January 09, 2014

That's A Wrap: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

warning: contains spoilers

I hadn't planned on replaying Uncharted, but I needed something to do while killing time at my parent's house over Christmas so why not? I'm reminded how much I love the Uncharted series, and how fun and quick this game is. A lot of people consider this "a man's Tomb Raider," which is pretty funny 'cause I think dudes would rather play TR and chicks would rather play this.

I don't really recall how I felt about the graphics in Uncharted at the time of its release, and this was one of the few PS3 games I played early on so it had the rare opportunity to expose the PS3's capabilities. In any case it's clear that they put a lot of work into it, and it holds up pretty nicely. Obviously the animation of characters is a bit blockier than later games but the scenery is beautiful and the details retain their prominence.

The music in Uncharted is pretty different. Indiana Jones, anyone? Typical Naughty Dog, using minimal sound, but it's effective and you learn to depend on it because you know when there's music, there is still work to be done. The tunes themselves are pretty cool. The orchestra makes great use of exotic instruments you don't typically find in video game arrangements, or anywhere really. They really add a neat ethnic touch to the soundtrack and it grabs your attention.
Heads up: I've been asked to disclose a lot of the plot in this entry, so the next paragraph is basically one great big spoiler.

The story begins at sea where we meet Nathan Drake, who is in the middle of salvaging the alleged coffin of (the real life) Francis Drake, from whom Nate believes he is descended. Nate inherited a ring bearing the coordinates of said coffin, and he's pretty sure he isn't going to find a body in there. Also along for the journey is television personality Elena Fisher, who's along to film the expedition for her show. It turns out Nate was right, Francis' body was nowhere to be found but instead Nate finds an old journal detailing the location of the legendary treasure, El Dorado. The pair are then attacked by pirates, and rescued in the nick of time by Drake's treasure hunting partner, Victor "Sully" Sullivan (because every guy named Sullivan has to be called Sully).
Back on land, Drake and Sully conspire to ditch Elena and begin their search for El Dorado.
While exploring their destination, they are run down by the game's antagonist, Roman, and his hired henchmen Navarro and Eddy. Sully is shot in the confrontation and Nate is eventually captured and interrogated by Eddy, but it's not long before Elena shows up to free him.
Most of the game after that consists of the duo navigating the island of ruins on foot, by automobile or sea craft whilst being hunted by Roman and his never-ending plethora of gunman.
Eventually, Nate and Elena stumble upon an ancient library where they find a very much alive and intact Sully, thanks to Francis' old diary in Sully's breast pocket (like in movies, you know?). What's more, Sully believes that the library itself is the location of El Dorado, so Nate sets off into the underground catacombs to look for a sign of the fabled treasure, leaving Elena to be captured and Sully to barely escape.
A sure-fire sign that you're getting close is when the enemies start getting… zombie…esque. It turns out El Dorado isn't a majestic golden statue, but rather a cursed totem. When the Spaniards attempted to hunt down El Dorado, they were all turned to mutant monsters (many of whom I just put to rest, thank you). Francis realized this all too late, and you eventually find the missing body of our great, great, great-whateverthedamn, along with a handful of notes and clues suggesting that he hadn't intended to capture El Dorado, but actually prevent anyone from ever finding it and falling under its curse.
Our token bad guy however, has no idea. Eddy is lost to some mutants in a fire fight long after being discharged by his employer, and it turns out, Roman's right-hand man Navarro is the actually the mastermind of this outfit. He tricks Roman into opening the El Dorado statue, turning him into one of the mutants, only to quickly meet his end at the gun of Navarro. Navarro seems to think El Dorado would make a pretty sweet bioweapon, and intends to sell its secrets, and suddenly Nate's treasure hunting escapade becomes a "save the world" scheme.
You chase after Navarro, who still has Elena in tow, and he becomes the final boss, after which…

The cast in Uncharted is basically perfect. Nate is more than charming, Elena exudes that great "don't fuck with me" attitude, and even Sully seems like a guy you want to hang out with, and hear him tell stories. Our bad guys are also a varied bunch: Roman is an older gent, Navarro, more the "tough local," and Eddy and Nate go way back, leading you to believe that Eddy might be Nate's lifelong rival. Apparently not. The writing is quick and effective, charming and funny, and the whole story is well paced.

There is plenty of combat in Uncharted and it will always be a shootout. There will be an abundance of cover and ammo or new weapons will be scattered about the level; you can also loot your dead targets. There are usually a lot of enemies and some of them are rather clever. You also get a variation of baddies: the pirates you encounter in the beginning aren't quite as quick or powerful as the mercenaries you'll encounter later on, and they have nothing on the mutants you'll find in the late game. A million bullets aren't enough to take those buggers down…
Fighting is pretty straight forward: you choose a gun, you find some cover, you line up your shot and hope for the best. I've never seen such resilient humans in all my life… these guys can take multiple shots and still fight so make sure they go down before you move on. Eventually, your enemies get better weapons, including grenade launchers and sniper rifles with laser scopes that will take you down in one shot. The flip side to this is, after you've defeated an enemy, you can take his gun. There are a number of guns at your disposal but your method of choosing will probably come down to which holds the greatest amount of ammo. There are a few guns which only have 3 to 6 shots available, which is great for small bits but these guns will never last you a whole battle and you will have to drop them for another.
The variation adds a great deal of challenge but other than that, it's pretty repetitive. In addition to guns you also have grenades at your disposal which you can toss with the same controls or use your sixaxis. If you're in a bind, you can also use a couple of melee combos that the game will teach you early on, but I find trying to integrate these into my strategy was usually hopeless.

