Monday, December 3, 2007

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Release Date: No. 19, 2007
Systems: PS3
ESRB Rating: T
Official Web Site

In a nutshell: Prince of Persia meets Indiana Jones

0:01 This minute was spent watching a blank loading screen and a title screen with sweeping violins.

After a brief title screen and playing around with options, yet more loading!

0:03 "There must be a beginning to any great matter..." We're in Panama, watching shaky-cam footage of the coffin of Sir Francis Drake, buried at sea 400 years ago. "Are you sure you want to be defiling your ancestors remains like that?" the female camera holder asks. There's some real chemistry between her and the guy defiling the coffin. Nice voice acting and character animation makes it work.

0:04 The coffin holds a book, but he doesn't want to share its contents with the camera-woman. Pirates are coming. "Shouldn't we call the authorities or something." "That'd be great except we don't exactly have a permit to be here..." She doesn't really know how use a gun. "It's like a camera... point and shoot, right?" Heh.

0:05 Into the gameplay. L1 to aim, R1 to shoot, O to take cover behind objects. You need to stand still to aim, which leaves you painfully open. Feels a bit lame to me. I do like how the well-written dialogue continues through the firefight.

0:07 Pirates are on the ship now. "Press square, square, square, square, square for a furious combo." Really? Square five times is "furious"? Booooring.

0:08 "Enemies killed by a brutal combo leave more ammo." How does that even begin to make sense? Are they hiding some ammo in a special compartment that only a "brutal" combo can break open?

0:10 Sully responds to our earlier radio for help by flying in on an old fashioned propeller plane to save the day. Just then a rocket launcher blows up the ship. "I had everything under control until they blew up the boat." "Nothing a few years of therapy won't fix" says Elena Fisher (the girl). Sully is the cigar-chomping Victor Sullivan. Nate (the guy) thinks Drake faked his death. Elena overhears, and wants to see the diary when they land.

0:12 When Sully cuts Nate off, Nate calls him, "a man only interested in the climax. You must be a real hit with the ladies." Heh. So Drake was looking for El Dorado, the lost city of gold. The last page is torn out. "This is it. This is finally it." But Elena is "a little problem," according to Sully. He wants to cut her loose. She doesn't trust either of them. Great characterization here ... some believable motivations and conflict, for once.

0:15 It still looks like a cut scene, but it turns out I can move about the jungle as the men chatter about past conquests. The lighting effects really capture the forest. Nice blur when the camera moves.

0:16 I'm loving the character animation on Nate ... he leans into turns, rolls after long falls, jumps and climbs realistically over complex rocks ... very nice. Now if there was only something to do ...

0:17 Another cut scene. They find nothing but empty space where the city is supposed to be. "This is like trying to find a bride in a brothel." Oh Sully. You're incredibly offensive.

0:19 Well well well... run through a little passage and we find some ruins that Drake somehow knows are 2,000 years old.

0:21 Two minutes walking around before I find the one ledge I can climb. A Prince of Persia style leap and I'm across to another platform. The environments are incredibly organic, which is nice, but makes it hard to find where to go next. This is both good and bad.

0:23 Our first puzzle. There's some hollow ground, and we have to figure out how to smash through... my first thought, jumping from up high, doesn't seem to work.

0:25 Hanging off ledges and sliding along ... Prince of Persia much? I come across a boulder that I push over to break on through to the other side.

0:26 I love the little touches that make the world seem alive (even though there's no one else alive around). Bats that react to the flashlights ... bits of stone that slip unstably as you run on them ... the way Drake's stance changes when he walks down stairs. The little things matter!

0:28 "This place was picked clean centuries ago," by the Spanish. Sully is "up to my eyeballs in debt." Sully thinks Nate's into Elena. "All's fair in love and war, kid." "And what if you can't tell the difference." "Then, well, you're in trouble." I love this dialogue!

0:30 I come across a huge pit. Luckily there's an explosive barrel across the way that knocks down a big inca-style head. "Ha, that'll work."

0:33 Sully: "We gotta figure a way to clear this debris. ... This wood's pretty dry. I bet we could burn it. ... Try shooting one of those lamps down." Thank you Captain Game Objective! Also, is there anything in this game a gun can't solve?

0:35 Ouch... one false step and I'm in the drink ... then I'm right back where I was almost instantly. Low risk ... encourages exploration ... nice.

0:37 Note to self... be farther away from barrels before making them explode.

0:38 So 2,000 years ago people apparently had the technology to make a five-ton stone door move just by lighting a lamp? Whatever.

0:44 A pretty simple puzzle, based on a journal entry that has four symbols in a certain order. The hardest part is finding the buttons around a massive room, but it's so much fun running around the spookily lit caves and watching/making Nate jump around, it's hard to complain.

0:47 Nate, upon getting out of the water. "I am really wet." The voice acting makes it work, surprisingly.

0:48 This "shooting at explosive barrels thing" is getting old already. This is the third time in less than an hour! Aren't there any other ways to get stuff done?

0:49 Wow. Walking on a shaky wooden platform, it quickly starts to collapse, starting a run-into-the-screen action sequence. Shades of Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot, appropriately enough. In a good way.

0:51 During certain sections Nate is forced into a walk. One the one hand, this is annoying because I want to get there sooner. On the other, it's realistic, in that no one can run that long, or would want to.

0:55 We come across a beautiful waterfall with ... something big sticking out of it. A ship's hull? Yet another cut scene. They're pretty frequent, but so good I don't really mind. It's a German U-boat. Sully is worried. Nate gives him the diary and jumps in the drink.

More wall-crawling. Now there's vines to let me swing along. It's hard to see what to jump to next in the crowded environments, but blind leaping tends to work OK.

Finishing out the hour with a save, the game tells me I'm 11% complete for 44 minutes of actual "play." So a seven hour game, at this pace. Kind of short, but about how long I can see putting into this, actually.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Why? Great controls, animation and, possibly most importantly, writing and voice acting, make for some very convincing world building. Well done.

This review based on a retail copy provided by Sony.


Aimee said...

I love this game. The characters are just fantastic. The whole time I played, I kept thinking that Bruce Campbell would make a good Sully. I also like how "real" Elena seems, as opposed to other video game women (*cough*laracroft*cough*). The story and dialogue definitely won me over.

Sam said...

The game seems great. If/when I get a PS3, it'll be the first game I get along with MGS4 if it's that late. You should do Mass Effect next. If you love the dialogue, writing, and story in Uncharted, you'll definitely love it in Mass Effect. Interesting how the (in my opinion), the 2 games with realistic story and great story with great voice acting that seem just like a movie come out exclusively on 2 different systems on the same day.

Ben said...

Man, this was probably the best game I played all year. The cutscenes really do break some new ground with actually good writing and direction.

Enjoy the rest of this!

Anonymous said...

Great to have you back!You are making great time thru the game.My pace with all the platforms was a lot slower!

The Jenius said...

If I were to get a PS3, I'd probably pick this up based on your review. Do Mass Effect next - if you can put it down after an hour, I'll be very surprised.