I spent the last week in Chicago, and was separated from my beloved Xbox for the duration. I found myself staying in an apartment with a despicable PS3 of all things, and since it was my only option, I decided to put away my prejudices and work with what I had.
I’m kidding, actually there are a number of titles I’ve been dying to play on PS3 for years now and it was nice to finally get that chance. One series I’ve been meaning to check out forever in particular is Uncharted, as I’m told it’s a masterpiece of the action-adventure genre, and its sequel, Among Thieves was many people’s game of the year in 2009.
I figured it was best to kick things off with the first title, and so I played Drake’s Fortune in its entirety, and I’m here to share my thoughts on it a few years too late.
If you look closely enough, you’ll see a human being in this picture.
I could have sworn that in the minutes after booting the game up, that this had to be from the same team behind Tomb Raider. The genre and the play style all seemed innately similar, despite the lack of giant boobs onscreen, and I was shocked to learn that no, this was instead the team that brought us Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, and this was their first real foray into a game like this.
The game follows Nathan Drake, alleged ancestor of Sir Francis Drake, on a quest to finish his great (x10) grandfather’s quest to find El Dorado, the lost city of gold.
El Dorado has been the focus of many an adventure story before, and Uncharted does its best to give a fresh take on the legend, but in doing so I fear they may have gone a bit overboard as the plot twist at the end of the game had me rolling my eyes, but more on that later.
Drake himself has far more personality than most video game protagonists in recent memory, and as a Firefly fan, I immediately saw a lot of Captain Mal Reynolds in him. He’s cocky, improvisational and never seems to take his circumstances terribly seriously, even if he’s surrounded by an army of angry mercenaries armed to the teeth.
Sadly, Mark Wahlberg is playing him in the upcoming movie, not Nathan Fillion. For serious.
He’s aided by a videographer named Elena who serves as a mission objective, in some sequences when you have to find or rescue her, and as a doorstop in others, helping you access the next area by holding a gate open or giving you a boost. She starts the game shooting a documentary about Drake’s treasure questing, and keeps filming once the bad guys with guns start shooting, and even arms herself and fires back when the opportunity presents itself.
The entire game takes place on a singular island, populated by ancient ruins, angry rival treasure hunters and the skeletons of Nazis who tried to find the lost city themselves years earlier. Because every adventure always needs Nazis. No wonder they lost the damn war if they were always out looking for ancient artifacts.
So despite all its claims about being a “cinematic” story, I didn’t find much about Uncharted to be terribly original, at least in terms of story. It seemed like someone took the beginning sequence of Raiders of the Lost Ark, changed the lead and made it into a game with less cool traps and more automatic weapons fire. Fine, but not exactly revolutionary.
Also, Nazi suck at driving submarines.
But where the game really shines is in its gameplay, and that’s where innovation comes into play. It’s half cover based shooter, half platformer, and the two halves combine to make a very fun game. The non-shooting sequences are better versions of the kinds of puzzles we previously found in Tomb Raider puzzles, and the climbing is nearly on par with the expert system of Assassin’s Creed.
However, the combat is really what I appreciated, and actually felt MORE like a puzzle than the actual puzzle set pieces. You have to be exceptionally strategic in how and when you engage your enemies, as by the end, the game goes for full realism and allows your character to die instantly in a bullet or two. You have to place your shots perfectly, because if you don’t, you’ll take a sniper round to your forehead and have to start all over.
This is compounded by the fact that your enemies are actually smart for a change, rarity in games like this. You can’t stay hidden behind the same wall forever, as while you’re being pinned down in front, enemies will always flank behind you and force you to change tactics or execute some sick skills shots to escape. Not only that, but much of your cover is destructible, so you might be safe behind a crate for a minute, but after that, it will be shredded by bullets and you’ll be forced to find new protection elsewhere, which can prove to be scarce.
Hand to hand combat is one aspect I never figured out however. I AM pressing square triangle square goddamnit!
The game is just the right level of difficult. It was frustrating to have to re-do extended combat sequences, but it really did make you learn from your play and adapt your strategy to better suit your situation. As I found myself in a rundown church with five snipers in the rafters and waves up waves of ground forces rushing toward me with the ability to off me in one shot, I felt something I rarely do in a combat game like this, fear.
Gameplay downers include quick time events which will almost ALWAYS make you die the first go-through, as you’re never expecting them, and the inability of the game to understand which ledge you’re trying to jump to at some points, often resulting in a death that doesn’t seem like your fault. The jungle being the only environment in the game also gets a bit tiresome, and a lot of gun battles tend to blur together thanks to only two or three enemy types and the never changing scenery.
I also took issue with the game’s horrible zombie plot twist near the end, which completely shattered the plausible world that had been build up for the first eight hours of the game. Again, they’re clearly trying to pull an Indiana Jones where the supernatural swoops in to reveal some greater truth about the treasure being sought, but it just seems so jarring and out of place during the actual game, it left a bad taste in my mouth.
That being said, I enjoyed Uncharted. The complex combat and gameplay overshadowed the overhyped and overused plot, and I absolutely want to check out the sequel, which I’m told improves upon this installment in almost every way. Someone want to loan me a PS3?
4 out of 5 stars