The rest of the game is fast and fun. You spend a little time exploring each level, usually after taking down the various enemies, and in addition to searching for ammo, you can also stumble upon treasures. These take the form of small glittering spots on the ground, in the plant life or the rubble, and net you "medals" which you can use to unlock out-of-game bonuses.
The game also introduced a couple of really great innovations, the most obvious of which you discover during your first fire fight. In lieu of a health bar, when Nate takes damage, the screen is slowly depleted of color. When the screen is completely black and grey, you can be pretty sure you're at your end. If you manage to find cover however, the color will slowly return and you can resume battle at full health. Does anyone else think this is the coolest thing ever?! Health bars are such a boring staple in combat games and it's refreshing to see someone make use of a different, easily managed technique.
The other thing Uncharted makes use of is the Playstation 3's sixaxis hardware capability. It's that thing where you tilt the controller and it actually does something… There are a couple of instances in the game - walking a plank for example - in which you must help Nate by using the Dualshock 3's sixaxis. This actually pisses me off 9 times out of 10, but it's still neat that they chose to incorporate it.
The rest of the controls are pretty simple and predictable. I'm pretty sure the game tutors you in them in the first level, but I just kind of plowed through it. Essentially, your left stick is as always movement and your right stick, camera; you use X to jump and triangle to interact. Circle will cause Nate to roll (to dodge an attack) or take cover, Square is melee but you likely won't use that terribly often. When climbing, Nate automatically hangs on so you'll only need to concern yourself with moving and jumping. You equip a weapon (one pistol, one large gun or grenades) with your D-pad and fire with R1. You can use L1 to improve your accuracy, and that's about it! Easy peasy. Timing jumps takes a bit of getting used to but there are plenty of places to practice.
There is virtually no menu in Uncharted. You can access a game menu by pressing start to choose your settings and whatnot but in-game there is only your weapons inventory - you can keep two guns and up to four grenades - which is accessed by your D-pad, and occasionally the game will prompt you to check FD's journal by pressing select. Simplicity is golden, my friends.

The game is courteous to offer players easy, normal or hard mode. I tackled the game on normal mode and can't even imagine how pathetic easy mode must be. If you're an experienced gamer, chances are you can handle hard mode. If you're playing for the first time, this is not a game you need to be intimidated by, it's more than manageable on normal mode. I don't consider myself an expert shooter and I was landing head shots like nobody's business.
It took me 12 hours to complete Uncharted this time through. This was extended a little bit due to constant distraction (pro tip: stay single forever) and the fact that I decided to hunt down each of the 60 (actually 61) treasures, so I had a fair bit of exploring to do since I haven't played the game in a while. Regardless, I feel that this game is quite quick. It moves at a great pace and there are no boring levels, this game will always keep you busy. I can't suggest a single thing to really improve this but I remember being upset by how quick the game ended the first time I played it. Luckily, there are now two more installments, and a third on the way!

I really love Naughty Dog as a developer. A lot of people criticize their games for poor combat or being too narrative dependent but I don't really relate to the "super shooters" and the story-heavy bit is exactly what I love about it. The entire Uncharted series reflects what I love about games: fantastic writing and acting; solid and great looking game; simple controls; manageable difficulty, they're just really fantastic games. ND recently ventured into a new IP, The Last of Us, which also rang true to this formula and was consequently a fantastic game. If you enjoyed Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, do keep your eyes on Naughty Dog from now on. Especially if, like me, you don't always warm to action games.

  • Y'see those sparkly things on the ground? Those are treasure. Approach and press triangle to collect. It's about the only side quest this game has to offer.
  • Don't run. Fight. There are very few scenarios in this game in which running away will result in anything other than death. There is always plenty of cover, so find a good spot and take on your enemies. Some areas may require a little "trial and error" but it pays off. If you're aiming to find all the treasure, you'll have no choice but to take down all the enemies in some areas.
  • Fun fact: this is about the only game in the wold in which I don't use the shot gun. They have fewer bullets and don't do significant damage. Stick to your 9mm and your AK for the early game and choose your guns wisely from then on.
  • Sometimes, while climbing walls, the ledge you are gripping will crumble and fall, so keep moving!
  • Related: near the end game, there is a level in which you will be navigating a wall via pipes. Some of these pipes will move, indicating that they are going to fall, but they never actually do, so you can take your time!
  • When fighting the mutants, reload every chance you get. These guys are insta-deaths if they get close to you, and reloading your assault rifle takes just enough time for them to catch you. Take one down, reload. Even if you still have bullets in the clip (you won't lose them).

1 comment:

  1. I am tigerfan8109 from Twitter. Great review. I've loved all of the Uncharted games. Btw I only used the shotgun to unlock the kill trophy.