Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune sets a course for third-person adventure and arrives safely, providing 12 gripping hours of action. However with most of its elements being borrowed from the very best of games little is uncharted. Controls? They are from Prince of Persia. Level design? On loan from ICO and God of War. Shooting and cover mechanism? Gears of War needs it back next year. Exploding barrels? Just got a shipment from Donkey Kong's arcade. Naughty Dog was not content to merely borrow though, they took the best elements of those games, improved on them and then applied imagination and technology toward the brilliant execution that is Uncharted. For example, the controls are more fluid and forgiving than those of Prince of Persia. The cover mechanism of Gears of War that would sometimes stick you to unwanted cover is no where to be seen, and variety of game play between exploration and combat breaks up the occasional tedium found in ICO.
The story which ties the game together is by no means original either, drawing on 1930's matinee material familiar in the modern era through the Indiana Jones trilogy. Our hero, Drake (who is in some way related to the English pirate Sir Francis Drake) is on a search for El Dorado, the mythic city of Gold. Along for the ride is a journalist (think Laura Dern in Jurassic Park) and at times an old sea-dog who can occasionally be trusted. They explore the most beautiful jungles, rivers and temples to ever grace a console in a chase with a variety of enemies with whom they alternate discoveries and the upper hand.
The impact of the game's visuals cannot be understated they often motivate the player to continue to the next area, and the next. The high level of clarity afforded by the HD graphics introduced the ability to shoot accurately at long distances, even using a handgun. Weaknesses did appear periodically though with level design deficiencies being pointed out by an on-screen prompt that would offer hints as to what to do next (only golf games should have caddies). Only three times did I find myself lost trying to travel paths that had nothing to do with the game, again a weakness of level design rather than art direction. I also found the stark up-tick in difficulty for the last level strangely cheap for a game that otherwise played fair with the gamer.
With it's heavy borrowing from other games Uncharted will not change the way you think about games, but it may change your feelings about Naughty Dog and it most definitely will change your thinking about the future of the PlayStation 3.
- Phil Fogg