Since the release of Sony’s third iteration of the Playstation family, gamers have responded with mixed signals. While the majority, including myself, was eager to welcome this new member to our gaming family, others have expressed hesitation due to a large variety of factors. For instance, some consumers expressed displeasure over the exorbitant prices of the products ($500-600), while others have shown irritation over the system’s less than satisfactory library; specifically, its lack of games that make customers lack doubt over their membership in the Playstation family.
Gradually, Sony Computer Entertainment of America (SCEA) has reacted to these criticisms by taking actions such as reducing prices and promoting a series of software products and initiatives that indicate the company’s renewed interest in reclaiming their throne as the most dominant gaming association. Giving a passing analysis of their initial software efforts (Resistance: Fall of Man, Heavenly Sword, and Ratchet & Clank: Tools of Destruction), I would say that Sony has taken steps, yet they still have a ways to go.
Along with these aforementioned experiences, another product that Sony has promoted was an adventure entitled Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, which was developed by Naughty Dog, a development house that has had strong roots with the Playstation, having formulated the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter gaming experiences. This adventure represented Naughty Dog’s first ‘realistic’ experience, having been known more for crafting ‘cartoony’ adventures.
With this adventure now available in major retail outlets, one has to wonder: will this new style of development for Naughty Dog launch Sony to their old levels of dominance?
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune tasks players with guiding Nathan Drake, an erstwhile treasure hunter, on a quest to locate the treasure of Sir Francis Drake. Throughout his journey, he is aided by Elena Fischer, a roving reporter, and Victor Sullivan, a fortune seeker in his own right who has made questionable decisions which will end up costing him throughout the experience. To best explain the challenges that the player will face throughout Drake’s journey, I will reference a quote by Elena “Will we discover an ancient colony and a fortune in Spanish gold, or does the island have darker secrets in store for us?”
I’m to busy staring at the graphics to aim
Observations of this game in action have led players to deem it similar to prior gaming experiences; the shooting challenges that Drake must tackle have led gamers to label Uncharted as a ‘Gears of War’ clone, the game’s tropical setting led individuals to reminisce of a certain ‘Tomb Raider,’ while the navigation trials that Drake must negotiate parallel ‘Prince of Persia’ to the point where Drake could have easily become successful had he chosen to maneuver through the prince’s environs. As these experiences are frequently referenced by gamers as among the best in their respective genres, the notion that parts of Uncharted can compare favorably with these gems is a victory in itself.
In fact, this variety is the game’s greatest advantage; rather than allowing players to engage in a singular task repeatedly, Naughty Dog instead delivered an adventure where gamers will routinely be shooting, negotiating crevices and ledges, or puzzle solving. Including this variety ensures players of eagerly anticipating the next segment, rather than carping of drudgery due to repetition.
While Uncharted’s gaming diversity is its main selling point, the adventure also benefits from outstanding production values. The game’s graphics are among the best showcased on the Playstation 3, and are highlighted through various factors such as the animations that Drake displays when going through his various motions. For example, Drake’s swimming animations, which showcase a freestyle stroke gesture rarely seen in adventure games, are highly realistic in comparison to what is displayed in alternate titles. Nathan’s shirt even changes to reflect moisture throughout his traversals in the environment, a welcome item that distinguishes him from other characters, which look similar regardless of their situation. When placed in various firefights, his enemies animate well and react accordingly to what is given to them; if Drake shoots their legs, you will see them limp, if they take a headshot, you will witness them doubling over in pain. This attention to detail is also made clear when Drake engages his foes in close skirmishes, his foes will double over, charge aggressively, and make it clear that they are determined to defeat this maverick protagonist. Drake himself will even grimace as he loads his weapon, and his arm will shake slightly as he attempts to pinpoint his target. When traversing crevices and pits, Nathan Drake will grab on to ledges with a single arm and dangle in place as he toils to grip the ledge in question; his jumps are not focused affairs as in most games, he will flail his arms as he catapults himself through the air, an addition that may appear humorous to some, but is significant in achieving a portent of realism. This ‘portent of realism’ is also made clear through Drake’s environs, which are successful in leveraging the power of Sony’s technically adept console. The jungle backgrounds are extremely detailed and react to the motions made by Drake throughout the game. The objects that he uses for cover realistically wear away at the constant push of enemies’ gunfire, other locations that Drake navigates showcase similar attention to detail, making this an adventure that you would be proud to display to owners of rival systems.
The sounds throughout Drake’s adventure demonstrate the same attention to detail that Naughty Dog has displayed throughout. Drake’s attempts at humor throughout are one instance of the game’s sound effects in action. In the many firefights that he faces, Drake spews one-liners like ‘here we go’ prior to challenging a group of Spaniards, and after repeated confrontations mutters lines like ‘how do I get myself into these situations?’ In response to Drake’s comments, his foes grouse lines that include ‘you are already dead’ and ‘let’s get him!’ When Drake takes damage, they exclaim ‘how’s that feel HERO?!’ These pieces of dialogue enhance the experience by allowing players to feel as if they are experiencing the same mishaps that are felt by Nathan Drake. The exchanges between Nathan Drake and supporting characters such as Elena and Sullivan also are successful in conveying a believable atmosphere. Sullivan sounds cranky and world-weary, while Elena’s reactions range from eager and determined to fearful yet vigilant.
As for the adventure’s playability, the experience is mostly successful, as Naughty Dog chose to add elements to Drake’s adventures that distinguish it from the games that players accuse it of imitating. One example can be found in the various gunfights that occur. Uncharted challenges you to make each shot count, not only to earn one of the game’s achievements, but simply because ammunition is not readily available. This stands in stark contrast to Gears of War, where weapon usage never becomes problematic. There were times in Uncharted where I ran out of firepower with enemies with shotguns circling my position. I was forced to use my fists to defeat them individually and use their own weapons against them. The navigation sections may appear challenging, but for players who have some experience with Prince of Persia or Tomb Raider, they should become a non-issue. Players who become lost throughout the expedition only have to press L2, and a handy hint system will easily point you to the next objective.
There are a few mishaps worth noting concerning this adventure; these problems lie in some unfortunate technical issues that can become problematic throughout the experience. The game has a regrettable tendency to lock up in certain situations, mainly in areas where the action tends to become intense. Also, despite the game’s many attempts at variety, the overall adventure is surprisingly linear, lacking multiplayer modes or alternate pathways to enhance the experience. Fortunately, the adventure does include various ‘achievements’ that you can earn, which can arrive through weapon proficiency or locating the game’s hidden treasures.
Issues aside, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is one of the Playstation 3’s best adventures to be released this year; while it may not be a triple-A property, the potential is there for a strong franchising opportunity.