I can’t help imagining that if I were to walk into an archeological college program with only my knowledge of the field from movies & videogames, I’d probably get expelled. I can’t say I’ve ever studied the field in great detail, but I’m reasonably certain it’s frowned upon to blow up ancient structures & priceless artifacts. And who keeps bringing in all these explosive barrels, anyway? The natives? Shouldn’t the gunpowder be inert by now? And why do these greedy mercenaries never realize the value of the ruins they’re destroying? It may not be as immediately profitable as a giant gold statue, assuming you can find a buyer for that in the first place, but you gotta think long term; books & television appearances & all that good stuff. Stop blowing everything up!
In my substantial free-time while transitioning to a new job, I finally got around to playing the remastered version of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, part of The Nathan Drake Collection, a collection of remastered version of the first three Uncharted titles. Having never played any of the Uncharted games before, I was interested to see if the games were as good as everyone says, so I put this female Lara Croft to the test.
Uncharted probably needs no introduction, but I will regardless. In his first outing, we take control of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter following the trail of Sir Francis Drake, hoping to discover the legendary golden city, El Dorado. Things become complicated when several rival treasure hunters show up, forcing Drake to try to outsmart the mercenaries while dragging along a reporter.
Uncharted is very much an action-adventure game, leaning more toward the action end of the spectrum. Drake will encounter many gunfights, broken up by some platforming, sprinkled with a dash of simplistic puzzle-solving. Cover-based shooting in the name of the game, & most of the playtime is spent crouched behind a wall, picking at enemies with a variety of weaponry.
Narrative: I might’ve joked earlier about Drake being the female Lara Croft, but honestly I got more of an Indiana Jones vibe. The game feels a lot like if someone made an Indiana Jones movie today with all the modern action movie tropes (Or maybe like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? I never saw that one.). So instead of having punch-ups beneath a moving airplane, Drake just shoots a lot of people & drives around on a jet ski. Drake is more light-hearted to Indy’s dry straight-man act. He even gets a somewhat-shady sidekick & nosy female co-lead. And in the end, the bad guy gets killed by some supernatural curse, & the story ends with a helicopter crash followed by a punch-out on a boat.
In case it doesn’t come across, I did enjoy the story… what was there, at any rate. It’s very classically campy. I found the main characters likeable, & their goal interesting; however… The plot as a whole felt a bit threadbare. It’s very easy to forget your current goal as you get strung along from one open shooting arena to another. I would’ve liked the story to have a bit more player interaction with it. The usual pattern is that Drake will decipher something & conveniently find said contraption in the next room. It kinda takes the fun of exploration out. I don’t mind a linear story, but it just felt a bit passive. There’s no finding clues or anything like that. Drake will just comment on something, prompting you to pull out his handy-dandy notebook, then follow along the only path available. It’s more Drake’s story than the story of the treasure, which makes sense, it just feels a bit rushed.
I’ve heard someone people complain about the sudden addition of supernatural enemies toward the end of the game. But if we continue with the Indiana Jones comparison, most of them had a supernatural element as well. I think the problem goes back to the lack of fleshing out details that plagues the rest of the game. They could’ve done more to build up the plot & mythos, rather than just being like, “Oh, by the way, the statue’s really a coffin that curses people in some nondescript, never touched upon way,” in the penultimate chapter. It’s just poor pacing. I don’t think it would’ve been as much of a problem if there’d been some hinting along the way — some foreboding.
Overall, while a bit threadbare, the plot is serviceable enough, evoking memories of old adventure movies but lacking some of the pacing. The characters are likeable enough & you’ll want to know what happens next to push through.
Mechanics: I don’t think I ever noticed before how boring cover-based shooting can be. It’s strange, because one of my favorite games of all time is Mass Effect, where the combat is pretty much nothing but cover-based shooting. I think the difference is there’s more to do while behind cover in Mass Effect. If enemies aren’t cooperating, I can command a follower to blast their shields, or go invisible to flank them. In Uncharted, you can’t do that. You can only stay behind cover until someone pops out, like aggressive ADHD wooden ducks. Even grenades don’t seem to be that effective at flushing people out.
