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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

"There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory." -Vice Admiral Sir Francis Drake, 1587

In 2007, gamers around the world were blessed with a treasuretrove of new video game IPs (Intellectual Property) like "Portal", "Mass Effect", and "Bioshock". "Uncharted: Drake's Fortune", released in November of the same year, was the start of another gaming IP franchise, exclusively for the PS3 (PlayStation 3). Uncharted is an attempt to merge Hollywood's blockbuster action film with the interactive capability of video gaming, for a playable high production "Indiana Jones" like experience. The developers of Uncharted, Naughty Dog, built the foundation of the game upon three pillars: adventure platforming, cover-based shooting, and a treasure-seeking plot. Borrowing heavily from the games and films that came before it, Uncharted ditches innovation in favor of a refined blockbuster experience unlike any other.

Uncharted's plot centers around Nathan Drake (Nate), the protagonist, and the search for his ancester's hidden treasure, Sir Francis Drake's fortune. Teaming up with his partner Sully and the expedition's funder/journalist Elena, Nate adventures through amazonian jungles and jungle infested islands, pressing closer towards the treasure. Along the way Nate runs into rival opposition, whom are also seeking the same famed fortune. The remainder of the plot progresses exactly how one could imagine it. The protagonist shoots his way through countless henchmen, discover's the treaure's secrets, has a standoff with the antagonist, and survives the adventure along with his friends and a smaller subset of the treasure. The plot is a significantly watered-down version of Indiana Jones. This simple story depends entirely on it's high-production blockbuster delivery, leaving nothing to contemplate or revisit. If Michael Bay were to direct his own version of Indiana Jones, Uncharted would be the result.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Environmental Traversal sure does look alot like Platforming...

Moving on from Uncharted's plain-Jane plot, and onto the main allure of video gaming, is gameplay. Like the plot, the gameplay borrows entirely from games that came before it, the most noticeable is "Tomb Raider". Uncharted's gameplay is a linear chapter-to-chapter (level-to-level) based progression revolving around platforming and shooting. For any given chapter the player is tasked to traverse various scenic environmental encounters by jumping, climbing, rope swinging, and swimming. Shoved in between each traversed environment is a confined shooting arena, speckled with waist high cover points, which forces the player to survive/kill 'x' number of henchmen waves before progressing forward. As the player edges toward the endgame, newer and harder enemy types are encountered, along with an increasing frequency of combat chambers. The only diversification of this beginning-to-end game flow are the sparse action-packed vehicle riding chapters, and simplified puzzle-solving events. Neither enhance the "Indiana Jones" gameplay experience, which this game attempts to provide. More importantly, any particular gameplay element found within Uncharted is better executed in the games that came before it.

Gameplay over Graphics!

Every gamer knows that great gameplay directly translates to a great game. Some examples of this would be "Tomb Raider", "Grand Theft Auto 3", and "Terraria". The opposite, however, cannot be directly applied. Examples of this would be "Assassin's Creed", "Final Fantasy XIV", and "Zone of the Enders". Unfortunately, Naughty Dog has decided to give more attention to the aesthetic details of Uncharted rather than designing compelling and innovative gameplay. I certainly appreciate the visually stunning moments within Uncharted, especially the rusted German U-Boat on top of an amazoneon waterfall, but optically stimmulating moments will only compliment the underlying gameplay foundation for any video game. Simply put, if the gameplay were removed, you would be left with a sterotypical action film.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Yes, you can swing your fists in Uncharted. Yes, it is useless in a gun fight.

So what about the gameplay of Uncharted? Does the gameplay offer a worthwhile and memorable experience which entertains for countless hours? Before I answer that question, first, I must break down the core elements of Uncharted's gameplay to better align your expectations. As aforementioned, Uncharted's gameplay centers around platforming and shooting. The platforming gameplay could be better described as environment traversal. Unlike your typical Mario game, there are few moments which require skilled or well-timed actions (e.g. jumping) to get to the next location. Instead, Nate moves through the environment in a very natural and realistic way. The realism of the game and it's environments restrict the level designers into shaping believable paths which Nate could naturally traverse. The end result is a collection of level designs that are completely linear in direction. In addition, the animation automates according to the traversal requirements for the immediate path sub-section. The combination of these two gameplay designs limit the player's exploratory assessment and interaction within the game world. Although guiding Nate through the game looks fantastic, it shouldn't be boresome; barely requiring more than tilting the analog stick in the proper direction, and pressing the 'x' button when nearing a gap.

When it comes to shooting Uncharted gets the job done, albeit safely. The 3rd-person shooting handles like one should expect. Nate must take cover, while timing his shots in order to survive any given firefight. The enemies are designed to shoot from behind cover, and occasionly flank the player when the combat arena is large enough to do so. If the player takes a few hits the screen will increasingly "bloodify", indicating that Nate is about to die. If the player waits long enough without receiving additional attacks, then the screen normalizes allowing the player another buffering of health. This invisible healing mechanism is known as 'regenerative health', and is widely used in most 'realistic' shooter games.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
No cover points... OH SHIT!!!

