Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Playstation 3 & 4
Developed by Naughty Dog
Released in 2007

Hey! I bought a Playstation 4. While I was out buying presents for Christmas I noticed the store I was at promoted a PS4 Slim model for just over 200 euros, and considering there were some titles I was really interested in, like the latest Deception game, Disgaea 5, and Persona 5, I figured now was a good moment to jump in. Except, this being a toy store in a mid-sized Dutch city, none of the above games were stocked! Browsing through the options I did have, I ended up taking the Uncharted collection along with me, a series I know many Sony fans are really proud of and which I haven’t played much at all.

Indiana Jones for young people

The story stars the titular Drake, a treasure hunter, career thief, and, most prominently, a carefree mass murderer. He is the descendant of Sir Francis Drake, a fellow hunter of treasures, and we begin the game by opening up his supposed coffin together with Elena, a TV personality who is doing a show on Drake’s adventure. The coffin turns out to be empty, except for a diary that sends Drake and Elena, as well as Drake’s grumpy, old friend Sully, on a journey across South America in search of the legendary El Dorado.

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Things quickly turn sour for the group as a band of mercenaries led by a man called Roman trace Drake down in the jungle. It’s a race to the legendary treasure and Drake will have to fend for his life to get there first.

I definitely like the idea of Uncharted thanks to its straightforward concept. There isn’t much more to the story besides the rivalry between two groups racing for a mythical treasure, a dynamic that also made Indiana Jones and similar movies interesting. In fact, Uncharted really goes out of its way to feel like a movie, offering a mix of shoot-outs, cinematic fistfights, platforming, and calmer moments where the characters stroll around a room trying to solve the latest puzzle obstructing their path. Except it doesn’t really work out exactly like an Indiana Jones movie.

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The game still feels very game-y, for lack of a better word. I think the defining moment for me came when I was locked in a room with a notebook and some statues. After solving a supposedly 500-year-old puzzle in the midst of an abandoned city a pathway opened up that led me to a room where I was immediately attacked by armed gunmen. I can never just get into Uncharted, whenever it begins to feel like a proper adventure something happens that makes no sense to me, and the characters are often the ones that cause it.

Elena and Drake are characters that people often praise, but seeing them here in their debut game was jarring to me. I will admit that there is some nice chemistry between the cast of main characters and the writing is often admirable, if a little over-reliant on witty remarks, but the way Drake and Elena act in general is weird to me. There is a scene at the beginning of the game where Drake has to explain to Elena how to fire a gun, indicating she isn’t used to violence, yet nowhere in the game does she seem put off by it. Drake and her work through literally thousands of lives, slaughtering people by the dozens, and especially for Elena you’d expect some reaction to that. Throughout the entire game, that scene early on where an everyday girl is given a gun and is immediately able to reap souls with the best of them, with no sign of panic or hesitation, stuck with me and really prevented these characters from growing on me.

Story score: 6/10

Above all, make it cinematic

That Naughty Dog wanted the Uncharted series to be a cinematic experience is well documented, including that one infamous interview where they admitted to making up setpieces first and figuring out how to contextualize it all later. To that end, Drake’s Fortune is kind of a mix of genres, but most prominently boasts slow-paced platforming similar to Assassin’s Creed in some ways and third-person shooting with a heavy focus on taking cover, flanking, and flushing enemies out with grenades.

While the combat is by no means complicated, I do want to commend Naughty Dog on making it surprisingly entertaining. Despite featuring a cover system, Uncharted‘s shoot-outs never feel static, people are always moving, rolling between cover, laying down suppressing fire for their buddies, and oftentimes you’ll notice guys with heavy weapons popping up on roofs to give you a tough time. The volume of enemies, the way they spread out and cleverly assault you with grenades, results in a game that is remarkably tough, even on modest difficulty settings.

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The mechanics are kept simple, with the circle button bringing Drake into nearby cover, after which you can peek out, take aim, and unleash bullets. Weapons are accurate and feel good to use, enemies are thrown off by your fire or even dart back into cover when one of your bullets just barely misses them, so I have few complaints in that regard. Weapon diversity is a bit of an issue, with it being entirely unclear how any of the pistols, machine guns, and shotguns available to you differ from each other. I am not enough of a gun nut to instinctively know whether I should bring an AK47 or M4 when presented with such a choice, but paranoid enough to worry I might be making the wrong choice.

I do want to say that Drake himself is not always cooperative. Pressing circle often send him into an entirely different piece of cover than I intended, sometimes even in such a way that he was exposing himself to enemy fire rather than avoiding it. I also ran into glitches like grenades flying off in directions I did not throw them or being unable to see where I am shooting because the camera zoomed in on my cover. Similar problems emerge in the platforming, though that entire part of the game leaves a lot to be desired anyway.

Platforming in Uncharted is simplified to a point where it barely registers as gameplay, yet at the same time it carries many problems with it. You jump and grab stuff with X and especially while climbing on stuff, so long as you press in the direction of the next ledge, Drake will entirely steer himself. Scaling a huge, ancient tower involves little more than holding the control stick up and keep hitting X; the game, somewhat hilariously, tries to fake a sense of urgency by making some ledges collapse as you grab them, but so long as you keep moving there is no risk involved at all.

