Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Review

Incredible production values and plenty of thrilling moments help make Uncharted an action-packed adventure, in spite of some slightly uneven gameplay.

by

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is not a game about new ideas. The gameplay can and has been summed up as "Tomb Raider meets Gears of War," and the story plays almost like an unfilmed National Treasure script, which is another way of saying that the Indiana Jones influence on the story is palpable. Keep in mind that "derivative" isn't the same as "bad." Developer Naughty Dog has assembled its borrowed parts with great proficiency to create an action adventure game with momentum, one that is filled with exciting set pieces, a real cinematic scope, and some of the most gorgeous visuals you'll see in a game.

And this is just the beginning.

That Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a game that trades in archetypes is apparent throughout the story. You'll play as Nathan Drake, an independent adventurer with a wry sense of humor who claims to be a descendent of Sir Francis Drake. That fact figures prominently in the narrative as you go hunting for an ancient relic believed to be hidden somewhere on an uncharted tropical island. The supporting cast includes your friend Sully, who's a cigar-chomping, affable cad with a taste for trouble, and Elena, a confident TV reporter who splits her time between being your sidekick and your damsel in distress. There are villains as well, including Nathan's dry British counterpart as well as a belligerent pirate captain, though you'll likely find their minions far more threatening. The game attempts to add some twists and turns to the plot, but they never really pan out. Nevertheless, the story generally moves with efficiency, as well as some occasionally snappy dialog.

Even if what's happening during the in-engine cutscenes isn't significant, it always looks great. Much of the game takes place in dense jungle environments and a variety of ancient ruins, which the game renders with a nearly photorealistic level of detail. Plants sway, water trickles, and the textures really look like they've got texture. There are a few moments when the game goes outside its wheelhouse with some murky industrial environments that look flat and drab by comparison, but these sequences are rare.

Nathan himself isn't a particularly flashy-looking character in his dirty gray shirt and jeans, but the subtlety of his animation conveys more about him than any outfit would. He'll do a stumbled half-step when traversing uneven terrain, and you'll see him wince when a bullet gets too close to comfort during a firefight. Likewise, his arms will flail spastically during a big jump, and afterward he'll dangle precariously by one hand on the edge he was aiming for. When he gets into a fistfight, half the time it's surprising he makes it out alive. Even when he's performing seemingly impossible acrobatic tasks with ease, the quality of the animation gives him a real sense of fallibility. There's also some terrific facial animation, of which you'll see plenty during cutscenes, though you'll catch glimpses of it during gameplay as well. When a grenade lands near Nathan's feet, you can see the fear in his eyes. The technical feats required to produce what you see on the screen in Uncharted boggle the mind, and the end results make it hard to look away.

The same terrific attention to detail in the graphics is paid to the way Uncharted sounds. The dynamic score is appropriately big and sweeping, the weapon fire has a real clap to it, and the voice cast really nails its characterizations. There are plenty of little touches that fill things out nicely as well, such as the way you'll hear Nathan mutter to himself as he tries to calm his own nerves, or the muffled ring you'll hear everything filtered through when an explosive goes off nearby.

Uncharted ultimately uses all of this glimmer to deliver a gameplay experience that is fast-paced and intermittently spectacular, but also really familiar and a little inconsistent. There are two significant concepts in Uncharted that make up most of the game's running time, though they very rarely intersect. There's environment traversal, which will have you leaping across chasms, scrambling up ledges, and swinging on vines to progress through the game. As good as Uncharted is at making this stuff look harrowing, the game gives you a lot of direction as to where you need to go next, as well as a lot of leeway in the accuracy of your controls. It's easy fun to scrabble your way across these occasionally contrived environments, but other games have done it more elegantly.

By comparison, the combat can be devilish at times in its difficulty. The combat consists mostly of gunplay, and you'll be brandishing a variety of handguns, assault rifles, shotguns, and grenade launchers over the course of the game. Nathan's a pretty fragile dude, and it takes only one or two shots before the color starts draining out of the screen, which makes it important to find and use cover intelligently. By comparison, the pirates and mercenaries that you'll face through most of the game are remarkably sturdy, and can regularly absorb half a clip before going down. Headshots help move things along, though oddly, we found pistols to be far more effective for this than anything other than the sniper rifle, even at several hundred yards.

