Sunday, December 28, 2014

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3) Review

Uncharted seems to be the PlayStation 3's crown jewel, so I made this my first target in setting out with the system. I'm a fan of Indiana Jones and the bits I've seen of the Uncharted games seemed to follow in that vein. The game certainly looks the part (and does its best to be), but it doesn't quite meet those aspirations.

I remember Uncharted being that game. The killer app that was supposed to turn a console's fortunes around. It does a pretty good job of coming close to that. The graphics are still impressive, even for a game from 2007.

The character models aren't as good as anything we have now, but the environments still hold up well. In playing this and some other PlayStation 3 games I've noticed that a lot of games use pretty low texture resolution with the lighting sort of pre-applied to the textures. This isn't as much of an issue in Uncharted since you're never really close enough to many objects to see this, so it all works very convincingly.

The story for Uncharted focuses on Nathan Drake, the self proclaimed descendent of Sir Francis Drake. When the game opens Drake has tracked down Francis Drake's coffin, which contains a diary seemingly pointing towards El Dorado, the lost city of gold. Instead, Drake learns that El Dorado is actually a gold statue which was hauled away by the Spaniards to an island in the pacific. Drake heads to the island with a reporter named Elena who is trying to film a documentary.

Unfortunately, the characters never really feel fleshed out. They have enough personality to stand on their own, but you'd always like to know a bit more. Uncharted hurtles forward like a Hollywood blockbuster, so there's never really any time for that. Naughty Dog did their best to make Nathan Drake a ringer for Indiana Jones, but he never quite has the qualities to pull of the arrogance in a charming way. Elena is about as interesting as a wet rag and unfortunately, our villains are as well. The story never really rises above serviceable, but the lore surrounding El Dorado that the game creates is an interesting twist.

Uncharted plays out as a third person adventure game. There's a fair amount of platforming here, which works very well. You'll be scaling walls, swinging on vines, doing... adventurer stuff, I suppose. It would've been nice to have a bit more platforming, actually. There's also a puzzle element to the game. These are very poorly designed. They're not bad, they just make you feel like an idiot. I'm not a fan of games constantly pandering, but there are certain things that are sort of expected with puzzles in games. Some kind of indication of what exactly you should be doing.

You're right, idol. I probably shouldn't have sex. Shia LaBoeuf be damned.

Let me explain; early in the game, a character (Sully) who is helping you lights a sort of giant torch on fire with a cigar. This in turn causes a lantern on the ceiling to light as well. In front of you is a giant pile of wood that it appears you can move out of the way somehow. The lantern on the ceiling is chained; logically, you can't shoot it down. Uncharted doesn't really give you hints or a clear solution. Sully makes some kind of a statement about burning the wood pile to get through. I immediately start looking for something to light off of the main torch thing. There's a lot of different objects in the environment, so the lantern is not the immediate choice. I wandered aimlessly for a few minutes until Sully says "try shooting the lantern." So, I shoot it. It doesn't break or fall down, it just sort of drops a bit of burning wood and it sets the pile on fire. Not only was this not intuitive, you made me feel stupid. I spent a fair amount of time looking for another way, then you just insult me with the answer.

Not all of the puzzles have the same absent-mindedness to their design, but there are a few. I think the key to making a good puzzle is to make it just obscure enough, but also just obvious enough. Then you feel clever, you're getting something done. That just wasted my time and made me feel stupid in the end.

The rest of the game plays out as a third person shooter. There's a fun variety of weapons, but ammo can seem a bit scarce. For the most part, you'll be hugging cover and popping out to take shots. The shooting mechanics aren't the best. Your targeting reticule is a bit large and touchy, and it can be hard to get a good shot on an enemy. In addition, they take a lot of shots to take down. Some real bullet sponge business. This wouldn't be as glaring of an issue, but Uncharted isn't really a long game. It took me about 7 hours to finish. Moving through the levels doesn't take long, the only real hold up is the enemies. Once you're in an area where you're being attacked, it's wave after wave after wave of enemies. You're likely to die once or twice just because of the volume of enemies and the fact that they never stop coming. They just kind of upped the enemy count to pad out the game. It's sort of weird. With all of the bodies laying around at the end of some segments I think Nathan Drake may be a more prolific killer than Max Payne.

That difficulty padding applies heavily to the final boss as well. For the most part, he's an average shot. However, if you're popped out at a specific time he will shoot you in the head without fail, every time. It feels cheap and it's very annoying. It's especially odd as there's really nothing else in the game resembling a boss.

Forced motion controls!? NO WAY!

The controls can occasionally be frustrating. Using the Sixaxis control to balance on logs is annoying but it doesn't come up too often. This is also one of those games were buttons are context sensitive. There were a few times where I ended up hopping over a ledge to my death inadvertently. Surprisingly, the platforming goes off without a hitch. Everything with the game comes together when you're scaling walls. There are some odd design choices; in particular, a scene where you're riding with Elena on a jet ski. If you want to fire, you have to come to a complete stop to use your weapon. This obviously opens you up to being immediately fucking ruined with a rocket launcher.

It sounds like I have pretty heavy criticism for this game, but I did end up enjoying it quite a bit. It's just brainless enough that it's enjoyable to come back to and it's just clever enough to make you want to come back. This is one of those games where you know the sequel will rectify every single nitpick and make it all better. Time proved that to be right as Uncharted 2 was a blockbuster when it came out. I've got it sitting on the shelf, and I'm working my way to it. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune can be had for very cheap, and it's worth the 7 hours.

The Score: 8/10

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