Drake’s Fortune, the flagship title with the launch of the PS3, is the action/adventure/Hollywood blockbuster extravaganza from developer Naughty Dog. Now, seeming as this game came out in 2007, most of you will already have formed an opinion on this game but I’m reviewing it regardless of you and your pathetic humanoid opinions.
Naughty Dog gained recognition for being the rascals who bought us the wonderful yet punishing Crash Bandicoot series. However, the 90s was a kind decade to colourful anthropomorphic animal mascots whereas the post-apocalyptic wasteland that is the new millennium is seems to place emphasis on character that extends beyond wearing jeans. As a result, Naughty Dog stopped developing games based around everyone’s favourite jean-clad orange vandal in favour of Uncharted, a game about the slightly less orange, yet equally jean wearing Nathan Drake. What they unveiled to the world can best be described as a big congealed blob of unoriginal, yet surprisingly well executed ideas which is perhaps the greatest issue I have with the game; it’s resounding mediocrity. Admittedly, the fact that it came out in 2007 does hinder it when compared to more modern titles but, much like movies, books and television, if the videogame industry can prove anything, it’s that a good game is timeless. Gameplay that was considered exceptional years ago may not stand-up today but a good enough game can be saved by presenting a well-rounded, lovingly crafted experience, brought to life by the world, its characters and the overall atmosphere and tone. Apparently Naughty Dog missed the memo.
The gameplay itself is generally tight. The third-person shooting handles well even though the 9mm pistol is the only weapon you’ll need or be able to reliably find ammo for. The enemy AI is better than many of its genres counterparts; their liberal use of grenades, flanking movements and teamwork mean that you have to keep moving to stay on top and you can’t just hide behind a lavishly detailed wall waiting for your shredded insides to magical sew themselves back together. However, the shooting does suffer from two main flaws, the first and foremost being how picky Drake is when you ask him to hug to some cover. Far too many times there will be only a very small patch of wall which you can clue yourself to. This not only restricts movement in cover, but it also makes it very difficult to get to safety when you have a bunch of burly men with shotguns baring down on you as though Drake is the last unsullied pie in the ‘Let’s all Sully a Pie’ contest. Secondly, the amount of ammo Drake can carry on his person is infuriating at times. Uncharted has the habit of making nearly every gun battle go on for at least 15 bad guys too long, meaning that you’ll run out of ammo with annoying regularity and subsequently have to go through the painfully flow breaking endeavour of collecting ammo from corpses of those unfortunate enough to be caught in the deluge of Drake’s bullets and wise cracks. This is an issue I feel Drake would run into less often if only he had more pockets. Jeans and a t-shirt hardly seems like appropriate clothing for bandying around the jungle shooting at overly-familiar pirates who call you by name and ask if it hurts when they shoot you in the neck. Also, what kind of adventurer/treasure hunter doesn't own a hat?
As for the other main aspect of the gameplay, the plat-forming, Naughty Dog continued to throw down with mediocrity. The small visual hints such as Drake moving his hand in the direction you wish to jump are really helpful for navigating the detailed environment. This allows for fast and fluid yet entirely unsatisfying platforming as there is very little exploration and really, it just boils down to pointing and hitting X as you leap from one ledge to the next, hanging there with what I can only assume are spider powers. This lack of challenge in the platforming department is worsened by the insulting death penalty – you won’t die much, even during the larger sections, but if you do the penalty is almost non-existent. In fact at one point near the beginning, after I fell to my death I actually spawned at the other end of the jump which was a peculiar and very disorienting occurrence. That being said, the platforming does present some of the better moments of the game, such as scaling the wall of an ancient castle that sits atop a mountain on a tropical island as the bricks crumble and fall away. Essentially, the platforming may as well not exist; its only real purpose appears to be the presentation of some visual spectacle which, despite doing rather well at times, strikes me as a shallow use of a core game mechanic.
Of course, the game isn't all shooting and climbing because it also offers a variety of vehicle sections and by variety I mean three, two of which are basically the same. After the obligatory section riding turret on a jeep, gunning down endless pursuers you have the two jet-ski sections, the first of which I approached with mild optimism only to have it thrown back in my face with shoddy controls and generally poor execution. Driving the vehicle in question is needlessly difficult and, as far as awful, awful experiences go, second only to crossing the road whilst drunk in GTA 4. The next time I rounded a corner to see the jet-ski awaiting me with its nefarious grin and determination to ruin my day I hoped that I’d be able to blast through the section like a man on… well, a jet-ski. However, the way that the developers instigated these sections makes me think that they were thrown in to arbitrarily lengthen the game after the entire development team had been up all weekend huffing paint and betting all their money on underground cage fights. You have to drive the clunky, awful jet-ski whilst also taking control of your brain-dead companion in order to deal with the baddies hidden on the water’s edge. Going into aiming mode causes the jet-ski to stop thus leaving you wide open to enemy fire as well as the ever ubiquitous exploding barrels that litter water and will annihilate you and everyone you have ever loved if you so much as nudge them. This makes me wonder what is in those barrels and why on earth a bunch of pirates are using the river as barrel storage. Regardless, the developers have you trying to control two separate characters simultaneously whilst riding a jet-ski which might as well be a circus trick. These little jet-ski romps are a hellish slog that I’d rather banish to recesses of my memories where it can’t hurt my delicate sensibilities.
Probably the highlight of the game is when it takes a left turn towards bat-shit bananas, transcending the already loose confines of reality with the introduction of the vampire/zombie/madmen things that are explained as cursed Spaniards from the 16th century. Although I was initially unwelcoming of the shift, it helped to break up the cover-based shooting which had grown rather tiresome after so many lengthy firefights and added some much needed tension to the combat. However, the tension was largely artificial and the result of using third-person cover-based shooting mechanics to take down close-quarters enemies. It does very little to make up for the tired story tropes and one dimensional characters who, much like Team Rocket, appear to communicate almost entirely through puns. The main protagonist, Nathan Drake only has one emotional setting – wise cracks and dry exposition, whereas Elener Fisher exhumed so much personality that I had to Google her name and genuinely can’t remember anything much about her. She appears to exist solely as the obligatory female love interest and the only character worthy of any attention is Gabriel Roman (voiced by Simon Templeton) and that’s only because his warm sultry tone reminds me of other, better, games like Dragon Age and the Legacy of Kain series.
Bottom Line Despite the game’s insistence on mashing Triangle to open a door, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune provides some technically brilliant stuff at times but suffers from an overwhelming degree of mediocrity. It doesn't exhibit any real discernible personality of its own, instead taking a little too heavily from those horrendous action-adventure films of the early to mid-2000s. The ‘Hollywood’ feel only hampers the experience, making it feel shallow and self-absorbed, pandering to itself rather than attempting to appeal to the player on any meaningful level. Even so, despite the weak story and characters, at least they are present and there is a strong focus on both rather than entirely disregarding them which is at least worth something. It’s worth a play just to see what all of the fuss is about and it is a solidly built game that had a certain degree of potential but failed to convince me to spend anymore time than absolutely necessary with Drake and the gang.