Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Cover
Platforms PlayStation 3
Genre Made for TV Indy
Score 6  Clock score of 6
Buy from Amazon

I was disappointed in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I’ll just put that out there right away. The game received near universal acclaim upon release (it scores an 88 on Metacritic), but I’ve heard rumblings in the recent years that the game has problems. This isn’t uncommon, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was released two years later to even higher scores (96 average!), so people discover things to gripe about as time passes. But I haven’t played any other Uncharteds, though the game is over four years old, maybe I’ve just soured on it in other ways.

Released in 2007 and quickly labeled as the year old PlayStation 3’s best game, Drake’s Fortune kicks off the Uncharted series that has gone on to sell millions of copies on both the PS3 and PSP, and is headlining the recent Vita launch. It stars Nathan Drake as the supposed ancestor to real treasure hunter Francis Drake, and combines cover-system firefights with Assassin’s Creed-like climbing.

I recently published my first hour review on Uncharted, along with the complete video of its opening. If you watch it, you should definitely be able to see why I was so excited to keep playing: it has action, intrigue, and witty writing, along with a cast you can’t help but love. But problems eventually plague all aspects of the game, let’s get into them.

What really got me hooked on Drake’s Fortune early on was the huge charm of the cast. Nathan Drake is smug and goofy, Victor Sullivan is wise and cracking, and Elena Fisher is confident and endearing. For the first half of the game, the trio makes a good team, especially in the numerous cutscenes that tremendously show off the quality of writing, directing, and acting that went into the title. But things begin to drag, it’s almost as if the writers just stopped caring. The camaraderie and witticisms fall away to simply reveal what’s left: basic video game characters.

That’s not a compliment, either. This industry has always struggled to write and develop characters that sustain not only the action but the plot, and Uncharted falls victim to history eventually, too. Drake just sorta gives up being Drake, Sullivan just does his own thing for a while, and Fisher tags along silently until she reminds you she’s going to stay put for a while so you can do the dangerous stuff. Dare I call the second half of the game boring? Definitely.

The climbing/adventure system in Uncharted is pretty solid, Drake has a wide variety of moves that are easy to pull off and flow together well. Getting from point A to point B on the side of a mountain is completely linear, but it can still be exciting. Some of the environments the designers dropped in looked stellar, and there is more than one set that had my jaw dropped. But when the camera would rather show off that sparkling waterfall than your next jump destination, it can sometimes be difficult to tell where you’re supposed to go next, and then you’re dead on the canyon floor.

Speaking of the camera, for a game that requires almost as much vertical work as horizontal, it is incredibly limiting. The only way to ever look about five feet above Drake’s head is to pull out your gun and awkwardly aim around. Why I can’t just point the camera up, I have no idea.

Uncharted Nathan Drake Jungle

And now, the combat system. The very problematic combat system. The structure is all there and is pretty good, shooting is responsive, reloading is quick, cover system works but will is susceptible to destruction. There are a lot of good ideas, but it falls flat on its face due to a number of factors. For one, you are in combat far too often and for too long.

In a game that wants to be Indiana Jones, you sure spend a lot of time playing Rambo. I played on Normal difficulty, and it only felt “normal” for about a third of the game. After that, bad guys would take several shots in the head to go down while I felt like I could take maybe four hits total before going down. Spawn points would send guys out behind my position, which while a totally legitimate thing in real life, basically wrecks a game that features really slow turning and aiming. You know how annoying it is to spend five minutes carefully cleaning a room, only to die in five seconds because three more guys suddenly appeared where you came in and shot you in the back?

Uncharted also features a hand-to-hand combat system, but it’s almost entirely useless. It’s fine for taking out the very last guy, but due to the way the game spawns baddies, you never know for sure whether you’re taking on that last guy or if you’re making yourself completely vulnerable. Maybe if you’re playing on Easy difficulty you can run around and punch guys out, but it didn’t seem feasible in my playthrough.

Uncharted Nathan Drake Victor Sullivan Nazi sub

There’s also a few quick time events that pop up throughout the game. Now, I have nothing against QTEs in general, but the game only employs about a half-dozen of them the entire game, so basically whenever you encounter one, you’re not ready for it and are almost guaranteed to die. Top this off with a final boss that requires a surprise QTE to finish him off, and I get kind of ticked.

Finally, the story. I’m not going to spoil anything but the last 15% of the game is a total mess and the game completely jumps the shark. (what’s the video game equivalent, by the way? Raiden’d the Snake?) When I reached the point where some new bad guys were introduced, I thought to myself, “well, that locks in the complete averageness of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.” Ugh.

That’s not entirely true though, Uncharted is better than the average game, but barely. The adventuring portion can be really fun and the characters are incredibly awesome when the writers actually try. The shooting could have been scaled back a ton and the second half of the plot completely re-written. Take out the awful jet-ski chapter, make better use of the hand-to-hand combat system, and I might have half-believed the ridiculous scores handed out to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune upon its release.

Overall: 6

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Guess I was right to skip it

I'd always considered playing Drake's Fortune after I started the series with Among Thieves, but it sounds like a rough first go for the series. Don't think I'll bother playing it now.

Uncharted 2 seemed to fix a few of the things that drove you away and polished what was already good about the original, but some drawbacks just seem to be enduring characteristics of the franchise.

Too Right

Uncharted 2 is better. The hand-to-hand system is much improved (seems like that was one of the selling points), plus IIRC there are a couple of battles where both you and your opponents are unarmed.
As far as the camera, I don't remember specifically if you could look up, but I didn't have any major problems with it. Seems like the kind of thing they'd fix for the sequel.

However. The battles are still way too long. Although they have a few sections where the adventuring and the battles are more integrated, for the most part (especially near the end) it's just "climb-climb-climb, stop, fight-fight-fight-fight-fight-am-I-almost-done-yet-fight-fight-fight-fight."

How...Un-Fortunate (I tried)

This was one franchise I was really looking forward to running through when I took the PS3 plunge later this year. I'm still going to of course. I know enough people I can borrow the games from so there's no excuse.

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