Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Developer Naughty Dog Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment Genre Adventure Platform Playstation 3 Release December 7th 2007
- I now own all three major home consoles of the current generation. It took it's time, mostly due to lack of finances, but I got there eventually. And while I am quite content with my Playstation 3, racking up several joyous hours on LA Noire, I took a quick brake in cracking down on some 1940's crime to try my hand at another, more Playstation-exclusive third person shooter-slash-adventure title; Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It's a fairly old game in the scheme of things in this generation, being a near-launch title for the Playstation 3 but I had heard nothing bad about the game. Although on reflection, I do believe I was hearing nothing but good
things about the game's sequel. Frankly, this could possibly be one of the worst games I've ever played, which is a damn shame given the game's production quality and the developers; Naughty Dog, being so fondly thought-of from my youth. Alas, let me delve into just what's wrong
about this game. And there's a lot.
Elena's not such a bad escort. At least she doesn't die over and over.
Story wise, the game isn't so bad. It's your standard Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider schlock, our hero; Nathan Drake is that old chestnut of a hero archetype; a treasure-hunting rouge with a heart of gold. He, along with a journalist, Elena and an old guy, Sullivan, are out on the trail of a great treasure Drake's ancestor, Sir Francis Drake supposedly left clues to. The mythical city of El Dorado. Upon realising the city isn't infact a city and is actually just a golden statue, the entire game is then spent searching for it. All the while, an evil anti-Drake; Gabriel Roman and his gabble of hired goons try to find the statue first. To condense the story, the Spanish found El Dorado, moved it to some island. During World War II the Germans went in search of it (because, you know, Nazi's sure love their occult stuff...) and they and the Spaniards all met with the same fate: turned into horribly out-of-place demon zombies. Turns out the statue had some undefined
curse on it which turned people into these zombie-things and much like a certain Indiana Jones film, opening the El Dorado statue/sarcophagus unleashes the said "curse". Either way, in the end, Drake decides that the plauge/curse needs disposing of and sends the thing to the bottom of the ocean along with all the game's ultimate villain. Drake gets the girl and they all live happily ever after.
Again, my quibbles aren't really with the story. The zombie-creature plot swerve was completely out of place, however. I'd call it a plot twist, but the game introduces these creatures and with it, the whole genre of the game changes within an instant. It goes from an action adventure game where you're shooting paramilitary to moving through a maze-like area with mutant Nazis and Spaniards chasing you. It's basically like if Call of Duty suddenly just flipped into it's Zombie mode without telling you. It's jarring to say the least. It seems that the game designers didn't know how to properly incorporate this otherworldly element to the game as these enemies are usually encountered with capacious
amounts of ammunition just lying around, meaning that all balance the game had before was just swept under the rug. These enemies also put a pretty huge dent in the game's cover-based-focus to combat, as these things will just run up to you and murder your sorry arse the moment you reload or accidentally
Drake's face was my own, every time I used the cover mechanics.
The controls in this game are what let the whole experience down. And it's not hard to see why. The game is basically three genres mashed together with very little cohesion between them. For one part it's a platforming, almost Prince-of-Persia/Tomb Raider game where you're jumping between ledges and climbing things. Another part is an awkward puzzle-solving element and the final nail in the coffin is the game as a cover-based third person shooter
, because they were all the rage at the time. A third person shooter, I might add, that has enemies which just act as bullet sponges
. You unload whole clips into some enemies and they just wont. Fall. Down. To make matters worse, headshots in the game are damn near impossible to get since the game's definition of "headshot" means "a tiny area in the head-part of the enemy model". There will be times where the only
part of an enemy is showing is his head, you shoot, he recoils from being hit in the face... But then gets up and starts firing at you again. What the bloody hell is this? When did a "headshot" become "a section of the head shot"? The best part about all this, however, is that while enemies take a good 4 to 5 hits to down, unless you catch them in the leg, in which case it takes even more
, you can be taken down in a single shot by "laser sight" enemies and you can die in around 3 to 4 shots normally. So while you're battling bullet-sponging enemies, your efforts can all be in vein by some enemy creeping around behind you and shooting you.
