Advantages Would have been a good movie
Disadvantages Is a mediocre video-game
|Difficulty & Complexity|
|Longevity||Very poor longevity|
Sony's quest for exclusive PlayStation 3 games that are actually worth the blu-ray disc they're lasered on continues with "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune". Developed by "Naughty Dog", best known for the "Crash Bandicoot" and "Jak and Daxter" series, a quick glance at "Uncharted" gleams of high production values. Ever since I show the trailer, I couldn't help but dream of a game featuring the platforming of "Prince of Persia" and the combat of "Resident Evil 4", playing out the story of a Don Rosa "Duck" adventure. However, I've limited my PS3 expectations to "extremely low" for its first couple of years, so I went into the game fully expecting said dreams to be thoroughly crushed and burned. Did scepticism prove me wrong this time?
"Benjamin Franklin" and "Freemasons' Treasury"? Count me in!
"Nazis" and "Lost Arc"? I'll bring the popcorn.
"Leonardo DaVinci" and "Holy Grail"? Actually, I'd rather stick with the book for this one.
Nathan disputes both of these facts and is keen to find out what is really inside Sir Francis' coffin, which has been laying on the bottom of the sea, its exact location unknown to all but one, for more than four hundred years. In order to cover the expenses of the salvage mission, he sells his story to Elena Fisher, young fearless journalist and token love interest, who tags along hoping to make the scoop of the decade. Completing the adventuring trio is veteran scallywag Victor Sullivan, a long time friend of Nate's.Unfortunately, treasure hunting tends to attract the dangerous kind of crowd nowadays and as soon as Drake's hunches prove correct, Bad Guys(TM) start swarming up all over the place, looking to claim one of the greatest historical finds, ever, for themselves. The way to the treasure is a long and perilous affair itself and the hotter the trail gets, the more hectic things become for Nate and company.
Our heroes have to pit their passion and ingenuity against the greed and tremendous economical resources of the villains', if they are to have any chance of getting the treasure. And they must prevail because, as it tends to be the case in these kind of stories, letting the treasure fall into the wrong hands would spell disaster for the whole world!That's the gist of "Uncharted"'s storyline and even though it takes a few weird turns in order to allow for more combat, I quite enjoyed it. It's a genuine treasure hunt and the main characters are aptly written, making just watching things unfold very interesting; should an adaptation make its way to theatres, I'd happily watch it.
Further proving that critics will go bananas whenever a video-game breaks the dark and gritty tone of most contemporary titles, "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" has been lavishly praised for its presentation. In truth, there isn't too much there to make such a fuss about.Sure, the game looks great; too bad that's true only when you're not actually playing. When you have the controls, you are treated to the jerky animations that are especially atrocious on the ledge-trotting parts of the game. As a whole, they are quite below par for a last generation video-game like "Prince of Persia", but when compared to the current-gen likes of "Assassin's Creed", they're downright laughable.
The "sets" aren't too much to fawn at either: They are nice post-cards but, upon closer inspection, they are surrounded with artificial looking wild-life and rubble whose only purpose is to block your progress. Polarizing this, inside, they also feel extremely empty, nothing like the locales in "Heavenly Sword" which were similarly colourful and gigantic, but also littered with small interactive objects that added quite a bit of flavour.It's a pretty similar story for the player models as well: the unique characters look pretty good; not Pixar quality, but very good. But when playing, besides the ugly animations, you are also "treated" with identical foe after identical foe, categorized according to weapon of choice. You have Fat Guy with his shotgun, Hawaiian T-shirt Dude with the weapon from Terminator 2, Commando A with its laser guided rifle and about 5 other models to cover for all the hundreds of enemies you face throughout your playthrough.
Most video-games handle this by having the generic enemies covering their faces with masks, or helmets, or something to that effect, to avoid breaking the illusion the rest of the game tries to create. This is exactly the kind of thing 'Uncharted" never does and the contrast of the things "Naughty Dog" has done beautifully against the things it has done poorly is bloody blinding; it really breaks the experience apart.Still, I'm all for the idea of video-games as "interactive movies", so it doesn't bother me too much that "Uncharted" is on its best when you have no control over what's happening. The voice actors are great, the music is quality, the explosions are pretty okay. The thing is, "Uncharted" doesn't let me appreciate all these things by forcing some truly dreadful gameplay on me.
You see, the real issue isn't that "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" doesn't look like a good animated feature film; it's that it doesn't play like a good video-game, at all.
