Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PS3)

Sony Computer Entertainment

Charting new territory in the world of console video gaming.

I've once heard from a fellow gamer that the Uncharted series of cinematic, action adventure treasure hunting video games is "one of the best yet". Naturally, I cast my doubt. "You see this here?" I grasped my purple Nintendo 3DS with Pokemon Y booted up. "What makes Uncharted the best? Pokemon Y is the best. I even play it at work. Can you do that with Uncharted? Can you play Uncharted at work?" Clearly that was all nonsense but sometimes you gotta make yourself laugh.

"What the hell is Pokemon?"

"They're monsters that fight each other--"

"Shut up, Caleb."

I gave him the sternest finger imaginable. "No. Pokemon are monsters that fight each other and they go FWOOSSSHHH-SPIHOOOM shooting fire 'n' shit and and dragons! Can you do that in Uncharted? Can you go FWOOSSSH-SPIHOOOM and dragons in Uncharted? I don't think so."

"Oh so you know what Uncharted is? You've played it?"

"Does it truly matter?"

"So you have played it. Well then you know Uncharted is like playing in a movie and that it looks awesome. It's why I bought my PlayStation 3 in the first place. It's an awesome game."

"How do you seriously not know what Pokemon is?"

"Did you even hear what--"

"Shit, even my baby sister knows what Pokemon is."

"I'm 38 years--"

"Shaddup. Caleb used Flamethrower! FWOOSSSHHH-SPIHOOOM!"

We didn't talk much about Uncharted after that, but I had no time to worry as I had a game store to visit. For the same price as an tacky table lamp from IKEA, I walked out of there three games richer. Sweet. But lo, my initial impressions were not favorable, what with box art this cruddy.

Sony Computer Entertainment
So it's not Resistance 2 shitty, but still its bad, innit?

Furthermore, I had trouble grasping the idea of buying an "awesome" video game for only five dollars. Maybe I've made the wrong decision. Maybe the pimple in my no-no zone is nothing serious. Golly, maybe I should have bought that tacky IKEA lamp to compliment the art studio I never use where I've tactically laid out sketches of birds for the visitors that I never have instead.

Fuck you if this ugly sin is in your home.

But there's just no getting around the hype around Uncharted. Question was, is there truly anything to it?

There's A Lot To It, Actually

Released in 2007, I regard Uncharted: Drake's Fortune's launch as truly revolutionary, marking a new era of gaming where video games no longer wore the shackles of their game console masters. Game console technology has and always will limit game design in some way, but with the launch of the PS3 and Xbox 360 in 2006, this effect is sharply minimized. Finally, technology surpassed imagination, allowing developers greater room to flex their creativity muscles than ever before. Even the Naughty Dog co-president, the game development team behind Uncharted, Evan Wells mentioned they "were stylized with our [Jak & Daxter] characters because of the limitations of the [PlayStation 2]." That's definitely no problem with the PS3.

Sony Computer Entertainment
More than the PS2's Earth-shattering 32MB of RAM
is needed to render a face this smoothly douchey.

With this technological leap between the PS2 and PS3, Naughty Dog felt that "it was time to go fully armed", and create a true masterpiece. Much like Sonic Adventure's development for the Sega Dreamcast, new styles of gameplay, storytelling, and immersion were a direct effect of this leap in technology between the PS2 and PS3. In fact, Uncharted supposedly uses only about a third to a half of the PS3's Cell processor. Wow, that sure sounds good doesn't it?

I'm willing to pay to see Cell star in the next Uncharted game.
Who's with me?

Knowing that a game like this does not and could not exist on any previous generation console makes understanding the immense hype behind it much easier. So what do you get when you smash imagination and 2007 game console technology together like a multicolored Play-Doh snake? For one, you get well done visuals that are still surprising today. I believe that the Assassin's Creed series on the PS3 are some of the best looking HD console games, but Uncharted, and it's sequels are on par in my eyes. Don't only take my word for it. You can click on any image in this article for a higher res version, and Uncharted's E3 2007 trailer also does a fine job of showing off Uncharted's visual chops.

While visual finesse can make terrible games better, there's no replacement for good old-fashioned fun. Does Uncharted take advantage of the PS3 in this regard?

Again, Yes!

Following a good looking white man treasure hunter on his misadventures into the Amazonian jungle, in search of a lost treasure. The story itself isn't the most compelling. Never mind the cringe inducing clich├ęs, there's a finite amount of white people that I can cheer for in these hero's journey games before it all becomes one milky blur. What is compelling are the tools used to tell you that story. As Nathan Drake, you will smoothly parkour your way across surging rivers and ancient ruins, and it's all very good fun when it works correctly. As a game mechanic, you'll feel like a champ making leaps and bounds that seem impossible at first notice.

Sony Computer Entertainment
This, Naughty Dog. Uncharted need more of this.