Of course, the cheap, bullet sponging enemies aren't the only problem with the game. The cover system is utterly atrocious as well. You hit the circle button to snap to cover. It's a pretty basic function of a cover-based system, right? I mean, a game released not too long
before Uncharted, the Xbox 360-exclusive Gears of War did cover-based shooting just right. Uncharted does just about everything
wrong. While in Gears of War you snap onto cover which is immediately infront of you and you are facing at the time you tap the A button
, Uncharted doesn't quite think that's enough and hitting the circle button will immediately make you snap onto cover, usually the wrong
piece of cover or on the wrong side
of the cover you were standing 5 feet away from. Why would this become annoying, you ask? Well, because the game has a (rather useless) "dodge roll" action in the game which is activated by tapping the circle button, which the game suggests you using to avoid laser-sight enemies. So inevitably, you'll roll to get away from something, probably a grenade (which you can't throw back) only to get automatically snapped onto a piece of cover you couldn't see
behind you and get blown up. Same when trying to dodge close-range attacks from those mutant-zombie things later in the game. Try to dodge out the way, get snapped onto cover. To leave cover, you either need to press circle again when holding a direction away
from your cover and a corner of your current corner, else Drake will simply turn a corner on the cover, usually leaving you even more exposed or just hold away from the cover until you snap-off of it.
This weapon, love it. Shame about the 3-shot capacity, though.
Going back to Gears of War, since it's the only cover-based Third Person Shooter I can think of which did the whole cover-thing right, the game gives you a lot
of visual feedback when playing. Little icons depicting what would happen if you pressed a button when at a certain point in the cover or where you were facing. Uncharted gives you nothing
. Unsure if you're going to turn a corner or roll away from cover? Too bad. Just going to have to press the circle button and hope it doesn't turn the corner. The game also has destructible cover, so if you're forced away from some cover by a grenade, then crumbly-looking pieces of cover will be lost. Same goes for crates and a lot of other bits and pieces of cover. And much like Gears of War, Uncharted has a "blind shooting" mechanic, in which you just fire over the top of cover. There's very little control over where you're shooting, again, unlike Gears of War, without aiming. This mechanic works best with wide-spread weapons like the Shotgun, but even then it's pot luck if you can take down an enemy with it. And to make matters worse, while in cover, enemies are pretty much untouchable. Think you can just quickly snipe an enemy behind cover where his head peeks out? Well, you can't. You have to wait for him to start shooting at you, for him to be able to shoot you. But don't worry, enemies can damage you through cover just fine
The whole cover system in the game is pretty bad from the get-go, mostly because of how many rounds it takes to down a single enemy, but the game just gets down-right silly at the end. After chasing this new, unexpected enemy to his waiting boat, you start having a shoot-out with him and his cronies. This guy has a laser-sighted shotgun which if you're hit by just once
, you die. You go through three sections of increasingly aggravating showdowns where this guy is invincible
. At no other point in the game is an enemy invincible. You would expect that this guy was just as vulnerable as any other dude you've been unloading bullets into the entire game. Not so. To progress, you must kill everyone but
the main boss-guy and he then runs away to the next choke-point. One of which is separated by the game's awful implementation of Quick Time Events. Quick Time Events which only ever use the Circle button but give you a split second to realise the cutscene you're watching is prompting you for input (which you instantly die from if you do not press the button quickly enough). Doesn't at all help that all the indication you get that the game is prompting for input is a small circle button placed in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. At least other games (even awful ones like Sonic Unleashed) put that button right in your face at the centre of the screen. And most games, excluding Deadly Premonition
, usually given you more than half a second to press the button it wants you to.
Fisticuffs with some baddies.
The game also has a melee attack, which for all intents and purposes is pretty bloody useless, which you perform by hitting the square button multiple times near an enemy. You also have a "brutal takedown" attack which you perform pressing the melee button (Square), then at the right point in that animation, hit Triangle and at the end of that, press Square again. Doing so will net you twice the amount of ammo you would otherwise get from downed enemies. Problem is, the brutal takedown is so difficult to perform with such a little pay-off. It takes just a little less time to perform than just mashing away at the Square button to normally melee an enemy and the only time you'd really want to simplify meleeing an enemy is if you are under fire, which by the time you've melee'd the enemy to death, you yourself are dead because someone was shooting at you
. There's also a stealth death maneuver which you can pull of by getting behind an enemy and hitting Square. This usually only happens either by the game glitching out or you get the bizarre fortuitous occasion that an enemy isn't just facing towards you the moment you get within a 2 mile radius of him. The whole "stealth" element of the game is also sadly missing. While the game gives you the impression that you could sneak past enemies undetected and thus, not have to deal with annoying cover-mechanics, bullet-sponges and cheap one-hit kills, the feature just isn't there. You're constantly funnelled into combat situations with no way of progressing without some big, stupid shoot-out occurring. Even when Drake says "I have to get through here without being spotted", it usually just means "you're okay until you walk into an arbitrary point on the map, then enemies will immediately be alerted to your presence". I suppose the existence of the stealth take-down is evidence as to intentions to have a stealth element in the game, but it just didn't make the final cut, it seems.
