Unreal Retro Game Review: Uncharted – Drake’s Fortune

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



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  1. Uncharted was the first game I played on my PS3 and the graphics melted my brain. The second takes what is good and improves on every single thing.

    The second is more cinematic from the opening scene where you wake up on a wrecked train hanging off the side of a mountain and have to scale to the top. The writing and voice acting is amazing and there are multiple locations as well.

  2. Spot on review Paul. I agree with every point you made. From the difficult hand-to-hand combat to the absurd plot twist, you made some good points.

    Now go try Uncharted 2, it improves every aspect, but there still is a strange plot twist.

  3. Looking forward to playing that, actually. I still haven’t gotten around to it.

    Nit-pick: Nathan Drake would be the /descendant/ not the ancestor of Sir Francis, unless this story took place somewhere in the 1300s, in which case the Nazis would have had to use a time machine, which would make the story all the more ridiculous.

  4. The second game has become pretty much one of my fave games of all time. It accessable, beautiful and yes cliche but it had me grinning the entire way through. The characters are also excellent, the main bad guy is one of the most serious and well voiced enemies in any game.

  5. I began with the 2nd episode (with my girlfriend), it was one of the best games I ever played in my life!!!
    Then I played to the 1st one and it felt so boring in comparison to the the 2nd opus! Always in the jungle, far less interesting than the sequel… so less interesting than I almost did not play to it, my girlfriend did finish the game entirely though…
    Can’t wait for the 3rd instalment…

  6. Awesome review Paul – and timely, as I just finished playing the game last night myself. Like you, I found the majority of the game enjoyable.

    I was annoyed by the QTEs that killed you the first time through every time. There were also several spots that I felt were either terribly poor game design (the sequence where you’re riding the jetski up river and pausing to shoot stands out especially) or cheap ways of killing you to extend the game’s playing time (guys with shotguns materializing right behind you).

    Overall, I did very much enjoy the game and am excited about playing the sequel. There are only a few minor changes needed to jump the second game into the 4.5 or 5 star range.

  7. I’ll just repeat what everyone above me said. Spot on review and the second one is way better. It does have a similar plot twist but it’s much, more believable and well executed.
    I am a little disappointed you didn’t mention the voice acting, nolan north did an exceptional job on the voice and he actually had a hand in acting out the part and creating the character.

  8. Paul, do yourself a favor and pick up a PS3 already! You’re missing out on some truly great games. I mean, hell, if I can afford 2 systems, I’m sure you can as well. I mean, what’s not to like about the PS3, free online, and the people you meet online aren’t complete a**holes.

    In all honesty, I bought the Halo: Reach bundle when it came out last year. While I had fun with it for a while, it was very hard to divide my time between two systems. I haven’t touched the 360 in at least 4 months, but I never expected to play it all the time. That being said, I could definitely see why having one system is easier. I just make sure to buy online cross platform games for the PS3, just in case I don’t want to continue paying for Live. As of right now, the only Xbox title I look forward to buying, is the new Gears of War, which is still a ways away.

  9. Perhaps I’m getting my games jumbled, but doesn’t the first Uncharted take place over at least *two* separate islands, practically across the world from each other? I would’ve thought this a pretty clear sequence of events, as they map out how far they fly and how horrific the crash is when they’re shot down, but maybe I’m remembering things wrong…

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