Deep in the jungles of an undiscovered island lurks a legendary treasure. Known as El Dorado, this treasure has been sought by many, and now has fellow adventurer and lead character Nathan Drake out on a vigorous scavenger hunt to find it. Teamed up with a foxy blond reporter, Nathan must jump, swing, and climb the landscapes, finding new clues to the location of the mysterious gold statue. Developed by Naughty Dog Studios, Uncharted Drake’s Fortune is what I’d call the bread and butter of the PlayStation 3, offering beautiful graphics, solid platforming, and movie quality storytelling.
To jump right in, the control scheme of game seems to follow what is easily becoming an industry standard for 3rd person action games. Players will use a single button to perform many different actions whether it’s taking cover, leaping to ledges, or activating doors; the layout is set up to simplify the feel of the character.
In Uncharted, this scheme is mapped to the triangle button, which is utilized to execute most of your interaction commands, including anything from kicking open rusty gates to jumping in vehicles. Then you have the square button, which handles your characters punches and combo attacks, leaving the circle as your cover and roll command and X for jumping. Moving on to the back buttons, L1 is used for aiming, R2 for reload, R” for fire, and L2 for manipulating the camera, allowing you to look around. You may also use the D-pad to switch through your weaponry and throw grenades.
It is rare to find a game that mixes third person shooter with platforming, and have both concepts actually harmonize in unison. More than often, I found it refreshing to finally have a title that allows the user to have a great experience in leaping ledges and scaling cliffs, but then shake it up with intense shotgun battles with treasure hungry pirates. The only other game that comes to mind that puts these two genres together so well is Tomb Raider. However, Lara Croft has nothing on Nathan Drake; Naughty Dog has done a great job to push the limits and offer something that is unique, standing out from others in the genre.
One notable annoyance in the game was when it came to jumping from one cling hole to another, as it was hard to tell where exactly Drake was jumping. Sometimes it shows his head turn, looking back, when making a backwards leap, or he’d look up if you were looking to scale upwards. However, sometimes it was hard to get him in this “tell” situation, leading to a blinded bound, occasionally resulting in death. Other than that, the jumping controls in Uncharted were perfect for it’s pace allowing you to not have to time your leaps. Just line it up and fly.
The cover system was easy to use as well. When near a wall or protruding chunk stone, simply press circle and Nathan will lean against the object for cover. Indeed, one of the key points in Uncharted is cover. Whether it’s stealthily sneaking upon an enemy for a neck break or taking a hail of fire and needing a place to restore your health, taking cover is a must. There really are not too many Rambo moments in the game. Most of the time if you rush up into a group of pirates, the end result is a red screen of “continue from last checkpoint.”
Earlier this year, hands on experiences lead some people to relate the shooting and action experiences in Uncharted Drake’s Fortune to something like Gears of War; and they were right. Now Uncharted doesn’t have all the chainsaws, exploding bodies, and curb stomps but the third person shooter controls are nearly the same, and you feel that same intensity when enemies come at you with shotguns and grenade launchers. Also the close up slow-motion combo sequences when fighting a pirate hand-to-hand help immerse you more into the visceral, kick ass action Uncharted provides.
Also worthy of mention are the SIXAXIS controls. Naughty Dog threw in the ability to hock grenades and balance across fallen trees, both using the SIXAXIS motion controller. In our experience, however, it didn’t add anything to the overall gameplay and it seemed as though it could do just as well without.
One element that in many games is often overlooked is the soundtrack, and as you will see in Uncharted, Naughty Dog took this feature very seriously. Not only do they offer an amazing music score composed by Greg Edmonson, but also the movie-quality voice acting and dialogue is no less than on par with that heard in Heavenly Sword. The voice actors add a degree of emotion to the characters in the game, and the ambient sounds of the jungle will fill your room on high volume, putting you there in the shoes of Nathan Drake. Everything from waterfalls and rivers, to Amazonian birds and wind crackling leaves, the sound team has done a remarkable job at making you feel as though you are lost in the island forest.
Ever get bored of the same animations? Well look no further. Uncharted Drakes Fortune keeps things fresh with over 3,000 animations for Nathan Drake alone. Whether you are clambering over cliffs, riding in the back of a jeep, or knocking out a foe, nearly ever animation is different from the last. Also, for those of you who pay close attention, Naughty Dog has even added wet effect for when Nathan jumps in the water. Some of the most impressive animations come when you are leaping from handhold to hand hold and sometimes one hand slips, leaving Drake dangling precariously off to one side, quickly to recover.
Gorgeous vast jungle environments, dazzling waterfalls and streams, and real-time shadows and lighting are all things that help make Uncharted Drake’s Fortune one of the most beautiful PlayStation 3 games to date. The game employs an assortment of the latest technology and effects, including Global Illumination, Parallax Mapping, and Wave Simulation water based physics. Whether you are walking through the rainforests, or strolling through the 400-year-old ancient Mayan temples, the detail spent in bringing the world to life is truly astonishing.
Naughty Dog has stated that all the textures are hand painted using references from photos giving it a colorful yet natural look, and using their “Wrinkle Mapping” technology they have created realistic and reactionary facial expressions for the characters within the game.
Now even though Uncharted is beautiful, it seems to come at a cost. Gamers may notice that there is some slight screen tearing but due to what is presented on screen, it’s forgivable. Plus, Naughty Dog seems to have added a motion blur to Nathan’s peripheral vision when turning quickly side to side, making the screen tear less noticeable. Yet, when you think that Naughty Dog is only using 30% of the SPE’s in the PS3’s Cell Processor to push AI, animations, physics, texture streaming, and holding it at a steady 30fps, it makes you wonder what will happen once developers are able to harness all of the power.
Overall Naughty Dog has put the pieces together to make for one solid AAA title. Everything from the art direction and technically advanced character animations to the soundtrack, voice acting, and environmental ambience, Uncharted Drakes Fortune has got to be one of the greatest single player adventures yet released on the PS3. Let’s just hope that the treasure hunts will continue and that Naughty Dog will return to the franchise soon.