious while playing it. Even with my minor gripes, this game is most certainly one of the better games that I have played this year. I'd easily recommend a buy for any fan of action and adventure. Don't get this game mixed up with being a Tomb Raider clone. The action is heavy at some points, which really helps to distance Nate's adventures from that of Ms. Croft's.
+ Graphics are quite a sight to behold
+ All the characters are well voiced with loads of personality
+ Fitting overall soundtrack and sound effects
+ Nate's movements and actions help to draw the player into firefights
- Too many gunfights at times
- Sixaxis controls are forgettable for the most part
This is a great gem and one that is definitely worth the search - go out and buy it now and be proud of your discovery.
And therefore, Berserker dubs thee: 9.4