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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Hands On

20 July 2007

Let’s be real! Who wouldn’t go on an all out three year journey for missing riches? Luckily for us, the talented videogame makers at Naughty Dog, creators of Jak and Daxter, shared one of their most prized treasure to us; Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The game is a blend of great cover-based gun combat with full use of the surroundings, hand-to-hand brawling and easy to do puzzles complemented by problem solving situations, and is a tremendous leap forward for Naughty Dog in terms of their demeanor in presenting a stylized, more mature product in storytelling video games.

Uncharted has a realistic, colorful stylized look, and is set in a world that reinvents the tradition action-adventure genre. In general, the story centers on Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter and con man, and his quest to unravel the mystery of a lost treasure linking him with the famous English explorer and pirate Sir Francis Drake. A long with his hand gun and many of his trusty friends, Drake can tackle anything that comes towards him. So, get ready. Put on your best pair of hiking shoes, and prepare to be thoroughly exhausted. You’re in for one hell of a journey.

Near the Drake demo booth, the friendly people from Naughty Dog let us know a couple of things:

- The engine was built from the ground up
- There is meticulous detail and focus on the life-like motion and facial expressions.
- The gameplay focuses on things like exploration, cave exploring, hand combat, with a flawless jungle environment influenced on Tomb Raider, with an inflection on foliage detail and everything in general.

The demo ranged between climbing, swinging and shooting, and lasted a good twenty minutes on average difficulty. As the screen went pitch black, and the fanciful short opening introduction played, we felt like we were watching a movie. Suddenly, the scene snaps into real time and Drake casually stands there.

To start, the environment and the rich foliage leave you in awe for a good minute. Luckily, to detract from that, Drake’s armpit stains got us moving along. There were a bunch of rocks and ledges to shift across, clearly all of it centralizing around the opulent surroundings of lush foliage and murky but realistic water. After hopping through a huge hole in the wall, which the pirates blew open, Drake unbelievably ducks behind cover as soon as the first fire is shot on detection of an intruder. Clearly if 3 men are shooting at you, your first instinct can’t be the traditional “run and flee” method, especially if you’re Drake. Drake can hold up to four weapons, including grenades and the ability to take someone on with his bare hands, all thrilling with the use of the SIXAXIS motion sensitivity feature in an aesthetic environment.

As one of the game's great core mechanic, the cover system is extremely well done. Reminiscent of the cover system in Epic’s Gears of War, the circle button attaches you to a rock or behind the outlining mouth of a cave for cover, and the L1 button allows you to see Drake in a semi-3rd person shooter mode and centralize the aim and shoot aspect on the action detail in your view. Despite the slight similarity in the cover system, there is one significant difference: the amount of detail and emotion. While other titles may use the shoot system to direct attention to the oncoming enemy, Uncharted is extremely focused on the animation system on both Drake himself and the reactions of the shot enemies. In correlation to this extremely detailed aspect, the animation system reacts dynamically to the environmental situation presented while shooting. With a library of a number of animations for Nathan Drake combined using the Synapse Parallax model, Drake responds immediately to what the player does with the controls, and to where in the environment the player leads him while he’s reloading. So, Drake can be coming out of cover, reloading his weapon, slipping on the wet foliage, flinching away from incoming gunfire, all at once.

When you see him in action in gameplay, it’s truly arresting to believe that you’re just playing a game. You’re running your ass off in fear of forty bullets swooshing by your trim hair cut and chiseled jaw structure. With a tap of a button, it's also possible to dive and roll from cover to cover. This proves useful because enemies are frighteningly real and sneak up on you when you least expect it. But as the reflexive guy you are, you can also hit the R1 trigger for a quick jab by the shoulder into their mouth or even to exchange a few punches. Just remember, you have to get your timing right. So, it’s definitely a good idea to be sober and always keep up your guard.

The brilliant soundtrack in addition to the animation and character detail is breath taking. Moreover, the acting performances by Emily Rose, playing the sexy Survivor-like competition runner up presenter Elena Fisher, and Nolan North, playing our handsome hero Nolan Drake, far outdo the personality of the characters more than anyone can hope for. To match all of this, facial animation is stunning, with both characters responding realistically and believably to a tough situation, especially Drake when he is jabbed in his jaw.

From what we’ve seen, Naughty Dog has, so far, delivered beautifully on this promising first party title to make you truly feel as if you’re seeking out one hell of a treasure. As the gameplay progresses, you’ll soon find that the real treasure is not the value in the chest, but the experience from the journey. Okay, well maybe not exactly. But before you go battling nasty pirates, make sure you polish your hand gun and take care of it. It’ll be one hell of a trek. And for people’s sake, make sure you take a shower after!


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