Enemies are also pretty smart, and if you stay in one position for too long during a firefight, they'll flank you. Dealing with half a dozen cagey enemies who can take roughly as much damage as you isn't impossible, but it can often take multiple tries, which can be fist-clenchingly frustrating when dealing with wave after wave of enemies. There are portions of the game where it seems like you're just moving from one infuriating firefight to the next, and it creates a weird contrast to the easygoing platforming stuff. If you can get close enough to an enemy without getting perforated, which is a rarity, there's some simple hand-to-hand combat. It looks more dynamic than it really is in terms of gameplay, which is both a credit to how hard-hitting the fisticuffs look and a slight against their simplicity.

Resilient enemies can make the combat mighty challenging.

Amidst all the jumping and shooting, the game includes some straightforward environmental puzzles, as well as some really entertaining vehicle sequences, including a lengthy chase sequence where you man a gun on the back of a jeep, and another that has you piloting a personal watercraft up a raging river. The game is also fond of those little interactive cutscenes that every God of War and Resident Evil seems to be brimming with these days, and though the novelty wears a little thinner every time they crop up in a game, they still work well enough in Uncharted. There's a little bit of motion control wedged into a few spots, but their pretty halfhearted, which makes it a bit of a relief that they don't show up that often. Interestingly, Uncharted uses a performance-based reward system very similar to the Xbox 360 achievements to dole out making-of featurettes, concept art, alternate costumes, and the like. It's a minor touch, but it's a smart and proven way to enhance replay value.

It took us about eight hours to get through Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and it was an action-packed eight hours, without much in the ways of load times or informational status screens to break it up. The imbalance between the gunplay and the platforming is jarring but forgivable--but the platforming itself works pretty well and looks fantastic thanks to the game's excellent motion-captured animation. If nothing else, Uncharted is a graphical showcase for the PlayStation 3, and it dazzles the senses at nearly every opportunity.

The Good
Lush jungle environments are stunningly realized
Drake's animations are nuanced and naturalistic
The Bad
Tough and plentiful enemies can make firefights frustrating
Platforming elements can be too forgiving
Certain story elements are underdeveloped
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Discussion

29 comments
ChiefFreeman
ChiefFreeman

Rest in Peace, Ryan Davis.  But you did underscore this game.  It should have been an 8.5, at least.

metalblinga
metalblinga

didn't this game used to have a 7.5? did they change the score or something?

brainiac1988
brainiac1988

this game deserved so much more than a mere 8.0 It was the first PS3 game I got and I knew immediately after the first part on the boat, that this was truly a gem.

alastor529
alastor529

I loved this game!

if i give this game any CONS its that the stealth mechanics suck..the part where you go under the library and you are in the church, ive tried time and time gain to try and assasinate all of them but somehow they would be alerted.   Another words you have to actually resort to run &gun style and hope you have the right weapons at the time with enough ammo because they do absord alot of bullets AND they always have wave after wave.

Whether you look at that as a plus for you challenge seekers, this game is a 9/10 for me :)
the second one was way better, i advise anyone to get the dual pack.

DRAKOOZ
DRAKOOZ

just finished this game and i can tell that i liked it since i am a fan of indiana jones and tomb raider, everything looks perfect but what i didnt feel good about is the story, it is not that much deep and sometimes you dont know why this or that happened.also i like to see more puzzels then firfight.overall it is good start , i gave it 8. now starting the second

Dredcrumb9
Dredcrumb9

A start of one of the most over-rated game series of all time. As a PS3 owner, I fail to see what is so phenomenal about these games.

ksgf
ksgf

Getting close to the Platinum Trophy.  It was a great way to bring Nathan Drake and crew into being, although it definitely wasn't perfect.  Since earning the Platinum in Uncharted 2, I decided to get it in Uncharted 1, although playing the Bunker on Crushing makes my stomach turn a little.  Overall, it was a great game, and a great reason why PS3 is better than X-Box.

Macmeister_sa
Macmeister_sa

Started with the game last night, cool so far. Waiting for the moment that really glues me to the series

Drake2013
Drake2013

Just finished the game today and thought it was wonderful, but I just had one problem: I thought it was too short! I was really getting into it and then all of a sudden all the bad guys aare dead and Drake rides off into the sunset. Other than that though, great game Naughty Dog:)

TheGuardian03
TheGuardian03

Finished it today, lasttime i played was like 3 years ago, i'm impressed it really looks nice and the gameplay is still fun but not uncharted 2/3 fun, really great series.

hippiesanta
hippiesanta

surpise  that most people play UC2 before UC1........ this game is awesome btw and suppose to be the opening for UC series

SolidTy
SolidTy

This new comment system sux....Anyways, Uncharted was a decent game, I had fun with it. The series really is elevated with Uncharted 2/3 though. I feel GS underated it at the time, but every GS review is basically one person, so it's not really GS so much as this was Ryan Davis's work. He's at Giantbomb these days, which is strange, because now Giantbomb and GS are one now.

monicker
monicker

This game is 100% stinker! It's basically a Gears of War Clone, I just bought a PS3 and it came with Uncharted 3 so i picked this stinkburger for cheap (I figured I'd play the games in order). I was so disappointed, I wanted to like it so much, but in the end I was just bored and frustrated. I hope the other 2 are better. Look up the review for Genji: Days of the Blade, that is more appropriate review for this game. This is one of the worst games on the console.

