GAMING GREATS: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (2007)

Thomas takes a look at Nathan Drake’s first globe-trotting adventure in this landmark PlayStation series. 

Who made it?: Naughty Dog (Developer), Sony (Publisher).

Genre: Third-Person Shooter/Action-Adventure/Platform.

Platform: PlayStation 3.

Format: Blu-ray disc.

Released: December 7, 2007 (UK).

If I ever needed a reason to buy a PlayStation 3, it was certainly the prospect of playing system exclusive Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The Xbox 360 had its two highly popular cover-shooters in Gears of War and Gears of War 2, both of which changed the cosmetic make-up of third-person action games and how we play them. Uncharted – developer Naughty Dog’s first foray into cover-shooter territory – isn’t just a game trading in tight corridors for expansive, open environments and an intuitive cover system. It’s just as much Tomb Raider as it is the aforementioned Gears… and then some.

The previous time I scored a game perfectly was Grand Theft Auto IV. I was absolutely floored by Rockstar’s masterpiece. I couldn’t pull myself away from the television long enough to even write a decent review on it. I played it, completed it, and then completed it again a couple of months later. Not only did I love it but I bragged up the game to just about every person in existence that was willing to listen. But what does GTA IV have to do with Uncharted? Quite a bit. Uncharted is one of the few games or franchises I have actually considered, let alone gave, a perfect score to. Not only does that mean it is pure gaming excellence but that it stands in a league of its own amongst increasingly heavy competition.

I’ll admit to being a fan of both puzzle-solving titles and platformers (attribute that to my love of old school Sierra point-and-click adventures as well as NES, SNES and Mega Drive games). That right there will determine your relationship with Uncharted. Sure, there are healthy amounts of action interspersed throughout as the gun battles are plentiful. But I find half the attraction I have with the game to be figuring out which way to go, how to get there, and how to manoeuvre around to it. The puzzles aren’t “stagnant” either; Quick Time sequences are present and – whether you love them or hate them – they work extremely well within the context of the game. The interaction is flawlessly presented and it lends to Uncharted a truly immersive quality.

As for those non-stagnant puzzles I mentioned, most of them require dangling from ledges, swinging from vines, or finding rather linear and quite treacherous paths around blocked obstacles or long drops. They usually entail a successive series of jumps, big leaps, and shimmies that the engine manages to never muck up with poor camera angles or lacklustre collision detection. To spice things up a bit, Uncharted throws in ledges or pieces of various platforms that tend to crumble or give way under the weight of hero Nathan Drake, forcing the gamer to make a split-second decision to either jump to the next available ledge or, consequently, fall to their death.

These sequences not only get the adrenaline pumping but are, in fact, the most intriguing part of the game. One of these early types of sequences sees the player being put in complete control of Nate as he dashes his way across an elongated series of collapsing wooden planks to an uncomfortably distant exit. Naughty Dog handled these impressively cinematic scenarios with so much panache that, instead of becoming maddeningly difficult, they are an absolute blast to play through. Each permeates feelings of satisfaction rather than frustration, and I began looking forward to going through these sequences more than anything else the game tossed my way.

Coupled with the fantastic cover-based gameplay, Uncharted is so much more than the Tomb Raider or Gears of War (or Indiana Jones) rip-off it first appeared to be. The cover system works the same as Gears, though there are more cover opportunities, as well as more things to do within cover. Nate can turn corners while “dug in” and, like Gears, jump from one piece of cover to the next if they are adjacent. As a slight downside, weapon variants are a bit scarce. It gets old real quick having to dispose of enemies with the same types of weaponry.

Perhaps that is needless nitpicking, because the core combat throughout Uncharted remains satisfying. Enemies get thrown back by grenades, sail through the air when hit by shotgun fire, and will fall from high-reaching cliffs when defeated. Hand-to-hand combat is also something that has been incorporated. Combos are started by pressing Square next to an enemy and can be followed up by combinations of the Square and Triangle buttons for brutal hand-to-hand attacks. Not particularly the most refined aspect of the game, however, is the rather unintelligent enemy AI. Their cover patterns seem to be scripted and there were many times when they were charging right at my incoming fire. Sufficient enough, yes, but the lacklustre AI is clearly not up to task with the pristine craftsmanship often encompassing it and the sequels.

Running on PlayStation 3 hardware also gave Uncharted an advantage in terms of meatier content and some of the most stunning graphics I have ever seen… even now. Cutscenes, however entertaining they may be, do tend to drone on a bit too long, but in hindsight you can thank the PS3’s Blu-ray technology for allowing that kind of lengthy content to make it into a game with visuals this impressive. The aforementioned cutscenes still look absolutely gorgeous and feature some of the most fluid character movements I have ever seen in a console game. In-game visuals are of the same quality with plenty of subtle details, like Nathan’s clothes appearing drenched and dripping wet after exiting any large body of water. The physics are also of note, as Nate and the various NPC movements have been mapped perfectly. A simple in-game task such as running down a flight of stairs looks incredible thanks to the proprietary engine/physics the fine folks at Naughty Dog cooked up. Shading is top-notch, lighting is a feast for the eyes, and water texture is a real visual treat.

A game as good and as technically superior as this was very rare in 2007. If you’ve yet to take the plunge, I have no choice but to insist that you catch up with this game immediately. If it isn’t the still-beautiful-if-dating graphics, it’s the over-the-top, cinematic gameplay and Hollywood-quality voice acting. If it isn’t that, it’s got to be the fact that Naughty Dog developed a game that tried its hand at being a third-person shooter, a puzzle-solver, and a platformer, nailing all three flawlessly. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune truly is one of the great PS3 exclusives that is an absolute must-buy, and a fitting debut for what has become one of gaming’s best franchises.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The game went on to sell more than one million copies in ten weeks, and become part of the European best-selling Platinum range of titles.
  • The game is censored when playing on a Japanese console to remove blood, which normally appears when shooting enemies; this follows the trend of other censored console games in the region, such as Dead Rising and Resistance: Fall of Man.
  • There are also several references to other Naughty Dog games, especially the Jak and Daxter series; this is done through the “Ottsel” branding on Drake and Fisher’s wetsuits, a reference to the species that mixes otter and weasel found in the game, and the strange relic found in one of the earlier chapters, which is actually a precursor orb from the same series.
  • Nathan Drake (voiced by Nolan North) is said to be greatly inspired by Nathan Fillion’s Captain Malcolm Reynolds in the cult television series Firefly. Fillion is the fan favourite for the long-rumoured movie adaptation. Funnily enough, Uncharted‘s music composer, Greg Edmonson, also scored Firefly.

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