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The problem, then, is that Uncharted‘s level design is absolutely rubbish for platforming as a means to progress. Most games have subtle methods of directing players in the right direction, like giving objects you can interact with colors that stand out, or using lighting to highlight the path players are meant to take. When doing any sort of platforming in Uncharted it’s just a guessing game, with no visual indicators of any sort helping you differentiate the next ledge you can interact with from a ledge that will leave Drake plummeting into the abyss. While sometimes the guess is easy if you think about what the developer most likely intended, at other times I found myself repeatedly trying to make a jump that just didn’t seem to work, only to realize that I was meant to go somewhere else.

This isn’t helped at all by Drake’s movement, who sometimes makes dumb, little hops whereas at other times he can jump inhuman distances. Oftentimes I figured “well, if Drake can’t jump properly in that direction, then that must be the wrong way” only to come back after many other failed attempts to realize it actually was the correct way to go all along,. This problem with emphasizing objects you can interact with also crosses over in some puzzles, where I was left dumbstruck until the game pointed out that I was supposed to shoot some meaningless part of a locked gate in order to open it. If you literally need to zoom in on something and tell the player “shoot this” or “climb on that”, then perhaps it’s time to reevaluate your design.

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There are many times I found myself being frustrated with this game, yet at the same time I plowed through it in just two days and would have been done sooner if I wasn’t asked to join my friends in Warframe. For all its faults, there is just an inherent fun found in playing this game. It doesn’t require much thought; the puzzles are simple, the combat is quick and fun, and platforming, as I mentioned before, almost plays itself. This is a game you can fire up, have an adventure with for a few hours, and put down feeling like you had a satisfying, varied, and complete experience with it.

While the final boss left a lot to be desired (it being a series of poorly-implemented QTEs), it felt gratifying to finish this game and I left feeling like I had overcome challenges and had a real, proper adventure. Still, I would have expected much better from Naughty Dog.

Gameplay score: 6/10

Hey look, it’s Nolan North!

While the story left me cold, there are few things as effective at warming me up as a bit good voice acting, which Uncharted has in spades. Nathan Drake is perhaps the most recognizable role voice actor Nolan North has ever done, and his iconic voice matches Drake perfectly. His lines, even if they are a bit too smug from time to time, are always delivered excellently. It’s no surprise to see how prolific Nolan North has become in video game voice acting ever since his role here.

Actress Emily Rose can be heard voicing Elena and does a similarly excellent job, despite having little experience in voice acting. It was also fun to hear Richard McGonagle as Sully, though his elderly appearance and voice kept reminding me of No More Heroes’ Dr. Peace.

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Uncharted also boasts some really amazing graphics, which I suspect is partly why Sony fans are so fond of it. While I did play the Playstation 4 port, if the original version came anywhere close to the visual fidelity on display here, then that must have been some really good ammo to use against Microsoft’s exclusives. A lot of it also plays out in deep jungles, meaning that for once those super-duper next-gen (now last-gen) graphics went to use rendering some actual color. Even the later stages that take place in dark, underground environments still manage to be somewhat pleasing to the eye.

I must also say that the character designs are appealing, even though that isn’t a line you’ll hear from me often when it comes to realistic-looking games. Even though it’s become sort of a joke that the generically-handsome, brown-haired male has become the default hero for action-oriented games, Nathan Drake still has a charm to him that sets him apart from the bulk, which is certainly helped by Nolan North’s performance. Elena and Dr. Peace Sully have the same effect on me, though I must say that the animation on Elena’s face was a tad strange from time to time.

Regrettably, the various enemies you meet in battle fail to disguise how often they are recycled. This is definitely a case of Naughty Dog putting in too much effort, as giving the various goons such a detailed design left me noticing how often I would find the same guy up to three times in the same battle; it was especially fun if I spotted someone standing next to their own clone.

Presentation score: 8/10

Ain’t a treasure hunt without treasure

There is plenty to do in Uncharted if you want to bring home the platinum, but a lot of it isn’t that interesting considering the kind of game this is. I don’t find Uncharted particularly replayable, it was a fun ride, sure, but I don’t think I’ll find myself returning to it any time soon. Most of the trophies are related to playing the game on different difficulty modes, finishing some levels quickly, and racking up a specific number of kills with different weapons and methods, which can certainly take you a while and is not particularly interesting unless you really dig Uncharted‘s combat.

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Another extra you can hunt for is treasure, of course. 60 items in total can be found hidden across the game’s levels, with a hidden extra that will be particularly cool for long-time Naughty Dog fans. These treasures appear as tiny, shining stars and I found about 30 of them on my first run without specifically looking for them. Finding them all without a guide is not fun, however, especially since all the levels are linear journeys with many points-of-no-return. It always baffles me how many linear adventure games want to include collectibles knowing nobody will have fun having to restart an entire level because somewhere along the road they missed one.

The collectibles do lead to some unlockable extras, including the option to flip the world around, alternate costumes, and filters that change the look of the game. As much as I dislike collectibles handled in this way, I do have to admit that the rewards are pretty cool, and if you don’t really care about completion than this shouldn’t even be an issue to begin with. My personal recommendations are to flip the world around and play as Doughnut Drake. Additionally, if you happen to speak other languages besides English, go into the options menu and see if you can set the game to that language for some added hilarity.

Extras score: 6/10

Verdict

As strange as this may sound when talking about a flagship franchise for a major console, Uncharted really is a game I would recommend to get when it’s heavily discounted, not that you’ll have any other choice getting it nowadays. Had I paid 60 bucks for this game back in the day, then I would certainly have felt ripped off, but the game sure looks nice and its easygoing adventure can easily suck up an entire afternoon if you’ll let it. It’s just that the mix of gameplay styles offered here are all under-developed and the game doesn’t do enough to justify this.

65/100

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