If you want proof that Sony is finally gaining traction with the PS3 then look no further than Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The game is easily one of the best games available for the PS3 and one of the top ten games out this year. Uncharted was a game that I had high expectations for and the game managed to still surprise me. The superb writing and the amazing graphics left me with a giant smile on my face for large portions of the game. Naughty Dog has delivered one of the best gaming experiences in memory.
You play as Nathan Drake, an "average guy" and long lost ancestor of Sir Frances Drake who has chosen the life of a treasure hunter and fortune seeker. I would point out that average guy is Sony's description of Nathan as I don't know a lot of guys who can hop around ledges, wield a machine gun, or jump large gaps with ease. Not like John. John is average as it gets and I've seen him have problems getting up the stairs at work some days. He's certainly more average than your typical action hero but let's not quibble over marketing slogans.
Joining Nathan in his adventures are his business partner Scully and plucky news reporter Elena. If you think Elena is simply there to be the damsel in distress then you're mistaken. Elena is more Alyx Vance than Princess Peach and while she's in peril a few times she's a worthy companion in a fire fight. Scully is likewise good in a fight. What's great about the game is that both characters are fleshed out and have their own personalities.
The game starts with the unearthing of the tomb of Sir Francis Drake. Instead of finding a moldy body Nathan finds that Sir Francis left behind a diary that lead to the treasure of El Dorado. Before they can enjoy their find, the gang is attacked by pirates and narrowly escapes. From then on the game it's a race against the pirates and a group of mercenaries to see who can claim the treasure first. OK, this isn't the most original script in the book and the game is equal parts Indiana Jones with a little Tomb Raider mixed in. There's also dash of Goonies in parts but the game is so well executed you won't mind that you can see some of the plot twists coming a mile away. That's not to say that there aren't a few surprises here and there but some of the big stuff I saw coming a mile away.
The thing that is really impressive is how lush and vibrant the graphics are. Remember how dead and gray Gears of War seemed? This is the exact opposite as the world is alive and vibrant. I actually took my time during the early parts of the game to stop and enjoy the virtual roses as environments are so breath taking. There's some nice attention to detail as some of the flora and fauna will actually react to Nathan walking past them. Of course there are a few clipping issues but the overall effect is mesmerizing. There are a lot of nice touches in the game as well. If you walk him through water Nathan actually gets wet. I know it's a small detail but it's just another way the game draws you in.
Graphics are nothing without game play and Uncharted doesn't disappoint here either. The game is a mix of environmental puzzles, logic puzzles, and gun play. The gun play is the pop-and cover stuff that was nearly perfected by Gears of War last year. The execution in Uncharted is a bit better than Gears since its easier to get in and out of cover and you can do cool things like hang off a ledge and shoot people above you. There are a few well executed vehicle sections and a few God of War style button pushing mini-games but it all works well together. There are a few sections where you might get a bit sick of the constant gun battles but for the most part the game is well paced and engaging.
With the exception of long falls and a few one hit/one kill weapons Nathan can take a bit of a beating. The game goes with the Call of Duty style health system where you can rest behind cover and heal your wounds. While this isn't overly realistic it does keep the game moving. The puzzles in the game are decent as well. Some of the early ones are easy but there are a few later on in the game that will take some time to think through. Nothing that hard (I got past them) but a nice challenge and a nice respite from constantly gunning down bad guys.
Enemy AI is rock solid as they actually work together to take out Drake and company. There's nothing like being pinned down by a sniper while watching troops with shotguns moving in under their cover. They do the occasional stupid thing like leaving their head exposed but they are real and fairly believable. I'm not going to say they are the best AI out there but it's going to keep you on your toes even on the lower difficultly levels. The only real nitpick I have with the bad guys is that the lost island seems to have a bad guy generator that cranks out bad guys in one of four flavors: the pistol dude, machine gun dude, shotgun guy, and the one dude with the funny hat and explosive shots. As you progress through the game you get different skinned versions of these guys but it's pretty much the same four bad guys over and over again.
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