It’s been over a year since Nathan Drake gave Playstation owners something to shout about and here I am darting through lush jade forests, hunting the lost treasures of Eldorado, fending off increasingly outlandish foes and leaping like an apathetic suicidal for a third time in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. That in itself is worthy praise.
Worthy praise as well, the game is still a landmark title in stellar production values today. Drake’s graceful movements, be it rolling into cover, soaring through the air, or grasping at a crumbling edge, transform him into a deftly realised protagonist.
Further adding to that, an incisively written script bleeds humour and humanity in equal measure, Drake is quick to enchant and a consistent joy to play as. Much of this is drawn from his interactions with co-stars (it’s very much blockbuster material) jaunty journalist Eleanor, and dry humoured Sully. The narrative flaunts enough twists, character developments, and wit to satisfy even the most jaded gamer. Their interactions within the games many short cut scenes are as pleasing as the witty interactions engaged in with Drake during the many levels they spend together. It’s very much a testament to the quality of writing that after completing Uncharted twice, I was still willing to sit through them all for a third time. More impressive, the subtle touches that prove a solid story can be carved from an apt attention to mise-en-scene. Exploring the boundaries of the entirely linear levels often reveals minute secrets, hints towards later narrative revelations or the history of Francis Drake himself.
Of course, gameplay is essential and here it is strikingly familiar, bordering quintessential. Platforming resembles Lara Croft’s own exertions into treasure hunting whilst the combat is a carbon replica of Gears of War, down even to the weapon select inventory. The latter works more favorably, with a diverse arsenal firefights are animate and frantic, transforming the simplest battle into a fracas of wits as ammo quickly becomes sparse; Drake’s many foes are peculiarly resilient to bullets. Most of the time this works, scraping through some of the latter battles with well-placed headshots and some tactical melee combat (Drake sports a mean right hook) is at times exhilarating. Other occasions it flirts with frustration, constant waves of enemy’s charge your cover and grenade launcher-wielding enemies in particular are infuriatingly over-powered. Countering that though are quick and frequent checkpoints. You’re rarely being held back.
Platforming is seldom taxing, entire sections can be navigated through holding the desired direction and then repeatedly pressing X, Drake is all too willing to take over for the hard work. Whilst this prevents gameplay from becoming a constant drag between checkpoints and trials, there’s rarely a sense of accomplishment with scaling the face of a fortress precariously perched on a cliff four hundred feet above the ocean. Better that though, than an adopted Mirror’s Edge style of player-hate.
Drake’s adventures don’t survive passed the seven hour mark, less on the easiest difficulties though this is not as much a criticism as a competent production decision. Despite a plot-twist George Lucas could be proud of, and a late change in locations, events begin to feel familiar toward the finale. Some locations are revisited, and firefights grow tiresome before the drastic alteration, add to that some forgettable driving sequences and seven hours is a perfectly acceptable length. Better to end on a high note than drag the player through an extra four hours of derivative gameplay for the sake of the few who’ll complain anything under ten hours is wasted on them. Levels are well designed, look beautiful, and are competent as both platforming playgrounds and arenas of death. The narrative matures, as does the gameplay, and character developments conclude without any feeling rushed or ignored, anything on top of this would more than likely be purely vacuous.
With a hugely anticipated sequel planned for an autumn release those so far unfamiliar with Nathan Drake owe it to themselves to play through Uncharted. And anyone already familiar with the charismatic hero should play it again in preparation for one of the most exciting Playstation releases of the year.