sunnuntai 29. tammikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: November 2007
DEVELOPER(S): Naughty Dog
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

By 1996, Naughty Dog had been around in some shape or form for 12 years, but their first true hit was released around that time - Crash Bandicoot for the Sony PlayStation. A platformer with a titular character that was somewhat of a mascot for Sony as Sonic the Hedgehog was for Sega, and as Mario was for Nintendo. I believe you all know the story. After giving up on their involvement with Crash, Naughty Dog went on to create the successful Jak and Daxter series. At some point, Naughty Dog became driven by a new ambition; to break out of their overtly family-friendly mold. They wanted to create a bombastic action game that wouldn't be shunned by older players as just another kids' game. When the PlayStation 3 came out in 2006, Naughty Dog announced Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Not much was known about this game, except that it was to be a highly cinematic action game deeply influenced by the adventures of Indiana Jones. As the release date of November 2007 drew closer, the hype grew stronger. Up 'til that point, the PlayStation 3 hadn't been doing too well when it came to exclusive titles. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was greeted by universal acclaim, and it was the beginning of one of today's biggest and most popular action franchises. Since it's so accessible and easy to play, many of my friends have asked me what's so special about Uncharted. My answer: a lot of things. After five years, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is still one of the best PlayStation 3 exclusives out there... not to mention one of the best looking ones.

Raiders of the lost art of simple gameplay

Nathan Drake - perhaps a little overambitious, but multi-skilled and extremely resourceful treasure hunter with an amazing wit - is out to find El Dorado, the lost city of gold, using a diary left behind by his supposed ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. Accompanied by his best friend and mentor Victor "Sully" Sullivan and the beautiful reporter Elena Fisher, Nate embarks on an epic adventure involving a rival band of treasure hunters, as well as the deadly, unearthly guardians of El Dorado.

Our amazing male leads...
So, it's a quiet afternoon in early 2009. I'm extremely depressed and I think to myself: I have a very strict, tight budget, and I need some new game to keep me going. Well, I march into the local GameStop as I always do in this situation, and check out if there's anything cheap I could sink my fangs into. There's this game called Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I know absolutely squat about it; I've just heard the name. I go back home, scout the net a little bit, and find nothing but rave reviews of the game. A sequel's in the works, actually... interesting. So, I download the demo from the PlayStation Network. I love it. I return to GameStop the next day and buy the game, it's only 25 euros and then some. I return home, insert the disc into my PS3, and the next thing I remember is beating the game... and wanting to go at it again... after watching the whole of my Indiana Jones DVD collection first. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is an amazing game, and also a rare first installment, 'cause it hasn't been outdated by its sequels all that much.

The story's good, but if you're being honest to yourself, the story of Uncharted doesn't really matter. I mean, you don't necessarily have to know the purpose behind each twist and turn in the storyline - you don't have to really squint and struggle to keep up with what's happening. Nathan Drake gets thrown in such epic stipulations you don't really care what's going on, as long as it keeps going on... as well as Nate's hilarious monologue. Nathan Drake is one of this generation's greatest action heroes; although he's clearly an exaggerated character when it comes to his ridiculously amazing ability to scale walls - like Spider-Man on steroids - everything else on the side shows that he's human. He curses at sticky situations and constantly rants to himself, or to his companion if he happens to have one, he stumbles while running, sweats and breathes heavily, and truly fears for his life in most of the game's situations. I guess he could carry the game all by himself, but he's backed up by some of the greatest supporting characters in the history of cinematic gaming, the greatest of which is Victor Sullivan - kind of underutilized until the third game in the series.

...And the girl of my dreams, all in the same game.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was one of the first games that truly demonstrated what the PS3 is graphically capable of at its best, and seriously, after five years, it still looks awesome, especially to one who's not yet acquainted with the more recent installments. It's held back, the level design ain't nearly as adventureous as it was to become, and although much good work was done on the facial modelling, all the way to detailed expression, there are some horrid instances of the characters' eyes looking like they're gonna pop out, with their eye sockets widening well out of proportion. If you can get over some really weird faces and "stale" (how can I say that?) level design for a little shy of a half of the game, you're going to love how Uncharted: Drake's Fortune looks. It's artificially stunning, dynamic, and full of details.

This was Greg Edmonson's first video game. Being most famous for composing music for the TV shows King of the Hill and Firefly, there were no realistic expectations towards the guy's work at all, especially since Uncharted was a new franchise. From the beginning, it's made clear where this score's influences spawn from and how great and epic it's gonna be; the Uncharted theme is one of the most recognizable theme songs today, and when I think about it, Uncharted is also one of the only modern game franchises that HAS a theme song. Musical cues are right on the spot, great sound effects take care of the rest... as well as remarkably good voice acting.

In November 2007, two games came out with Nolan North in a starring role - both ended up being the first installments in soon-to-be best-selling franchises. The other was Assassin's Creed, the other was of course Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It's no wonder Nolan North's been in just about every game released since - the guy's phenomenal. He uses ad-libbing for Nate, which is totally unheard of in this business, and makes the character seem 100% real. Emily Rose does a fine job as my polygonal daydream Elena Fisher, and one must never forget to mention Richard McGonagle as Sully. As a lifelong fan of Simon Templeman's work, I must also mention him, but his performance left me surprisingly cold in this game. He's less the root of all evil, and more of an annoying bastard.

