After signing up to PlayStation Plus in March and realizing I narrowly missed getting the Uncharted trilogy as a free download, I would have thrown my controller out the window if it wasn’t for Shadow of the Colossus being one of the two free games of the month. But quarantine arrived and thank God it did, because if it didn’t Sony wouldn’t have been so kind as to offer Uncharted: The Nathan Drake collection for free yet again.
I’d played through these games in college and all I remember is loving them. I remember the basics, running, gunning, collecting treasure, things not as they seem, lovable characters, jungles. There’s a bit of revisionist history going on when it comes to the Uncharted series. Drake’s Fortune was not universally adorned like it’s believed. Upon release, Uncharted was praised for it’s story telling, graphics, and little else.
That makes sense because replaying Drake’s Fortune now, it’s very revealing how repetitive and bang average the gameplay is. When you’re not cowering behind debris waiting to pop someone, you’re climbing up walls. There is so much climbing, and honestly, I’m kinda over that whole jumping from brick to brick thing that Tomb Raider popularised. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m coming off Shadow of the Colossus, a game that perfected the whole cliff climbing thing, but it feels really stale here.
For a game marketed for its use of puzzles, it is severely lacking in that area, the game inadvertently solves the puzzles for you, when you have to look through Francis Drake’s journal for “clues,” which are actually gives very detailed answers, even with illustrations! Solving these “puzzles” serves no satisfaction whatsoever.
If climbing a wall, pulling a lever, and calling it a puzzle isn’t frustrating enough, Drake’s fortune is riddled with QuickTime events. Hell, the game even ends by telling you to press square to punch a guy. Uncharted is such a great story with great acting, and it truly holds up against Hollywood movies, but things like this make it feel more like an interactive movie than a video game. It’s totally influenced by action/adventure movies, it’s got all the troupes – the one liners, the charismatic lead, scenes full of action – there a cutscenes of Nate mid-fight, or saving Elena, and it begs the question, why are we watching this in a cutscene instead of playing it?
Being influenced by the likes of Indiana Jones, you gotta have Indian Jones-esq set pieces, and Drake’s Fortune really does follow through on that. The set pieces are incredible. Finding the huge German u-boat, and firing grenades at enemy trucks from a turret and driving on a jeep being driven by Elena along cliff edges and waterfalls are just a couple of the most sensational moments.
Always having a buddy with you along the journey, such as Elena or the dirty-minded, cigar smoking Sully (I don’t think the completely pinned him down or his backstory at this point) is much better than companions in other games because the characters are so well written and the dialogue is rich. They rarely get in the way either, which is shocking.
The whole game is set on one island, and for about half of the game, Nate is traversing a castle, making his way up the ruins. I love how the locations interweave, and the castle is fascinating inside and out, but the level design is pretty narrow and doesn’t allow much freedom. The locations are big and open, but that’s just to allow for gun fights. How great would it be if you could explore the castle at your leisure and find your own way to the top, a la Tomb Raider Anniversary. The open battle areas can be as big as Naughty Dog wants, it it’s still just a big corridor.
One of the most narrow chapters is narrow for a reason, to induce claustrophobia, and it may be the most scared a game has ever made me. “The Bunker” is a chapter completely different from the rest, as the game moves in to survival horror territory. Armed with a torch in the pitch black, whichever way you swivel, a zombie come crawling at you at a Usain Bolt pace. I was so frightened during the Bunker chapter. It It is so frightening and, though I know there’s a supernatural element to most Uncharted games, I completely forgot about the zombies, I must have subconsciously blocked it out of my mind.
Am I the only person who thinks there are too many resemblances to Crash Bandicoot and there more to the fact that Crash and Uncharted are created by the same developers. Sometimes I thought it was a Crash remake. Nate is Crash, Elena is Coco. Sully is Aku Aku. No? You’ve even got the big tropical island to explore, that is so Crash Bandicoot. There’s the (dreadful) jet-ski level, which is operated by Elena, that exact same level is in Crash Bandicoot: Warped where the Jet Ski is operated by Coco, you even have to avoid the bombs bobbing up and down in the water. They’re both platform games where most of the game is climbing up buildings, going of rickety bridges, etc. There’s something there I’m telling you. Maybe I could make a Naughty Dog theory, y‘know, like the Pixar theory where all the movies are linked.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is such a perfectly polished game that the game itself should be in a museum. The presentation is impeccable and is something no other game had ever done before it, and for that it should be in the history books. The level design is spectacular. The castle, the courtyard, it all looks fantastic. What it lacks in gameplay, it makes up for in immersiveness. Adding to the atmosphere is a score so phenomenal that it’s better than most movie soundtracks. From this point on, video game were redefined and they were never to be the same again.