Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of those rare games, maybe even once in a generation (of consoles) that comes along, seemingly out of left field, and changes things for the better. Not only has Nathan Drake, the main protagonist, become a veritable gaming icon, but the game design has obviously influenced other titles that have come out since. The fast-paced, clever plot is made all the more realistic and believable by the incredible voice acting and top notch graphics. One of the first games to truly harness the power of the PS3, Uncharted set itself up as one of the marquis exclusive franchises for the system.
Nathan Drake's tale begins, as all good stories often do, at the bottom of the ocean. He has finally discovered the location of the tomb of Sir Francis Drake, his supposed descendant. Back on board his small boat he chats up the journalist Elena Fisher who is shooting a documentary about treasure hunters which is funding Drake's exhibition. But as they banter back and forth they are quite rudely interrupted by some rather unpleasant pirates who seem to think that Drake owes them money. This is, apparently, not that much of a surprise as it happens quite often. After Drake fights his way free (and you are introduced to the controls in the process) he examines the diary that was taken from the empty tomb of his forebear. Back on land, Drake and Sully, his older and perhaps less fool-hardy partner, learn that the diary reveals the location of the legendary El Dorado, the infamous city of gold described by the Conquistadors. While poor Elena is off on a phone call, the scoundrels abscond with the diary to hunt for the hypothetical city, leaving her to scream threats and curses from the dock.
However, after following his ancestors instructions and finding some ancient ruins, Drake makes a startling discovery... El Dorado isn't a city, but rather a giant golden statue, revered and feared by those that worshiped it. After searching the ruins, it becomes apparent that the statue has been moved, or rather forcibly dragged from it's place of honor. Following the trail, our intrepid duo stumble upon, of all things, a derelict Nazi U-boat that was beached halfway up the Amazon! Seems a strange place to find a sub from WWII. But while Drake is exploring the rusted hulk, Sully is taken prisoner by Gabriel Roman, a fellow treasure hunter of less moral scruples. He has been trailing our heroes, letting them do all the work only to steal the glory at the end. But when Drake refuses to cooperate, Roman shoots Sully. Drake manages to make a desperate escape, right into the arms of the woman scorned Elena, who is less than pleased to see him after being left behind, and even more annoyed that they are getting shot at! But they have bigger problems... Sully had the diary! They have only a vague idea of where to go next, and Roman has a head start!
I've hopefully whetted your appetite enough with the early plot, but I don't want to give away too much! There are a lot of twists and turns and jaw dropping moments as Drake pursues the legendary El Dorado. It has everything: action, terror, betrayal, romance, all flavored by a hefty helping of comedy to keep it light. While the end had me rolling my eyes a bit, all in all it's a good story, with a wonderful cast brought together by awesome graphics and brilliant voice work.
Speaking of the graphics and sound, that's where Uncharted truly shines. At the time of it's release. Uncharted boasted some of the best graphics anyone had ever seen. The environments are beautiful, and very detailed. The animations are smooth as silk, both in the game and in the cutscenes. The facial animations in particular are exceptional, with only a few titles to date that can compare. You'll be impressed by how the artists have created a level of expression that makes the characters all the more believable and emotive.
One of the reasons that Nathan Drake has become such an icon in the gaming community is due in no small part to the brilliant voice acting of Nolan North. I rarely mention the actors who play these roles by name, but North deserves the recognition. His sense of humor, particularly his timing, is fantastic. When combined with the stellar graphics and facial animations, Drake becomes not only more realistic, and more importantly, relatable. That is truly rare for a gaming character. Oh, and the rest of the cast does a great job as well!
But we're not just here to watch an animated movie... Uncharted offers a good variety of gameplay, but at first it seems to be a bit of a mixed bag. The gunplay is excellent. Essentially it's a third person shooter that relies heavily on one of the better cover mechanics available. You can carry a pistol and a rifle, which is reasonably realistic... and always keep an eye on your ammo. Be careful, or you'll run out. As you might imagine, Drake is adept at using all different sorts of weapons, so make use of what your enemies drop! That said, the grenades didn't work for me. To angle them you had to rely on the 'Six-axis' technology of the PS3 controller. Tilting the controller in the middle of a heated gun battle to lob a grenade takes you out of the action, to say the least. It's not remotely natural...
While the gunplay is fun, the 'Quicktime' events left me frustrated. In the end, you'll probably end up dying repeatedly until you get the timing and pattern just so... frankly I'd rather be watching these cool scenes with the awesome graphics instead of trying to pay attention to whatever button I'm supposed to push next! Also on the down side are the vehicle sections. They are nice diversions and keep the action from getting too repetitive, but they went on too long for my taste, especially the jet ski bit...
Oh, and I should mention the melee... Drake's a pretty bad-ass gent, and if the baddies get to close he has no problem resorting to fisticuffs. As you might expect, Drake knows how to brawl. I mean come on, what treasure hunter doesn't? Beating the ever-loving snot out of someone has never looked quite so cool. But that said, I could never really get the timing down to pull off the full combos. That's just me though, operator error. I'm no good at Mortal Kombat either...
Outside of all the action, Uncharted shines through as a platformer as well. On top of being an incredible shot and a great hand-to-hand fighter, our hero is also a parkour master who could compete, and probably win, Ninja Warrior (if you don't know, it's a Japanese obstacle course challenge TV show. It's just as cool as it sounds!). Drake has some of the strongest fingers around! He is capable of almost super human feats as he traverses the traps and pit falls of ancient ruins and jungles alike. These sections are a well designed break from all of the shooting and fighting that's going on, not to mention they are usually a visual treat.
And where would a treasure hunter be without puzzles to solve? Some are environmentally related. These are usually fairly straightforward, requiring Drake's uncanny platforming skills to solve. Others are more cerebral and can be quite challenging. I'll leave them for you to unravel...
It's nice when a new title comes along and you instantly know that it will end up being a series you eagerly look forward to... and Naughty Dog nailed it with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Nathan Drake's saga and legend grow with each game (review of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves coming soon!). With his smooth sarcasm, dashing good lucks, astonishing feats of athleticism, questionable morality and uncontested bravery, Nathan Drake is a re-imagining of Indiana Jones. And like that charismatic character, Drake remains in our hearts... for mostly the wrong reasons, but some of the right ones as well!
Score = 9.3 / 10