Sony Computer EntertainmentDeveloped by:
Naughty Dog SoftwareGenre:
Action Adventure Players:
T (Teen)Release Date:
November 20, 2007 Screenshots: LinkAmazon: Buy Now!Written By:
The few exclusives that have appeared on the Playstation 3 this year (like Heavenly Sword) all seem to be children of Sonyís Blu-Ray generation of entertainment media. This along with the PS3ís status as a Blu-Ray player has perhaps helped to highlight one thing that mightíve always characterized Playstation:Its desire to bring games and film closer together...
Naughty Dogís (the PS1 Crash Bandicoot games, the Jak franchise) Uncharted: Drakeís Fortune is the latest Playstation game to promote the capability for videogames to offer blockbuster cinematic experiences and does it with one of the most interesting formulas yet, borrowing elements from several of the most successful games in the last few years.
Uncharted plays out sort of like an adaptation of an Indiana Jones movie. Players take the role of Nathan Drake Ė treasure hunter and self-proclaimed descendant of Sir Francis Drake, as he races to find a centuries-old treasure while on the run from nefarious groups of men.
In cinematic presentation, Uncharted seems to get everything right for a Blu-Ray generation game. After Heavenly Swordís leaps and bounds in real time cut scene presentation, Uncharted definitely isnít as impressive, but still looks good enough. Cut scenes are shot and edited to truly look more like movie scenes rather than cut scenes from a videogame.
All cut scenes are also run under Unchartedís impressive real time engine. Characters animate believably and are acted well. Visually, Uncharted seems to lend itself better to indoor environments than outdoor environments. Many of the different elements of the gameís jungles donít seem to completely agree with each other, as things like trees, and grass will often sit on top of the general environment rather than mesh with it. Uncharted also sometimes has that plastic-like look many next gen games still seem to suffer from. However, Unchartedís texture detail makes all the gameís ruins and other structures look deliciously aged. Lighting effects are another thing thatís done spot on in this game. Walking through dark catacombs with only a flashlight or torch looks surprisingly moody and realistic at the same time.
The main reason Unchartedís cinematic presentation works though is because its storyline works. Unchartedís plotline and setting donít try to be really big or pretentious at all, and I doubt they would stand out much in film, but they do escape the cheesiness usually associated with videogame narrative. Uncharted achieves a certain casualness in its characters and dialogue. Itís also one of the few games that manage to be funny on purpose.
Unchartedís setting really is a modernization of Indiana Jones in just about every sense. The gameís main character Drake is a young Indiana if heíd grown up in todayís world and not 60 years ago. He sports a similar sense of humor in his dialogue along with an intuitive knowledge of history (he can read 16th century Spanish without batting an eye for instance). The main characters that join Drake do well to fill out their roles, creating a likeable cast overall.
Uncharted even manages to make what at first seems like an incredibly clichť ďtreasure hunters race to find El DoradoĒ plotline feel somewhat fresh. Itís established early on that there isnít going to be some magnificent city of gold that somehow hid from the world for 500 years, just a really big golden statue. Drake doesnít even race to the treasure against Nazis or terrorists or any other kind of politically overused adversary, just modern day pirates and mercenaries. Despite how utterly decent Unchartedís plotline is, it still makes a whole lot of sense compared to what we usually see in games about treasure hunting.
Probably the most interesting thing about what Uncharted tries to do though is how it attempts to convey this Indiana-like experience through an interactive game. Naughty Dog seems to have done their homework in figuring out specifically what games they needed to borrow from in order to make a good action adventure game in a modern setting.
Uncharted at first seems to follow the formula Eidos used for the resurrected Tomb Raider games which mixed classic puzzle solving with Prince of Persia-style platforming. However, Uncharted also throws in cover system-based shooting similar to that of Gears of War as if to make up for Tomb Raiderís weak combat.
Seemingly this would make for the perfect formula with which to portray an interactive treasure-hunting action adventure. In execution however, Uncharted fulfills this formula better in some places than others.
Uncharted: Drakeís Fortune works as a cinematic game, succeeds as a third person shooter, functions as a platformer, but utterly fails as a puzzle adventure. Probably by halfway into Uncharted I realized that although it sells itself as an adventure, its bedrock is a third person shooter. Naughty Dog seems to have realized this at some point in development as well since the shooter is what seems to prevail throughout the later sections of the game as the main reason youíre playing.
Combat in Uncharted is both fulfilling and challenging, properly patterning itself after the stop ní pop shooters of late. The weapons feel just right and ammo is scarce enough to stress accuracy as an imperative. Enemies also show a bit of tactical awareness. Theyíll advance on you often and flank if thereís ever a way around your cover. Combat environments are also large enough to provide lots of strategic maneuverability.
The only real gripes I personally had with Unchartedís combat were how Drake himself responded to my input when using the cover system. The controller layout in this game is just fine, but the way Drake seems to be mapped out to respond to certain environments got me killed more than a few times. Having to press a button to make my character stick to cover has always kinda irked me. In Uncharted itís the same button used to make Drake roll, which can cause some mix-ups when in the heat of battle. There are also some issues with how Drake aims in relation to the camera controls, but these are all just minor complaints in the face of what remains some very well-rounded combat design that manages to hold up the rest of the game throughout the experience.
Most surprising is what Uncharted does to its combat in the last 10 percent of the game. Just as things seem to be reaching a climax, out of nowhere the gameís combat does a near complete 180 and basically turns into Resident Evil 4. This totally changes the pacing of the game and adds a whole other side to an already tight combat system when you least expect it to.
Unchartedís platforming challenges, while not really unique at all, get the job done, feeling pretty much exactly like what Tomb Raider: Legend did. I will say though that after playing a game with platforming as dynamic as that of Assassinís Creed, platforming in Uncharted feels very linear. Coming off of Creed I often had trouble figuring out what I could and couldnít jump on in Uncharted. Drakeís animation also looks somewhat robotic compared to AltaÔrís seamless climbing and jumping animations in Creed.
What truly disappointed me in Uncharted however were its puzzle-solving elements. Being a game about exploring ancient ruins, I expected Uncharted to involve environmental puzzles at least on par with those of Tomb Raider, Zelda, or even Ico. I was even excited about the ability to refer to Sir Francis Drakeís journal for clues like Indiana did Henryís diary in The Last Crusade. Instead, what few puzzles this game has come off as short sequences where the game holds your hand nearly every step of the way. Figuring out environmental puzzles is supposed to involve observation and critical thinking on the part of the player. Uncharted cuts the observation part out almost completely and leaves you with some pretty rudimentary puzzles.
Where other games might try to convey environments to players through intuitive layouts, Uncharted simply has them press L2 to automatically point them to where it thinks they should be looking. That journal isnít even a real feature at all (even though a whole button is devoted to it). You can only use it at a few pre-determined moments in the game instead of as a general clue book to its mysteries. After that all thatís left is some basic sequence puzzles that do little to fill the hole left by the whole systemís linearity.
From the outset, to me Uncharted: Drakeís Fortune seemed like the perfect setup for a videogame interpretation of a modernized action-adventure. In essence ďDude RaiderĒ but with combat thatís actually enjoyable, effectively erasing the last problems that whole formula of game design had.
In the end though, while Naughty Dog had the right plan in mind and definitely pulled from all the right sources, those looking for a fulfilling adventure in this ďaction adventureĒ will be sorely disappointed. Uncharted dresses itself up as an adventure game with capable action gameplay and great cinematic presentation, but is really more a straight action game than anything else.7.5/
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