Did you know the original protagonist in Tomb Raider was supposed to be a guy? Much to many a pubescent gamer's delight, Lara Croft ended up taking over and a franchise was born. Flash forward a decade or so and meet Nate Drake, a pistol wielding treasure hunter and star of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
for the Playstation 3. On the surface Drake may seem like a Y-Chromosome carrying Croft but dig a little deeper and you'll find more than a one popular genre has been assimilated into this gaming experience.
Might as well get this out of the way: the visuals in Uncharted are astounding. Considering developer Naughty Dog has said that what they achieved isn't even scratching the surface of PS3 technology the future makes me giddy. Anyway, the majority of the game's locales flip between jungle areas and ancient ruins. The outdoor environments are wide open and feature some spectacular water effects, especially when Nate trudges through a shallow pond. Buildings are generally dilapidated but still show more variety than the standard next-gen mantra of all buildings looking brown and grey. Indoors end to be extremely dark, though the lighting effects used by flashlights and torches provide a welcomed sense of tension - especially in later areas.
Characters design is overall one of the highest points in the game. Drake and his female companion Elena are especially well animated and the motion captured cutscenes showcase the brilliant in-game engine. Enemies run, jump, and dive with the same fluidity of the protagonist. One complaint is that the character models tend to recycle quite often, though this doesn't detract too much from the presentation.
Gameplay is where Uncharted really becomes an amalgamation of previous games. Scaling walls and jumping between ledges has that distinct Tomb Raider feel, though the platforming here is far more forgiving. Often while hanging from a ledge, Drake will look at the proper direction so you don't often find yourself hurling headlong off a cliff. Also quite forgiving are the puzzles presented during your adventure. You can usually get the answer by opening up Nate's journal, which makes the puzzles seem arbitrarily thrown in as a way to break up the action.
Now the action is where this game really heats up. Rather than running and gunning, Uncharted's combat is more than a little similar to Gears of War's stop-and-pop system. Nate will press himself against walls or duck behind crates, only revealing himself to aim and shoot. Try to run around firing and you'll see the game over screen more than you'd like. The aiming works well and headshots are easily pulled off. Nate does have the option to engage in melee combat with the enemy, which amounts to timed combos. Don't attempt this when surrounded though as the other baddies don't wait for you to finish combos before firing shotguns at your head. The gunplay becomes more frequent as you progress through the game and, while repetitive, they're never boring.
You're not just killing pirates and traversing tombs for the hell of it - Uncharted weaves quite an entertaining tale during your play through. The basic premise finds Nate, his associate Sully and journalist Elena searching for El Dorado, which we learn isn't a city but instead one massive statue. Once pirates become involved (The modern, shoot you in the head kind, not the Johnny Depp
kind) the story takes some dramatic twists and turns that while they won't leave your jaw dropped, are definitely akin to a really entertaining summer action flick. Nate is a smart-ass but likable character, while Elena breaks the mold of big breasted female companions and actually holds her own through most of the game. Not once does Nate have to escort her through a tunnel while she helplessly gets shot at. Think of the game as a younger modern day Indiana Jones
and you'll get the idea of what to expect. Oh and - minor spoilers - a twist two-thirds into the game make pirates the least of your problems.
When all is said and done and the credits start rolling, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is the first step in what will hopefully become a franchise. The game has its fair share of problems, but in melding two different genres together it offers players a unique experience. If you own a PS3, pick this game up not just as a showpiece for high-def graphics but also as a solid gaming experience.
8.5 out of 10
Review By Dan Chruscinski
Starpulse.com Contributing Writer