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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3) artwork

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3) review


"Not quite a fortune, but certainly not chump change."



Uncharted: Drake's Fortune asset


"It's like playing a movie!"

The more often I encountered that claim in reference to the Uncharted series, the less inclined I felt to play one of the brand's installments. Although I'm not averse to playing story-driven games (I loved BioShock Infinite, for instance), I'm not usually a fan of action titles that some gamers would compare to interactive movies. Yet I always feel compelled to give story-driven games a fair shake, thinking that perhaps one of them will surprise me. Of course, the prospect of delivering a divergent criticism for a popular title is also tantalizing...

I did eventually purchase and play Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, expecting an unimpressive experience. While I wouldn't drop words like "awesome" or "fantastic" in reference to it, I will say that the game is a surprisingly entertaining third-person shooter ride, highlighted by great enemy AI and wonderful set pieces.

Notice that I didn't mention the game's plot in any part of the above paragraph, and that's because its storyline is nothing great. The cast mostly consists of typical adventure movie archetypes, all of whom play out a tale that may as well be one of the various "Indiana Jones" knock-offs from the '80s. Even the villains are just stock foes with little depth or personality. Now, don't get me wrong; there are some moments where Drake says something worthy of a chuckle, or his sidekick Sully blurts out a somewhat memorable line. There are occasions where the characters' pilfered personalities aid in creating some quality material, but such events aren't frequent enough to call Uncharted's story anything more than passable.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune asset


Thankfully, the story isn't terrible, and it certainly isn't obstructive. There are some cutscenes now and then, but for the most part dialog and gameplay are intertwined. That allows you to interact with the title without having to sit through lengthy animated segments or severe interruptions.

With less narrative sequences to impede the game's interactive elements, there's nothing else to do but break out the guns and party like a John Woo film. Uncharted's campaign features plenty of exciting moments spent mowing suckas down with mounted machine guns, incapacitating the opposition in bare-knuckle brawls, and carefully picking off members of particularly numerous contingents of pirates. Personally, I loved charging straight ahead, heedless of damage, and plugging shotgun blasts at point blank into as many opponents as I could. I also enjoyed countering my adversaries' grenades by shooting their hands the instant before they lob them. It's always great to hear a goon's frantic voice as grim realization washes over him, just before a deafening explosion sends his carcass soaring through the air.

Unfortunately, most of the depictions I wrote about in the above paragraph can apply to almost any shooter. For the most part, Uncharted's action sequences can be boiled down to "shooting enemies while taking cover," "eliminating snipers/RPG-carriers while taking cover," or "fighting off agile monsters without the benefit of cover." As you could guess, there aren't many scenes that stand out, and those that do are nothing new to the genre or particularly interesting.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune asset


However, it isn't the scenes in general or their standout qualities that matter in Uncharted's case. Though the game doesn't showcase many fresh concepts, it very well makes do with the material that it does present. For instance, the game's set pieces are marvelous, decked with all manner of obstructions, explosives, mounted weaponry, and various bits of environment that you can use to your advantage. On top of that, the game's mechanics are very solid and smooth (after you fiddle with the aim sensitivity), almost never succumbing to slowdown or dropping framerates. Even when the battles are bustling, busy, and loaded with opponents, the game keeps on chugging without a hint of hindrance.

Sadly, Uncharted's opposition lacks in variety, as most of the game's rogues can be boiled down to "man with a [weapon]." However, the lack of enemy diversity is a mere hiccup, as the game features clever enemy AI mixed with a staunch challenge factor. I won't say that the game is a face-crusher, but it has stomped my sorry butt more than a few times. I often found myself plotting out which enemy to defeat next based on his position in relation to mine, his weapon, and my remaining ammo. It's usually a good sign when a game causes me to strategize. It was also nice to know that even though Uncharted didn't leave a major impression on me, it still kept me on my toes.

Variety is usually the spice of life. I say "usually" because delivering a multitude of mediocre-to-lousy scenarios isn't necessarily preferable over oodles of repetitive gameplay. Uncharted sports a fair number of sequences that diverge from the game's core mechanics, sadly to limited effect. While I will say that I enjoyed gunning down vehicles from the back of a jeep, I didn't much care for most of the other special segments. For example, there are a couple of sequences that drove me insane that involved negotiating rivers with a waverunner whilst avoiding explosive barrels. These scenes wouldn't be so bad if the waverunner's mechanics weren't bloody awful. It's too easy to overcorrect your movements and inadvertently drive into a barrel. Your only recourse is to periodically stop to shoot barrels, which kills the pacing in either segment.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune asset


Worse even than that is the grand finale, which pretty much consists of being overwhelmed by scores of enemies--some of which are not human--as you charge to specific locations on the map. I'm all for over-the-top action, but Uncharted's final segments are desensitizing and fraught with needless amounts of such difficult, frenetic gunplay that they're more chore-like than entertaining.

Despite my qualms, I will say I ultimately enjoyed Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The game's gunplay was very well implemented, its enemy AI is fantastic, and its set pieces are great. I have yet to play its sequel, but I do have a copy sitting in a drawer full of unfinished games. I can only hope that Naughty Dog learned from their shortcomings with Drake's Fortune and expanded upon what went well with the game. Maybe then they can truly surprise me...

Rating: 7/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (November 28, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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EmP posted December 29, 2013:

Any Uncharted review that does not simply state "Now made obsolete by Tomb Raider" seems to be wasting far too many words. Is that enough? Can I just stop now?

Urgh. Fine.

You take the expected stance on the oft beaten track on the "just like playing a movie" line that everyone says they hate, but secretly use in some way or another (looking at you The Walking Dead fans!) I like it; it worked. The best parts where when you talked about game highlights then casually dropped in that these were more or less genre staples that had nothing to do with that narrative. Good work!
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JoeTheDestroyer posted December 29, 2013:

Thanks! I'm glad that worked. I would say use the Tomb Raider line, but I haven't played Tomb Raider yet (though I'm almost certain that you're right). It's still in my Steam library, waiting to be played. Probably soon...

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