Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review
If you're a PS3 owner and enjoy action games, then I start off by recommending that you pick up Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I won't even mind if you stop reading now and just go get it. And it's not because it's just a great game (which it is), or because it has excellent graphics and animations (it does), but because this is one of the few good PS3-exclusive games that's gotten released this year. Sure, Uncharted manages to rip off just about every "adventurer with five o'clock shadow explores ruins, fights bad guys, and finds treasure" TV show and movie ever made, but it does this with style and includes many small touches that are really impressive.
You play as Nathan Drake, accomplished adventurer-type guy who's recently gotten obsessed with finding some kind of lost treasure hidden by Sir Francis Drake. Nathan also insists he's a direct descendant of the famed explorer, so he's taking this one just a little more personally than his usual exploits. Nathan, however, isn't really prepared to deal with a grand-scale adventure, and this shows as you seemingly barely make every jump and are rarely ever come prepared for much.
It starts out with the fact that Nathan has no body armor or anything of the like. His protection consists of an old T-shirt and a pair of jeans - hell, at least Lara Croft had actual dedicated adventuring outfits. But that ratty old shirt helps to show off an animation system that allows Nathan to move much more naturally around his world than many games do. As you explore and fight through an uncharted tropical island as well as other environments, Nathan can trip, stumble, take half-steps, do big and small jumps, and navigate rocky ground in a pretty realistic manner. The controls don't really translate into this, however, and generally are much more simplistic than Nathan's on-screen movements show. Maybe if the developers at Naughty Dog could have come up with a control system closer to Assassin's Creed, then we could have gamepad movements translated into on-screen movements in a more satisfying fashion.
Nathan's not alone out there, as he's got an old buddy named Sullie coming along for some of the adventure - his profit-driven, less-acrobatic, more "I'm too old for this-" type of attitude has been seen before in plenty of movies, but he's still a good character with some fine voice acting to go along with it. His need to find some quick cash to pay off a rather nasty debt has him along, and eventually the guys after him will start coming after you as well. Then there's the reporter Elena, who Nathan is reluctantly taking along with him to document his journey and possible discovery. Usually she'll be able to hold her own as a pistol-toting sidekick, which is a nice change from the formula of needing to be repeatedly saved from danger.
While we always love some good archaeological action with missing golden trinkets and centuries-old secrets, Uncharted doesn't spend enough time on this and instead will often drag you into long firefights where the enemies easily outnumber and outgun you. Luckily, your aim is often better than your opponents, your health regenerates like in Gears of War, and the AI enemies will often leave themselves totally exposed while you're safely behind cover. It's just that Naughty Dog seems to have lost their sense of pacing, as both the fighting and exploration sections go for long chunks at a time without much there to mix it up.
Cover is a big deal here, as the easiest comparison to make for Uncharted is that it's got the adventuring elements of Tomb Raider but the shooting of Gears of War. Unfortunately, the action here isn't quite as interesting as it was in Gears since the level design doesn't work to make the fights more interesting, so it winds up that the action sequences are often the most boring parts of the game. They're long, too, as waves of three to five guys will come out, one after another, as you lie in wait behind a wall. The only interesting times during this are when Nathan runs out of ammo and has to recover some guns from his downed enemies (which does happen fairly often - you're definitely not armed to the teeth here).
But if there's one thing that Uncharted does best, it's showing that Nathan is only ever making it through this by the skin of his teeth. From the way he grimaces when enemy fire gets close, to his outstretched hand only just barely grabbing that next ledge, he channels the urgency and desperation of Indiana Jones' predicaments pretty well. One nice thing, though, is that the levels are designed to look like you're almost always about to die, but you don't actually die that often. Obviously, if you're terrible at the game or trying to die there certainly are plenty of ways for Nathan to get killed, but once you get used to the controlls and stop hitting buttons you're not supposed to (like Circle dropping from a ledge that you didn't actually want to drop from), then you'll do fine and Nathan will be able to live through all kinds of crap that Lara Croft will repeatedly die to - usually because those games require some kind of trial-and-error.
Visually, Uncharted delivers excellent views of tropical jungles and ruins. It's not quite Crysis, but it actually comes pretty close. The animations for Nathan are top-notch and the hijinks you get into are pretty entertaining. If you can ignore the fact that most of this stuff has been done in other games and movies before, I think you'll find that Uncharted brings something new to the table by way of putting it all together just right.
While there are very few PS3-only games that have come out this year, Uncharted can go right to the top of that small pile. The action is decent, even if the shooting sequences wind up being overbearing and take away from time that could have been spent on the more entertaining adventuring and exploring sequences. Still, this game takes the best advantage of the PS3's horsepower I've seen yet and delivers an excellent experience with an interesting and smooth-moving main character. If you're a PS3 owner and haven't already bought and played through a dozen plus games in the last couple months, then do yourself a favor and check out Uncharted.