Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune PS3 Review

To many, the PS3 may not be host to a huge amount of exclusive gaming gems, although with the likes of Metal Gear Solid 4, Resistance: Fall of Man, Heavenly Sword, Everybody’s Golf World Tour, Buzz Quiz TV, Valkyria Chronicles and LittleBigPlanet (not forgetting the likes of Super Stardust, Pixel Junk Monsters, and WipEout HD on the PSN), it still boasts a decent amount of shiny gems. I also recently discovered Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, another Sony exclusive that makes the system worthy of attention.

Nathan Drake, treasure hunter and the sarcastic protagonist of the game, believes himself to be a direct descendant of the Elizabethan era’s English hero, Sir Francis Drake. Following his real life death in 1595, Sir Francis’ coffin was cast away at sea, and in the game, thanks to some helpful coordinates engraved on a ring, Nathan Drake recovers this coffin. Inside the coffin is not the fleshless bones of the popular historical figure, but a mere diary with clues to the whereabouts of El Dorado. Nathan, accompanied by his friend Victor Sullivan (Sully to his mates) and potential love interest Elena Fisher, set out towards a forgotten island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in search of the secrets of the city of gold. The story is witty and the characters are charismatic, helped somewhat by not only the excellent voice work but also by the stunning motion capture.

The entire game feels as if money has been well spent in the areas that matter most. The visuals are still some of the best to be found and really show off the powerful innards of Sony’s third console, and all this without the entire machine melting in front of your eyes. The animations of both hero and enemy are as silky smooth as you could possibly find on a game today, enemies stumble when shot and jump back to avoid gunfire, although, fittingly enough, it’s Nathan himself who is the real star. This modern day treasure hunters animations are beautifully fluid, everthing from his running, his brutal hand-to-hand moves, and his deadly leaping about makes for a fantastically organic experience, it all transitions very smoothly as well, making the game such a delight to play. The sunny jungle environments are also very nice and after taking a dip in the water, soggy clothes look as convincing as soggy clothes (surely you didn‘t expect me to say a soggy teabag?).

To best describe Uncharted would to say it’s a little like Tomb Raider, although it’s definitely more Marcus Fenix than it is Lara Croft. Like Gears of War, the focus of the game is definitely keeping your head down and your gun loaded, making use of cover and popping out and returning fire at your smart, constantly moving enemies.

The cover system is more basic than Gears of War as you can’t point and advance to forward cover, although you can still roll from cover to cover and jump over it and move forward that way, whilst blind fire is also an option if you feel the need to sit tight in your current position (when lead is flying everywhere it comes as an easy recommendation).

When you’re not hugging an object or wall (that may or may not be the safety from bullets that you always seem to be seeking), it’s also possible to fire from the hip (assisted by auto aim), and to take enemies down by hitting them in the mouth with your fists. The latter is as basic as you would expect, simple three hit combos and nice skull cracking animations, rendering your enemies as harmless as any coma victim. The trade off for meeting the enemy head on is the reward of more ammo, always a good reason to put someone in a coma for.

It’s not all shooting though, Nathan also has an obvious enthusiasm for jumping large gaps and pretending he’s as invincible as Indiana Jones (well, the boulder dodging, whip wielding and hat wearing archaeologist has survived four films, so he must be doing something right). Jumping is achieved with little real effort as Nathan often feels as if he is on a wire that, like in the movies, has been digitally removed, as a result it regularly feels as if he is being gently guided to near-safety, much like Prince of Persia and the more recent Tomb Raider games. The only real challenge comes in the form of ledges that are just too weak for grabbing, crumbling between your fingers and more a less warning you to jump to the next ledge if you want to avoid becoming a crumpled heap and a failed treasure hunter that no one will remember. This automated jumping may be a problem to some, although I think it keeps the game moving along at a steady pace and as it looks so lovely and natural, it’s never any less than fun as well.

A smattering of vehicle sections are also featured, but the included jet-ski portions aren’t really that memorable, with an on-rails vehicle section fairing better.

Then there’s the puzzles, which pop up infrequently and their solutions are nearly always obvious. In a nice touch, Sir Francis Drake’s diary is often used for puzzle solving, although there’s no page turning or anything like that so the solution is always right there in front of you, which could be a problem for those who really like testing their brain power. There’s a helpful hint system as well, if you’re stuck as to where to head next or for certain puzzles, but it can also be completely ignored.

A downer to some will be the length of the game, averaging around 8 hours. Those who warm to the entire experience will surely return to find all the treasure and to earn the achievement-like medals (a patch has also added trophies which are earned at the same time of each medal), which unlocks bonus content (a better reward than a mere number that idiots brag about and cheat to earn). The game is certainly re-playable then, and would be even without these collectibles and rewards.

If it’s the way that Nathan moves or the manner in which progression is made, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is one of the smoothest gameplay experiences I have ever had the pleasure of playing. As the game is now in Sony’s budget Platinum range, if you’re an action adventure fan and you missed it first time around, this time there’s simply no excuse for you to let it pass you by.