I think the problem is an issue of balance & vision. The game wants to be all action-oriented, with blazing gunfights & Drake ducking behind cover before jumping out, so enemies literally crawl out of the walls & swarm around you like angry bees. Yet they had to keep with the growing trend of cover systems, so you end up stuck behind some rock if you don’t want your head blown off. It’s poorly balanced, tedious, happens too often & goes on for way too long. I dreaded any time I came to an open area after a platforming section & spied all the convenient chest-high walls. In most cases, I adopted the pattern of running up to the closest enemy, using a brutal combo, then hiding until my vision stopped going gray simply to speed up the process.
The shooting isn’t bad. It works… it’s just not interesting. Honestly, the most fun I had with the combat is when the supernatural enemies showed up & I switching to run-&-gun. Because they’re the only enemies without guns & don’t use cover, they’re the only ones you can use this tactic with, & it’s a blast. I had more fun running around like a crazy person just shooting wildly in the general direction of the swarm chasing me. Why couldn’t they do more of that? Or when I got to use the sniper rifle against just one far enemy? The mercenaries are just a slog to get through. And why can I shoot them three times in the face with a shotgun & they still don’t go down? You’re not wearing armor on your face.
And then the quick-time events… I’ve never been too down on QTE’s in the past, probably because most the games I’ve experienced them in integrate them reasonably well. But Uncharted shows its age in this regard. They really do come out of nowhere, & with no consistency. Obviously they’re meant to engage you in a quick action, like rolling out of the way of a falling pile of bricks, but there are more times when you have no control over the cutscene, or you use regular controls. For example, there’s a few times when a platform starts to break & you use the same in-game controls to run & leap before you fall to your doom. And don’t get me started on that final boss fight. They’re just poorly implemented all around.
I wished the game was more adventure than action, because the platforming sections definitely fair better. Both the camera & level design do a good job showing where you need to go next. The controls are responsive, though I did jump to my death more than a few times because the controls hadn’t quite caught up with the camera & Drake jumped the wrong way. The puzzles, while not difficult, helped break up the monotony of the combat, though I would’ve liked them to be a bit more thought-provoking. And I appreciated the devs’ attempts to mix up the set pieces. The jeep section was a lot of fun. But not so much the jet ski. It’s hard to pinpoint my exact problem with them in Uncharted, but I think I was expected more natural movement — like having to swing out & around to turn — only for it to just do a hairpin 90-degree turn into a wall. I really came to appreciate the generous check points after that level.
Overall, while the platforming & set pieces are fun, there’s way too much monotonous cover-based shooting to slog through.
Aesthetics: Having never played the original version, I can’t attest to any uprezing, but it does look nice. The scenery & architecture are great to look at, & really immerse you in the setting. A shame the camera wants to look at the floor half the time. There’s also something odd about Elena’s model in-game. I can’t tell if it’s poor facial animations making her look flat, or that fact that even at the end her model is as pristine as in the beginning & that looks odd next to Drake’s battered model.
The voice acting is, of course, good, with a lot of recognizable actors. I can’t say much for the music outside the opening menu theme, because none of it stuck out to me. So that’s not great, but at least what’s there wasn’t obtrusive.
Replay Value: Average-ish. After you beat the game, you unlock the ability to play individual chapters, so you can replay sections you like. I did that to find all the treasures. And there are a lot of rewards & tweaks you can earn for completing various challenges to mix up future playthroughs. Personally, if I do play it again, I’m sticking it on Explorer mode & breezing through the combat to get to the fun stuff.
Overall Score: 3
Final Word: Uncharted has a reputation for being a cinematic series, & it certainly lives up to that; however, Naughty Dog failed to remember that those old adventure movies has more slow pacing & atmosphere than action. The first game’s a bit too much cover-based shooting to slog through & not enough fun exploration & interesting scenarios. It’s not bad, by any stretch, but definitely feels like the first in a series. If you’re not a fan of shooting, stick it on Explorer mode to speed through to the fun parts.
Title: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Console: PS3, PS4
Developer: Naughty Dog, BluePoint Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: November 20, 2007 (original), October 9, 2015 (remaster)