Release Date: November 16, 2007
Developer: Naughty Dog
Metacrtic Score: 88
With “Uncharted 4” on the way I thought it would be fun to replay the first three games to see how they stood up over time. I mean, i’ve said before “Uncharted 2” is one of my all time favorite games, but could have have been me speaking with my nostalgia goggles on? Well find out.
The game opens with Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher, a documentary reporter, in the middle of the ocean off the coast of Panama. The two of them are looking for the lost tomb of Sir Francis Drake. You see, Nathan believe Sir Francis is his ancestor. Something that should be impossible, as the man dead and buried before he had the chance to have children. Unless, that his, he faked his death. And sure enough, once Nathan and Elena find and crack open the lead tomb used to bury Drake at sea, they find it empty save for his diary.
Unfortunately for our hero’s there is no time to celebrate as a group of pirates come across them. Help is too far away, so Drake grabs a gun and takes the attackers head on. After a pretty brief combat tutorial, we come back to the story with the boat Nathan and Elena are on blowing up and the two of them being rescued by Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Nathans partner and mentor. The three of them leave and head for a safe have to dissect the diary.
Nathan and Sully discover that Sir Francis had found the fabled treasure “El Dorado”, but the last page of his Diary is missing, so they are forced to head to one of his earlier stops, hoping to find a trail to fallow. Nathan and Sully also decide to ditch Elena, fearing that her job as a reporter would alert to many unwanted party’s. So the two of them alone start making their way towards the Amazon. After some brief puzzle solving Nathan and Sully find that El Dorado was indeed there, but Spanish conquistadors had gotten to it long before Drake ever had the chance. Sully doesn’t take this well. We learn that he has some big debts to pay off and needed this to be the score of a life time. Nathan, ever the optimist, decides to fallow the trail the Spanish left and see where it takes them.
It takes them to a World War Two era German U-Boat that had managed to get stuck in a water fall. Nathan decides to go in and see what happened and ends up finding another trail to fallow. On bored he find a Spanish gold peace that is different than any he’s seen before, and he also finds the last page of Drakes diary. He also finds an active torpedo and decides to get the hell out of there before it goes off. But back on land things aren’t much better.
It turns out that Sully had told a man named Gabriel Roman, one of those people he owed a huge debt too, that he was on to something big. Roman, not wanting to be fooled by the promise of a big pay off again, fallows the two of them and takes a map Nathan had found on the U-Boat. He also wants to make it a point that he isn’t a man to be screwed with, and shoots Sully. He aims to shoot Nathan as well, but that torpedo he had found decides to go off, giving him the chance to escape.
As Nathan is making his escape he runs in Elena. Turns out, she is a very good reporter and tracking him down wasn’t hard. Together the two leave the amazon and head for the Spanish island colony the map had directed them too. From here on out the story is your basic Hollywood style Action/Adventure type story filled with double crosses, cases, and “look how awesome this is” set piece. Both Nathan and Elena take turns rescuing each other from captivity altho Nathan saves her more offtan because you can’t have a game like this without a damsel in distress, right? (Answer: no, that’s not right, but it’s what we got). But there is one moment in the middle of the game I really liked.
After nearly dying a few times already, and knowing that the two of them could get away safely, Nathan actually tried to leave and be done with the whole mission. He and Elena are completely out numbered and he is scared of dying or having her corps on his conscience. Personally, I would like to see more moments like this, that humanize the big bad-ass hero we’ve been rooting for.
The story doesn’t really pick up again until we learn that the treasure is cursed and that Sir Frances did everything in his power to stop it from leaving the island. Once we learn this, the main motivation for out protagonist is no longer getting rich, but saving lives as they try to stop Roman for getting the treasure off the island.
I said in my review of “The Last of Us” that Naughty Dog’s story telling this generation of gaming was less about telling a new story and more about giving us interesting, well written characters to anchor a more traditional story. That really is on full display here. The story this game tells could have come from an Action/Adventure ad lib or “paint by numbers” booklet. But the character iterations and dialog came from people who cared about creating a quality experience. If you can get on board with that, you’ll have a lot of fun here. If you can’t, don’t wast your time.
There are two main aspects of game play here: combat and platforming. While there is a good bit of puzzle solving as well, most of them in this installment are based around platforming as well. In fact, nearly every puzzle in the game is just a variation on “go here, hit a switch”. Even at their best the puzzles just don’t hold a match to what Naughty Dog pulls out in the sequels.
As for the combat, this is your average third person shooter. During combat you hit the “O” button to hide behind cover; “L1” allows you to aim and “R1” shoots whatever you have equipped at the time, and you can also blind fire by simply pressing “R1”. There are also a few hand to hand combos that use the Square and Triangle buttons, but I rarely found myself using them here. It all works pretty well, but it’s not going to reinvent the wheel any time soon. However, the checkpoint system could have used more work. During sections I kept dying on I found that the checkpoints were just far enough back to become infuriating even though the game was constantly saving. Then, once or twice when I wanted to go back just a bit farther than I did, the game saved so I couldn’t.
The platforming is also handled pretty well, but I found it a little too forgiving. For the most part it feels like a more linear version of the “inFamous” games, were if you are close enough to a platform you will just kind of stick to it. That in and of itself makes the platforming too easy as it makes precision nearly unnecessary. But there is also a noticeable lack of threat while platforming as well. Sure, a part of a wall might break or a pipe might snap in two, but unless you are simply not paying attention, the game gives you way to much time to respond to it.
Looking back, this was the first time I remember game developers talking about giving the player a “cinematic” experience, and I think that might be a bit of the issue here. The game feels like you are meant to play all 8-10 hours of it all at once, like you are playing through a long movie. Because of that, it seems like how to handle death or difficultly wasn’t ever something the developers though too much about. Granted, the game doesn’t suffer too much as a result but it is noticeable.
Game Play: 4/5
Music and Sound:
With the exception of one or two lines of dialog and one time when all the sound just cut out completely this has to be the best sounding game i’ve played since I started this page. And I mean that honestly. I’ve started a new youtube play list for soundtracks because I love the music in this game so much. Composer Greg Edmonson’s only video game work has been with the uncharted games, but you may know him if you ever watched a little show called “Firefly”. Yes, that “Firefly”.
And I have to give a special mention to the main voice cast: Nolan North (Nathan Drake), Emily Rose (Elena Fisher) and Richard McGonagle (Victor “Sully” Sullivan) all give nearly flawless performances. It helps that the script is a lot better that what we’re use to seeing with most video games, but even a good script could be brought down by bad acting. Happily the three of them made sure to bring their A game, and the “Uncharted: Drakes Fortune” is all the better for it.
Music and Sound: 5/5
And as a treat, here’s the full soundtrack, just for you!
Overall Score: 4.3/5
Who is this game for:
Do you own a PlayStation 3? If so, you should play this if you haven’t already. Unless you need every game you play to be some kind of nihilistic statement on the human race, i’m pretty sure you’ll find something to like about this.