Hitasp
Hitasp

It is an amazing game. unique landscape with pretty lightning...

mayankahuja
mayankahuja

Wow, I am happy I finally got the dual pack.....what an amazing game.......

Amorphis2k
Amorphis2k

@SsangyongKYRON - I just finished it as well. Pretty decent game, will definately have to get the second one!

monicker
monicker

@Dredcrumb9 Ah, the second one was really good. But yeah, this first one sucked some major balls. I started the third one but just kinda stopped early on. It was pretty good, but the second one was really enjoyable, at least for me. Uncharted 1 stuck like hot s**t on ice.

So I guess I am inclined to agree, well not in history, but most definitely an overrated series. 1 Stunk, 2 was great, and I think three got a little more praise because everyone was nostalgic for 2.

ksgf
ksgf

Oh, and I like how they fixed the grenade system to not be motion active.  Very smart change, NaughtyDog.

monicker
monicker

 @Macmeister_sa I though it was pretty good at first, then it just stayed the same, The graphics were sometimes great, often not so much, especially cut scenes, reminded me of PS2.I just got sick of killing wave after wave of dudes ad nauseum, and the platforming was meh, seen better in any given tomb raider game. (Also the hand grenades were worthless!) I finished it though, and you should play to get to know the characters.

 

All that said, NO MATTER what you think of Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, the second one is a masterpiece and SHOULD NOT BE missed. I hated the first one, but the second fixed all of my complaints, it's gorgeous to look at, fun to play, perfectly paced and entertaining as hell. So even if you only like the first one, hate it, or love it, the second will blow you away, it's simply an amazing video game experience..

monicker
monicker

 @SolidTy Sorry man, new comment and I just loathed Drakes Fortune. From the submarine to the GOD AWFUL finale is just a tedious un-fun grind. That said, I'm glad you enjoyed it. I finished it, and popped in Uncharted 2 and while I couldn't wait to get the first one over with, the second one I feel depressed every new chapter knowing the game is going to be over. Uncharted 2 is phenomenal. it's like they fixed all the problems in 1, and then kicked the graphics up to 11. Great game, but Uncharted: Drakes Fortune was just a turd.

unbentonslaught
unbentonslaught

@monicker  How do you think the first Uncharted sucked? It was only a little worse than Uncharted 2 and definitely better than 3.

Macmeister_sa
Macmeister_sa

 @monicker

 Yep I agree, played another 4 hours last night and boy did it get boring. I remember constantly having to stop the jetski in order to shoot barrels and dudes shooting at me. Thanks for the opinion : Looking forward to Uncharted 2 now

monicker
monicker

@unbentonslaught @monicker It's been gone over in detail several times, but to break it down:

Uncharted 1:

Graphics: Ugly as hell, occasionally passable but often PS2 quality, and low quality for PS2 

Gameplay: Uneven and tedious. Basically, all you do is fend off wave after wave of bad guys, ad nauseum. After you do that, you run to another area and repeat. The grenades and Hand to Hand combat are worthless (basically broken) so the game boils down to a really, really crappy Gears of War Clone. The jumping is often sketchy and the platforming is so basic, it's boring, and even then barely in the game.

That's it, that's the game. Yeah, the story is OK, but everything else just sucks. UC2 had a graphics overhaul and looks stunning. Your dude is actually running and around and jumping on cool things in varied environments and the story was actually very entertaining. Gone are the hordes of bad guys, the broken grenade and hand to hand fighting mechanics...basically UC2 fixed everything crappy thing about the original. If you loved it,good on ya. I hated it,and was so disappointed when I bought it with my PS3. I am glad I played UC2, best game ever no, but a huge improvement, and a pretty damn fine game in it's own right.

Also, UC1, lamest final boss ever. Quicktime events? really? After grinding through all that crap?! It was like a middle finger to the player.

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

  • PlayStation 3
This new game from Naughty Dog features jungle adventures in a Pitfall-esque setting.
ESRB
Teen
All Platforms
Blood, Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence
Check out even more info at the Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Wiki on Giantbomb.com