As a story telling tool, it envelopes you in Uncharted's world. Only when you're precariously hanging from the side of a cliff above a picturesque shot of the Amazon below do you absorb just how out place Nathan is in the jungle. This is also where the power of the PS3 shines, rendering details at a steady 30 frames per second that seemingly swallow our hero, and the gamer by extension, during his journey. While you don't feel entirely lost, you do feel out of place.

Tommy Thompson, Sony Computer Entertainment
More of this, too.

Toss in cinematic camera angles, a dramatic score, and second-to-none voice acting and it's easy to forget that you're actually playing a video game and not participating in a summer blockbuster. Naughty Dog absolutely kicks ass in the presentation department, showing a powerful command over story telling that I wish more developers out there could achieve. Its a shame, then, that Uncharted doesn't have more of it. There's plenty of the good stuff to be had, but the rest of your gameplay is made up of forgettable puzzles and gunfights. The puzzles involve Nathan clambering about, interacting with his environment to proceed on his journey. There's nothing particularly interesting here except for cool artwork in a notebook that you can reference if you need any hints to solve a puzzle. Then there are the gunfights...

And Boy Are They Baaad

Uncharted has a lot going for it, but the moment the sweet bliss of stellar presentation hits you, the sharp pain of terrible controls soon follows. Again, much like Sonic Adventure, you will have mountains of oversteer to contend with each movement of the control stick. Oversteer, by the way, is the phenomenon of your in game character moving more than your perceived input. In real life you tend to move one step after telling your body to move exactly one step. In Uncharted, though, you'll move three steps instead, making "nightmarish control" your true in-game enemy. Your gunfights will solely include hordes of pirates touting unlimited ammo and incredible amounts of health, and they're also accurate as shit. Nathan Drake's health, however, is minuscule in comparison. Have fun! Dying repeated due to unfair disadvantages is fun, right?

Sony Computer Entertainment
Despite what the tilt-i-ness of this screenshot may lead you to believe,
these are some of the worst gunfights in modern gaming.

Sure you can replace your default pea-shooter with "better" guns to deal more damage, but each rifle feels no more powerful than the last. Hell, throwing confetti at the pirates would be more advantageous, each gunfight feels like you're attempting to kill an elephant with a wet pool noodle anyway, so what's the harm in trying? For all that these pirates care, getting shot six to twenty times in the chest by an AK-47 is just another day in the pirate life. Admittedly, facing off against
God mode hordes of elephants using only pool noodles loaded with goddamned confetti is called "challenge". Well fuck you. I don't enjoy feeling as if a game is taking the lazy route when it comes to creating a challenge. Design these pirates to flank around me, not just simply spawn in a hole in the wall outside of my field of view, killing me from behind with a shotgun blast. Instead of having them lob random grenades with perfect trajectory at my feet no matter my distance from them, make these enemies attack me depending on what weapon I am using. This lazy route in game design snaps you from the grand illusion that you're participating in an epic movie, and that's a major problem when overall presentation is the best aspect of this video game. The unintelligent enemy A.I. makes gameplay as sad an experience as the ending of the movie A.I. starring Haley Joel Osment.

We were going to make a joke about Osment's looks,
but we all felt shitty thinking about it.

In The End, It Still Rocks

Close your eyes and allow me to take you on a trip (Keep them open to continue reading, but do close them every now and then to keep the image alive). You're meeting a job interviewer after numerous recommendation from friends insisting you'll love the job. There's good health insurance, paid for vacations, no blacks in the office; its heaven. Smiling, you confidently reach for a handshake only to feel the all too familiar sensation of deli sausage, it's raw pork aroma, salty yet sweet with a hint of maple, filling each crevice of your lungs. The chances that you're not at a job interview are high, and you shouldn't go back there again. While at you're at it, get better friends, and that's exactly the feeling you receive when playing Uncharted: hungry for sausage and betrayed. Your will to continue playing Uncharted after hours of woeful gun fighting will definitely be tested. In other words, the good, quality gameplay falls by the wayside in lieu of stellar presentation which leads many to claim Uncharted never meets it's own hype.

Sony Computer Entertainment
But pretty things are never bad.

Here's the kicker: I am 100% okay with that and most gamers will be too. While the hype stumbles for footing in one decidedly important area, it rises and exceeds expectations in stunning, unique fashion never before seen in a video game. Uncharted's remarkable marriage of graphical ability, story telling, and epic free running/climbing gameplay eclipse its faulty shooting controls. An impressive affair made even more so considering its high entertainment value seven damned years, Uncharted is testament to Naughty Dog's skillful use of technology to make their video games some of the best video games around. This is a game that I, of all people, can forgive the problem of poor controls due to how wonderfully the overall package comes together. This is a game that makes you star in the summer blockbuster as you've always dreamed. This is a game that reminds you of why you fell in love with video games in the first place.

This adorable child grew into the
pumpkin-esque man shown earlier.
Crazy, right?


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