Nate doesn't know how to use a doorknob.
Explaining how Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - or any Uncharted game - works, is easy, but it's not so easy to explain what's so great about it, since people have so varying tastes and high tendencies to doubt. Think of any old school, 2D action game, in which you made your way from the beginning of the level to the end, collecting weapons on the way - Contra. Contra's a prime example. You just shot anyone that dared step or fly or crawl in your way, and ran for the goal. Uncharted is exactly the same - with fancy 3D cinematics, but it's exactly the same. No fancy weapon upgrades to be bought from some virtual store and installed with a lot of hard currency involved, no bonus objectives to be completed (except for Trophies, of course... one of the earliest games to have them patched in), no complex menus, nothing you've busted your balls to learn in every action game released during the decade. It's just ACTION - as visual and bombastic as it comes. You have three weapon slots, each of which is assigned to a direction on the D-Pad. One's for one-handed weapons, one's for two-handed weapons, and one's for grenades - which are easier to aim and throw than in most 3D games released before, including the almighty Resident Evil 4. The PlayStation 3 control scheme makes weapon switching easy, all you need to really worry about is getting to decent cover in time and hope that your aim's good - 'cause the firefights can get pretty sticky, especially on higher difficulty levels.

It ain't all about headshots, though. A great deal of the game is about puzzles - which are way too easy since the game has no patience at all when it comes to hints you cannot turn off - and Nathan's tendency (I refuse to call it an actual need) to scale walls and whatever's in the environment instead of looking for a way to bust open a more obvious and safe path to his destination. This game was not made for people scared of heights - or maybe it was made for them in particular, I don't know. Anyway, seeing Nathan hang from a flimsy rope and swing along a partly corrupted castle wall to make it to a window on the opposite side of the stronghold with a hundred feet of air beneath him makes you wish for people to just leave their doors open.

The sweeter side of vehicular combat in this game.
Straightforward action and some of the most epic spelunking sessions you've ever seen leave room for a couple of more elements. Uncharted was made with taking full advantage of the PS3's features in mind, that's why there are a few Quick Time Events - melee combat is based on good timing and reflexes, as well - as well as perhaps one five-second lapse of Sixaxis use during the whole game, which is just pointless filler. It's like "oh, look, we have this fancy-ass Sixaxis which is totally lame and has got no use at all in any game, perhaps we could fit in one brief sequence 'cause we feel sorry for the damn thing!" It's not a flaw, it's kind of an amusing distraction from a time game developers really didn't know what to do with the Sixaxis.

What are the flaws of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune? They do exist. The game has awkward pacing. The intro sequence is all about combat basics, but it'll take hours for the next combat sequence to turn up. There's a lot of those easy-as-hell puzzles and in-depth introduction of the main characters in between. It's great at first, but not that great on subsequent playthroughs. The second half of the game is almost all about combat. It feels like you're thrown from one ridiculous situation to another, and both the puzzles and the spot-on dialogue, even the climbing, take a backseat. I'm also not a huge fan of the vehicle levels in the middle of the game - sometimes it feels like the chemistry between Nate and his companions is the only thing keeping me going for something better. Last, we have the lack of boss fights - which is actually a good thing, they don't really belong here, but the only real boss fight in the game, the final battle, could be better. They had all the opportunity to make the fight count for all the missing boss fights, but it's actually just a run-of-the-mill "catch the bad guy" type of fight, which can easily be over in two minutes if you rule at the game. At least this is what I felt when I first completed the game - having a real fight for your life in the end of Uncharted 2 against a superhuman kind of made me miss this more realistic battle.

Back off, Mr. T. This fool's got a gun.
I mentioned before that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was one of the first games to have Trophies patched in - PS3 Trophies were invented nine months after the game's initial release - and it shows. The criteria for each Trophy is quite generic, and actually each Trophy is based on an award within the game. They mostly involve kills with a certain weapon type, beating the game on each difficulty level, and finding all of the hidden treasures, searching for which is damn fun and made even better by the fact that there's a counter for the treasures for each individual chapter in the game. You don't have to replay the whole game to go after the missing treasures, you can pick any incomplete chapter from the main menu. The awards (all of which directly yield Trophies) give you points, which you can use to purchase unlockable bonuses, such as concept art and alternate attires for Nate (which don't show in cutscenes, mind you). Even though the game is so cinematic in nature, it packs a gratuitous amount of replay value. It even packs it just BECAUSE it is so cinematic in nature; it's like a great action-adventure you love to watch over and over again. Kind of like Raiders of the Lost Ark; now why did I immediately think of that flick?

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is what I'd call a true modern classic, a beautiful start to a beautiful franchise. Assuming you've never gotten familiar with the Uncharted series and want to start from the beginning, you're going to find one damn great game in Drake's Fortune. It's a little outdated, but like I said, not much - it's still an amazing experience, which paved the way for a not only even better, but more daring game.

- Nathan Drake
- Nate, Sully and Elena form one of the greatest teams in video game history as the game progresses
- The game is simple to play, very accessible and easy to learn
- The game looks and sounds nearly flawless, even after five years on the market; extremely high production values for a new franchise
- Lots of unlockables for the most enthusiastic players, last of which are left for those worthy enough to beat Crushing Mode (haven't been able to, myself) 

- The pacing's off when it comes to fair division between combat and adventure
- The puzzles are too easy, and even if you turn the hint system off, there's usually something or someone in the environment just blurting out the solution before you can even think things through
- The controls are occasionally clumsy; taking cover is unnecessarily hard in all the wrong situations, and trick jumping in certain areas can certainly spell your downfall
- Non-English versions of the game have crappy subtitles, which are based on the written script instead of what's actually happening in the game; lots of misinterpretations, which annoy and amuse the player at the same time

< 9.1 >

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