The invisible 'regenerative health' system is an attempt to make the combat of shooter games feel more realistic. This serves as an alternative to the previously standard 'health pickup' system; where players needed to move their character over a healing item, like a medical kit, to restore their lost hit points (HP). There are many adaptations of the 'regenerative health' system, and some feel more natural than others. However, the real reason behind a full 'regenerative health' system is to appease the amusement of "mainstream" gamers. With 'regenerative health' the player doesn't need to explore the confines of a level in order to replentish their lost HP. A convenient side effect is the laxxing relief provided to the level designers, whom are no longer required to incorporate exploratory routes riddled with abundant rewards. In addition, when the screen bloodifies the player simply needs to take cover and wait, resetting their combat readiness without resetting the enemy encounter. For Uncharted, the lack of a 'health pickup' system misses the opportunity to reward curious and thorough players. Furthermore, the player's incentive to explore each level is left unencouraged. This feels extremely out of place for a game that features a treasure hunter as it's main character.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Uncharted ->(L)->(I)->(N)->(E)->(A)->(R)->( )->(L)->(E)->(V)->(E)->(L)-> Design

The key to Uncharted's combat is the cover button (defaulted to 'o' circle). Using this button allows the player to instantly snap Nate to the nearest covering position. The button also doubles as a dive mechanic, which allows the player to dive from one cover point to another, then automatically snaps Nate to the nearest cover position. This snap-in and snap-out cover mechanic, inspired by the 2003 released "Kill Switch" game, is required to survive the many battles of Uncharted. Disappointingly, Uncharted's cover system is far from perfect. There will be instances where Nate snaps to the wrong object, or the wrong side of a cover point. The unpolished cover system will be responsible for numerous unintended deaths. Overall, Uncharted's combat is good, but, is funner and better executed in the games that came before it. Circling back to my initial question of worthwhile gameplay, the answer is maybe.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
NO! I Didn't want you to vault over that wall...

2007's PS3 Game of the Year?

Uncharted was championed by various gaming websites/magazines as 2007's PS3 game of the year. After playing through Uncharted I find it extremely difficult to reasonably agree. The biggest highlights from these sites are Uncharted's high production presentation, graphics, character interaction, and voice-acting. While I agree that each of these elements of Uncharted are fantasically implemented, each did little to enhance the monotonous gameplay. In a year that witnessed the release of "Super Mario Galaxy", "Half-Life 2: Episode 2", "Rock Band", and many other AAA games including those first mentioned within this review; I wonder how Uncharted is able stand alongside them.

When Uncharted was released just after a year of the PS3's debut, critics were still hungering for a "Killer" new IP exclusively for the PS3. The PS3's biggest launch title "Resistence: Fall of Man" didn't seem to factor in as a baseline for the professional assessment of Uncharted. In addition, "Heavenly Sword" failed to live up to it's initial hype. It is hard to believe that Uncharted could be professionally overrated due to small, yet amounting, console fanaticism, but through my experience and vigorous research, I am inclined to believe it true. I find it baffling when a video game's presentation and graphical achievements outweight it's gameplay and entertainment value.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Taking cover and aiming carefully is the key to survival.

What Uncharted did right:

Where Uncharted could be improved:

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Prince of Persia's environment... I mean, Uncharted's environment traversal.

Final Thoughts...

"Uncharted: Drake's Fortune" is not a bad game by any means. In fact, Uncharted would certainly entertain those who only play a small handful of games per year, have yet to experience a third-person shooter, or are fans of Michael Bay films. For these individuals, Uncharted is a solid recommendation. However, Uncharted should not be celebrated for pushing video games into the same calibur as the high production "Big-Budget" Hollywood films. Instead, recognition should be awarded to games that truely innovate on gameplay, interactive storytelling, user interaction, and level design. Despite being a new IP, Uncharted chickens out on taking a chance to innovate. For the experienced gamer, don't let Uncharted's aesthetics fool you into believing that this is the right direction for the video games industry to take. Alternatively, we should all take a step back and analyze the current state of the music and film industries. Should we allow these two industries to directly influence the future of the video game industry?

Review Scoring System: 64-bit
Class MemberBit AllocationBit SignificanceValue
Critical Rating4 bits2^6010 out of 15
Gameplay4 bits2^5611 out of 15
Control4 bits2^5212 out of 15
Innovation4 bits2^486 out of 15
Value4 bits2^448 out of 15
Graphics12 bits2^323850 out of 4095
Audio8 bits2^24230 out of 255
Story24 bits2^010,066,329 out of 16,777,215
Total0x ABC6 8F0A E699 9999
(In Base 10)12,377,737,902,855,657,881
Out of18,446,744,073,709,551,615
Potential Achieved67.0999%
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