10.27.2009

Should You Discover Uncharted?

With the release of Uncharted 2 just a few short weeks ago, I would imagine many people who missed out on playing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune are wondering if they should go back and give it a try before playing the hotly anticipated sequel.

The answer yeah, kind of, at least for a little bit. Before, I continue, let me just state, unequivocally that Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is a breathtaking spectacle of a game. The biggest draws of Uncharted are the characters, their animations and the lush, rich graphical detail of the world they inhabit. Secondary, and probably most importantly to a video game however, is the gameplay. Unfortunately, the gameplay in Uncharted isn't as compelling as the visuals.

As Nathan Drake, you will spend too much of your time firing bullets into ammo-sponge pirates. These pirates can take multiple shotgun blasts before they go down. In between blasts, you'll want to duck and cover, using a cover based system that, 2 years after the game's release, is starting to feel a little antiquated. What's more, is that while you are hiding behind cover you need to make sure you know where all your enemies are, otherwise you risk getting flanked.

While it's refreshing to know that you can't just stay hidden behind a rock for an entire gunfight without your adversaries getting wise, in later battles it can be frustrating to have to repeat a section a couple times only because you didn't know from what vantage point your enemies were shooting you. Hiding behind cover is one thing, staying on the move is another, but the sniper on the ridge behind you with the grenade launcher just feels like a cheap shot.

But don't get the wrong impression, it's not all bad. The gunplay in Uncharted is tough and and it can also be a lot of fun, but it also accounts for about half of the gameplay you will experience. The other half of the game consists of about 40% platforming; jumping, swinging and climbing through the environments, while the remaining 10% is puzzle solving. I would have liked to see the puzzle solving element vastly expanded. The puzzles that were featured in the game seemed pretty simplistic. So, while the gunplay is lackluster, it's shortcomings wouldn't be so noticeable if there just wasn't so much of it. Uncharted does so many things right that the things that aren't quite up to snuff stick out like a sore thumb.

So, should you play Uncharted: Drake's Fortune?

Well, if you've ever played a Tomb Raider game, or enjoyed an Indiana Jones film, then yes, absolutely. The game has the old-time adventure vibe similar to films like Indiana Jones or Romancing the Stone, while being more realistic and believable than a Tomb Raider adventure.

Completionists may be inclined to play it all the way to the end. Just be advised that some of the final chapters take an extremely creepy survival-horror tone. I wish that Naughty Dog (the game's developer) hadn't felt the need to follow the footsteps of games like Tomb Raider and include a supernatural element. The characters and villains established early on in the game were enough to make for a compelling ending to the game, although I understand the desire to ratchet up the tension by including a new scary "element".

Trophy-hunters should be aware that hunting for the hidden treasures (little items you pick up in random locations throughout the game) should be done with a guide. You can find quite a few without the guide, but you will need help for the harder items. Luckily after beating the game you can go back through each chapter in a level select mode to find missed treasures. Another series of trophies are contingent on beating the game on the hardest difficulty setting, but I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy. The game's difficulty is already borderline frustrating on the 'easy' setting. There's a reason why the game's hardest difficulty level is called 'Crushing'.

Playing casually, on the easiest difficulty (I started on Normal, but switched after a couple chapters) yielded 24 trophies for me, which is about 40% of the number available.

In the end, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is definitely worth some of your time. I would suggest renting it, borrowing it or getting it for cheap and play at least until somewhere between Chapter 5 and Chapter 8. At that point, you will have seen most of the great things the game has to offer. All of the major characters are introduced within the first couple chapters (some of these characters will be making a return in the sequel) and the plot, while well executed, is not overly complex, so you don't need to worry about being lost in Uncharted 2 if you've played through a bit of the original. Enjoy the spectacle that is Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but don't stay too long. And remember that most of the shortcomings of the 1st game have been addressed in the sequel.

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