The second portion, "Puzzle-Solving" is, similarly, standard-fare but in-sync with the heart of the story. Sometimes slightly connected to the acrobatics, "Uncharted" has you solving your run-of-the-mill, rotate-things-to-their-proper-positions riddles; but it has its special charm thanks to the nifty gimmick of having to consult the authentic-looking diary of Sir Francis for clues.Sadly, the third and final portion, combat, feels both bad and out of place. Over the course of "Uncharted" you'll battle soldiers in enough numbers to invade and take over a small country. Had this been a movie, most of the shots would have been miraculously dodged by our hero but, as it is, Drake comes off as a super-soldier from "Gears of War", being able to heal any damage provided he avoids being hit for an adequate amount of time.
You tackle your foes either hand-to-hand, or with a small selection of fire-arms that all feel quite off from usual shooter standards. Both methods have problems, with collision detection being the most common: it's impossible to punch an enemy that's on a flight of stairs and weapon fire often fails to register when a foe is in the middle of his "wounded" animation.Battle is also unevenly more difficult than the rest of the game and checkpoints are rather unfair, routinely having you take out two dozen enemies before saving. Even the final showdown suffers from this, but it suffers most from how it goes about blatantly cheating, in order to enforce acting the script out exactly as it's written. Seriously "Naughty Dog", if you can't do it justice, just make it another cut-scene for goodness sake; or properly use, for once, the "press button not to die" mechanic that randomly and abruptly appears throughout the game, due to its popularity in titles like God of War, Fahrenheit and Shenmue.
The worst part about combat isn't that it's horrible; it's that it's so damn central to the gameplay. You spend more time in combat than in the puzzle and platforming sections combined. While these two parts of the game aren't anything special either, they are definitely better handled than the combat part of "Uncharted" and at least they tie into the whole treasure hunt theme better than the slaughter of hundreds of enemies.I figured the excess combat appeared because "Naughty Dog" adopted the ridiculous impression that games not including tons of red-blooded action are incapable of making notable sales. After finishing the game, however, I realized that it was also because "Uncharted" is very short. It took me less than 8 hours to finish and there is no real incentive to go through it again. The one thing "Uncharted" has going for it is the story and once you've got that, there is little point in lingering further.
The hidden treasures, scattered around the gameplay areas, are a nice touch but, if you are perceptive enough, you can get most of them during your first time through. Also, I don't think any reasonable person would touch the "Crushing" difficulty, unlocked after you beat the game once, with a ten-foot pole. Unless, I suppose, you feel so bad for the 35 quid you've spent for "Uncharted", you are determined to put as much time as humanly possible with it, even if it means being frustrated out of your mind.There is one, and only one, combat related part that is actually good, a car-chase scene through the jungle, with Elena doing the driving and Nate doing the "blowing-up pursuers". Had "Uncharted" stuck with just this, the platforming and the puzzle sequences, the game would have been painfully short, but it would also have been fun. An intriguing narrative, spiced up with a few quaint, user controlled, action moments. A bit cocky to ask full price for that kind of video-game, but it would be more akin to buying a movie DVD. As it is, "Uncharted" is double in length, still very short, but also features gameplay so bad, it makes playing through it tedious.
Here's a tip "Naughty Dog": Next time you want to make your game longer, for the love of God, don't stretch its worst parts. I realize that putting new puzzles in, or creating new areas requires more work than copy/pasting a few more truckloads of identical enemies, but even if they say too much of a good thing is bad, that doesn't mean that too much of a bad thing is anything other than awful.
Sarcastic tidbit: My favourite part of the extras comes early on, when you can spot a "Legend of Zelda" poster on a designer's cubicle. You'd expect it to be "Crash Bandicoot", or "Resistance", or anything Sony-related really, but I guess you can't blame your staff for having good taste.~~~~~~~~~~
Ultimately, there is just too much "trite video-game" in my "Uncharted" to enjoy a premise that could have hardly been more appealing to me. Everything the gameplay has to offer has been done before, usually done dramatically better at that, so actually playing "Uncharted" is a chore. It's like watching a film in public television, only the commercials come in every 10 minutes and last for half an hour. Had this video-game been a movie tie-in, everyone would be condemning it, calling it a cheap conversion, a typical cash-in hardly worth anyone's time. As it stands though, the only way to find out about the charismatic characters and swashbuckling story is to bare through the linear gameplay mediocrity that is "Uncharted: Drake's fortune".Thankfully, despite "Naughty Dog"'s best efforts to ruin the title even further by artificially elongating its worst part, combat, "Uncharted" remains very short, lasting about 8 hours, even if you take the time to look around for hidden extras. If you do enjoy a good ol' treasure hunt, I suggest renting "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" for the weekend, possibly tuning down the difficulty and trying not to let the gameplay blandness overcome the quality of the story.
Precise Score: 7.0/10.0
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