Review: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

uncharted_box art.jpg Earlier this month, Naughty Dog released a patch for last year’s hit PS3 game Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, a patch of tremendous significance for making Uncharted the first full-blown PS3 production to feature trophies, as designated by the one and only platinum trophy currently up for grabs. Since the patch went live, I’ve spent the past two weeks exploring Uncharted’s dense jungles and dark catacombs, playing it, replaying it and replaying it some more to unlock every last trophy. After three trips through the game and nothing short of 20 hours worth of adventuring, I’ve come out the other side — platinum trophy proudly in hand, of course – and figured now would be as good a time as any to fill you in on the addictive beauty of the new trophy system and finally review this wonderful work of action/adventure gaming.

Before getting into the trophies, though, let me first sing the praises of the game itself for a moment. As I’m sure you’ve well heard by now, Uncharted absolutely rocks. In quick summation, it’s like Tomb Raider – tomb diving, treasure hunting and acrobatic adventuring — crossed with Gears of War – intense, cover-based gunplay — infused with the brash, swashbuckling tone and attitude of an Indiana Jones movie (the old ones, not the crap new one).

From start to finish, the story, following the handsome, young treasure hunter Nathan Drake on a quest to find the legendary treasure of El Dorado, is a breathtaking cinematic thrill ride rivaling any modern-day Hollywood blockbuster action flick. It has the gameplay to back up the narrative, too, with its smooth controls, challenging gun battles and abundance of platform-jumping, vine-swinging, wall-climbing adventure moments. It’s even got a few vehicular action sequences that not only don’t completely suck but are actually a heck of a lot of fun. That’s not to say it’s perfect, though. I do wish that the level and puzzle designs were more free flowing (this is a very linear game), and the cover system could’ve used a little extra fine-tuning (when there are multiple cover points in close proximity Nate doesn’t always duck behind the one you want). But in the grand scheme of things these are minor flaws.

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Graphically, it’s magnificent, too. Other than MGS4 and maybe Heavenly Sword, you won’t find higher-end production values anywhere else in gaming. From lovely jungle environments bursting with lush vegetation and rich lighting to water effects that rival BioShock’s to animations and facial mapping so realistic they’ll leave you dumbstruck, Uncharted is a showpiece of some of the most sophisticated graphics and animation technology in game design today. And of course I can’t leave out Nate’s famous half-tucked shirt which wrinkles realistically with every single movement he makes and wets and dries in real-time. I know it’s just a shirt, but the tech behind it is impressive. The occasional Unreal Engine 3-like texture load-in bug, on the other hand, is a yucky, unfortunate glitch in Naughty Dog’s powerhouse engine that I wish could’ve been cleaned up. Fortunately it’s a split-second blemish that really only ever happens when loading into a scene for the first time (like after a story sequence), so it’s not that unsightly.

Now, my friends, let me tell you about the trophy system. It’s built upon the game’s existing medal system, so the unlock requirements are exactly the same (the trophies aren’t retroactive, though, so even if you’ve earned all the medals before you’ll have to start all over from scratch to get the trophies). That means you’ve got a total of 48 trophies to earn (36 bronze, 8 silver, 3 gold and the elusive platinum) by completing a wide range of challenges, be it basic things like killing a certain number of enemies with all the different weapons, completing the game on all four difficulty settings, or hunting down all 60 of the hidden treasures (you get a trophy in increments of five discovered treasures), or more advanced tasks such as killing five enemies in a row with one punch after first softening them up with gunshots or killing three enemies with one explosion five separate times. Beating the game on the Crushing difficulty is no joke either. You better have mad patience and precise shooting skills if you hope to survive.

It may be hard to believe, but the introduction of trophies has had a skyrocketing effect on the game’s replay value. At least for me it has. Sure, you could already perform the same challenges and earn some sweet bonus material for the effort (behind-the-scenes videos, costumes, cheats, etc.), but for some reason having the extra trophy incentive makes the accomplishments even more satisfying. My experience is proof of this, too. I only played the game once last year when it first came out and that was it, but since the advent of trophies I played it through three times in succession. You may say “so what?” to that, but for as many Xbox 360 games as I own and have played, not a single one has ever enticed me to replay it multiple times for the sole purpose of achievement hunting. I don’t know why but I simply couldn’t stop playing until I had all the trophies. That’s proof positive of how rewarding a trophy/achievement system can be, it’s just surprising that it has taken this long for a game to pull the feature off so perfectly.

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Until Metal Gear Solid 4 came along, Uncharted was the best thing going for the PS3, and even now it’s still right up there with Kojima’s masterpiece. The addition of trophies and DualShock 3 support (oh yes, rumble was also added recently in case you forgot) have only made it better with age, too. If you have a PS3, Uncharted should be in your collection. If you plan on picking up a PS3 anytime soon, you’d be wise to make it one of your first game purchases (Sony’s making that choice super-easy this holiday season with the upcoming 160GB bundle, and it’ll also surely be going Greatest Hits sometime soon, so you’re running out of excuses). And of course if you already own Uncharted, now is the best time to go back, relive Nate’s adventure and earn yourself some trophies along the way.

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Pros:
+ Trophy system adds new replay value and an extra layer of reward to the existing medal system
+ Rock solid gameplay all around: gunplay, puzzles, platforming… it’s all great
+ Compelling story accentuated by superb music, voice acting and characters you become attached to
+ Out of this world production values

Cons:
– Levels and puzzles are extremely linear, as you’ll notice over repeated playthroughs
– Occasional texture load-in bug uglies up what is otherwise a gorgeous game
– Trophies aren’t retroactive

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 11/16/07
Genre: Action/Adventure
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!