Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is Sony’s big hitter for the holiday season; it’s a third person adventure in which the player assumes the role of Nathan Drake as he searches for the lost treasure of El Dorado, encountering lost ruins, deadly traps and a host of nefarious bad guys also keen on the golden goodies. Billed as Tomb Raider with balls, so to speak, Uncharted is a visual and technical masterpiece but falls a little short on originality.
It’s not obvious at the start which direction the game is going to take, and the initial opening sequence as Nathan and Elena (a reporter travelling with Drake) is both clunky and ill-advised. It does however introduce the player to gun-play and hand-to-hand combat, but it’s something of a baptism of fire and there’s no grace period for gamers not used to the twin-stick method of control, especially given the far more relaxing and interesting section immediately after. Regardless, the story then takes a series of minor twists before it’s clear that Nathan and co. won’t be having an easy time of retrieving the treasure of El Dorado, around which Uncharted is based.
Indeed, the Japanese title is a far more obvious one – Uncharted: The Treasure of El Dorado – and those keen on 16th century myths will find plenty here to keep interest levels high: the themes in the game are rich with ancient legend and tradition and Naughty Dog have created a vast, believable landscape with vivid colours and plenty of atmosphere: fans of Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia will relish the superb exploring sections crafted around intuitive controls and generous restart points. From balancing across trees and leaping over huge gaps to escaping collapsing temples Drake is a nimble chap, but it’s in the shooting where things don’t function quite so well.
The game doesn’t often force close range combat (with various combos) and because of that most gamers will rely on what they’re used to: long range weapons. Unfortunately this can sometimes seem like something of a battle with the game rather than the enemies and despite the options allowing camera inverting for both movement and aim something just doesn’t seem right – the aiming is slightly clunky (the non-consistent frame rate not helping) and the accuracy of the guns even when looking down the barrel is flaky. To compound all this, there are a few episodes in the game where enemies stream at you for far longer than they should, which just grate after a while and spoil the pacing. In a game split 50/50 between combat and exploration it’s a shame that half the game doesn’t really work as well as the other.
Thankfully the storytelling is the finest since Heavenly Sword – with game-engine cut-scenes providing most of the exposition Uncharted’s tale is one full of adventure and surprises, none of which we’ll spoil here suffice to say that not everyone is as they appear to be at first. Naughty Dog have clearly spend considerable time on the production values and it shows: the gorgeous world streams continuously (there’s no loading), saves are automatic, Greg Edmonson’s score is incredible and the visuals are probably the finest on the PS3 so far, with some amazing blended animation and pin-sharp texture work throughout the game. The most impressive part of the aesthetics has to be the lighting though, with realistic shadows cast on every object and character in sight from equally clever light sources.
The 10 hour game will be an entertaining ride for most gamers, and with several neat references to Jak and Daxter Naughty Dog fans will be the ones collecting all the 60 hidden treasures dotted around. Uncharted also has a Rewards list (much like the 360 Achievements) which can be spent on various things in the game including some cool cheats for subsequent play-throughs. Drake’s Fortune is a solid, beautiful single-player adventure, let down by less-refined shooting, but one that shouldn’t be overlooked by PS3 gamers this Christmas. If Naughty Dog are only using 30% of the PS3’s power, we’re in for some treats in the next few years.