Ledges & Ledges & Ledges and more Ledges.
Platforming is fairly solid in the game. It's very basic, you usually just jump from ledge to ledge, sometimes swinging on a rope, vine or chain to reach a higher ledge
until you get to where you need to go. The game doesn't really define a standard jumping distance for Drake. He seems to just make certain jumps while not making others. It's very strange, but at least the game gives you visual cues as to what Drake will do if you jump from a ledge you're dangling from by reaching his arm out if you're able to make a distance. What is really annoying is how sometimes you can't make short distances when hanging from ledges, you must first climb up onto the ledge itself and then jump normally. Given that Drake just pulled off some near impossible upper-body-strength jumps to get to that ledge, you'd think a small gap like the one in question wouldn't be much of a problem for him, but alas, you need to climb that ledge and take the path the game designers intended you to take. And like it. The game doesn't always do a fantastic job of showing you where you're supposed to go, especially when the over-controlling camera jumps around to a less-than-ideal camera angle and all sense of perspective goes awry. There's the golden rule of "if it's slightly differently coloured, you can hang on it", but other than this, you're on your own. Near the mid-point of the game, ledges become less and less predominant against the rest of the scenery. The cynic inside me thinks this is to try and drag out play-time of the game.
Puzzle solving is interesting, but the puzzles are so awfully explained
that it just turns into whole half-an-hours at a time of wondering around a room hoping that you happen to come across the answer to the puzzle. Sometimes it's just as simple as flicking some switches, sometimes it's as complicated as turning statues in various positions so they align with some drawing in Drake's magic hint-book. Doesn't sound so difficult, but they're just finicky. Puzzles seem like an after-thought in the game as there's very few of them and they're all just horrendously designed as if they were shoe-horned-in at the last moment. What's worse is that these puzzles kick-in at tense moments in the game's story and they bring the game to a grinding halt while you try and work out what the game designers were thinking.
One part of the game which deserves nothing but scorn
are the pointless Water Ski segments. You ride around on a difficult-to-control Water Ski while being shot-at by enemies. The game never stops to inform you that you can shoot at enemies while on the Water Ski, that'd be just too simple, no you must work out by yourself that you're controlling both Drake and Elena at the same time, a concept never before introduced in the game (and never used outside these segments). Although the game does take pity on you for one of these Water Ski segments and hands you a grenade launcher with unlimited ammo
, this being one of the few one-hit kill weapons in the game and the only multiple hit weapon in the game. For this segment you must awkwardly dodge enemy fire, exploding barrels just left in the water and try to just fight against the awful, jerky controls of the Jet Ski. The more annoying, second Water Ski adventure hands you just a pistol and makes you fight up-stream against rapids... With exploding barrels drifting downstream... And enemies shooting at you. This game hates you, and it wants you to know it.
Did I mention how pretty the game was?
As far as visuals go, the game is very attractive looking. It was definitely a game, more than anything else, to show off the potential the Playstation 3 had back in 2007. The game feels very much like a game all about form over function, one which Sony can parade around in adverts and promotional goods to say "Look what our system can do", while offering very little in terms of fun. I was constantly frustrated by this game, resorting to what is usually just reserved for crappy Sonic games; I was shouting at my poor TV again. It doesn't deserve this, people, TVs have feelings too. Anyway, bottom-line, game looks amazing.
Audio-wise, the game is equally impressive. Dialogue is delivered well by most the cast, enemies are vocal although there's no defined "death cry" from enemies. So you need to watch and see if they fall down and stay down, rather than wait to hear a distinct scream indicating that the enemy is no longer a problem. The game's soundtrack is nice, it's not distracting and is quite movie-like. It's wallpaper to the game rather than being another part of the game itself. Which is fine, nothing wrong with that at all. The game's presentation is top-notch. Infact the story telling and the characterisation is what made me continue playing on, despite the game's many flaws, so take what you will from that.
In the end, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a pretty big flop. The game's story is the most appealing part of the game, but it's on the level of pretty much every Indiana Jones-wannabe film ever made (The Mummy, Sahara, etc). Entirely predictable, but still very enjoyable. The gameplay, however, is awful. If you're looking for a solid platforming game, this isn't it. If you're looking for a solid third person shooter, this isn't it. There's a lot of flaws with this game that just can't be overlooked. And although I'm nearly 4 years late to the party in criticising the game, just know that if you're like me and a new adopter of the Playstation 3... Stay away from Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Have yet to play the second game, but I am approaching it with caution. Expect my thoughts on that game sometime in the near future.