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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3) artwork

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (PlayStation 3) review


"The more games like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune I play, the more convinced I am that cover-based gunplay is simply becoming the norm, and that I should stop labeling these games “Gears of War clones.” It’s not like Epic are cursing other development teams for profiting from their idea after their own franchise tanked – this obviously is not the case – so let’s just accept the duck-and-cover system as the natural next step in the long-running shooter genre. That kind of optimism will..."



The more games like Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune I play, the more convinced I am that cover-based gunplay is simply becoming the norm, and that I should stop labeling these games “Gears of War clones.” It’s not like Epic are cursing other development teams for profiting from their idea after their own franchise tanked – this obviously is not the case – so let’s just accept the duck-and-cover system as the natural next step in the long-running shooter genre. That kind of optimism will probably make Uncharted look a lot less homogenous than it really is.

Of course, an awful lot of developers like to incorporate a cover system for the simple sake of being trendy, forgetting that the best cover system is one that players are forced to use. Uncharted is nothing if not a trendy game – its vehicle segments and ill-placed quick time events certainly demonstrate that – but to its credit, it makes the most of its cover-based gunplay. Main character Nathan Drake is more or less a guy in a shirt, and will get ripped to gristle at a rather alarming rate if he’s left in the open for too long. I’d be disappointed if he didn’t – I’d be disappointed if enemy rockets were ineffectual, if Nathan could absorb entire clips of ammunition at once, if one could complete Uncharted by simply running up to every foe and punching a hole in his face. That would be just the sort of mindless nonsense we’ve spent this past generation trying to get away from.

While Uncharted contains not a single original idea, what it does, it does well. And what it does is Gears-style gunplay with a little grave digging and Hollywood bombast thrown in for the illusion of “variety.” Because make no mistake: Uncharted is a shooter, and anyone who says otherwise, trying to pass it off as some sort of action-platformer hybrid, is misleading you. Going in with the expectation of playing a straight-up shooter will likely heighten your eventual enjoyment of it. I’ve read reviews that actually criticized Uncharted for having too much action, which is like complaining that a puzzle game has too many colorful blocks. The number of instances in which Nathan takes a break from shooting people to engage in Tomb Raider-esque platforming and puzzle-solving for a significant period of time could probably be counted on one hand.

This series has frequently been compared to the adventures of one Indiana Jones, and not without reason: Nathan is a young, wisecracking explorer who embodies the sort of dashing handsomeness most gamers probably wish they had (note: I do not necessarily exclude myself from that category), and your journey here takes you hunting for an ancient and possibly magical artifact hidden deep within Mayan (or Incan, or Aztec, or something) ruins of Central America (or South America, or something). Naughty Dog made a considerable effort to give the game a “cinematic” edge, and has better luck with it than most developers do: The characters are likeable, the dialog sounds natural, and the set pieces are appropriately elaborate and dazzling. Whether or not this is the sort of story that would work in any other medium is another question, but I suppose that’s beyond the point.

I’m not going in any particular order here – the game really isn’t giving me much to work with – but I want to stress that Uncharted’s gunplay is really, really good. The game is enough of a shooter that I’m wondering why the standard dual analog setup isn’t made the default control scheme. (The game forces us to hold down a shoulder button in order to aim, which is odd considering how much of it we’re doing.) The further Naughty Dog veer off course, the more danger they’re in – a couple of waverunner sequences are genuinely tedious – yet the game remains thoroughly competent and often excellent when it commits itself to being a straightforward shooter. The difficulty curve is strong, the level design gives us no shortage of barriers to hide behind, and the set pieces are surprisingly varied considering we’re always more or less in a jungle – and the game looks fantastic, too.

I was prepared to give Uncharted a hearty recommendation as an entertaining action game that, despite a few missteps, remains perfectly solid throughout.

And then, they did that.

You know what I’m talking about. Remember playing the original Halo for the first time? Remember getting through half of the game and being impressed by how something as simple as improved AI could totally morph your perception of what a shooter can be? Do you happen to recall, then, how you felt when Bungie took the easy way out and introduced a race of fast-moving zombies into the mix, shifting the game’s latter half into a fit of mindlessness and repetition?

I can name a few other games that have done the same thing, and none of those stories end well. Without giving away any crucial details, Uncharted makes a similar mistake, introducing a zombie-like enemy just in time for the game’s lengthy finale. Fighting creatures like these negates the use of cover altogether, and it’s only further exacerbated by Naughty Dog’s weak attempts to instill survival horror elements into the game’s last hour or so. Here I was congratulating Uncharted for being more sophisticated than the average shooter and actually taking the cover system seriously for a change, and then Naughty Dog adapted the all-too-common belief that the only way to make an endgame sequence “climactic” is to drown it out in mindless action, even if it contradicts everything that had come before it.

Didn’t Gears of War 2 recently satirize this sort of thing with that whole Sire sequence? Maybe I’m being petty, but I’d say if the Gears writers are making fun of you, it’s time to rethink your approach.

I’d likely still be able to recommend Uncharted as an instant purchase if it made even the slightest attempt to differentiate itself from the legions of other action games on the market right now, and if it did, perhaps I’d better understand why a number of PS3 fanboys are actually trying to sell the game as a legitimate reason to own the system. (Not a chance.) As it stands, it’s a very competent and often quite entertaining shooter than makes more mistakes as it goes along and unfortunately left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’d merely label it as a nice little bonus for those who happen to have access to a PS3 anyway. Play it so you can check out the sequel, which I’m hearing is pretty awesome.

Rating: 7/10

Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (December 30, 2009)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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