Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Sony's treasure hunter finds gold for the PS3.
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I was sitting in a freezing auditorium in Culver City watching Kaz Hirai talk up the PlayStation 3 when I saw Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for the first time, and even though the audience was only shown the briefest of clips, the striking colours, fluid animation and guy-next-door nature of lead character Nate Drake hooked me. The game was untitled at that time, and I knew almost nothing about it other than that I had to play it. I've been waiting more than 18 months to get my hands on the final version of Uncharted and now that I have, I can confidently say that it lives up to all my expectations.
Looking back, what was most interesting about that short clip of the game was how well it encapsulated the look and even the feel of the experience. The island that plays host to the action-packed day during which Uncharted is set is vibrant and varied with lush jungles blending smoothly into natural caves and the man-made fortresses and ruins. Though invisible walls are a constant reminder that you're playing a game, the world seems alive, pulsing along to the rhythm of the island.
A lot has been said about the animation system in Uncharted but it's worth pointing out again that Nate moves like a dream. The game uses a cover system reminiscent of that seen in Gears of War but it's not as restrictive, giving you more freedom to move over and around obstacles in your path. And no matter how you're moving, it looks believable, more like a real person and not an angry space marine. The platforming sections that punctuate the shooting are the showcase for the animation system. Keep an eye out for the moments when Nate just barely makes it to a platform and dangles by his fingers, or when he runs along walls, using vines or chains as his tether.
It's because Nate is so nimble that the combat that makes up the bulk of the experience is so much fun. But don't think that this is your typical run-and-gun shooter. While you'll be able to dispatch earlier enemies without giving much thought to your precise location, the later parts of the game are all about making effective use of the destructible objects that conveniently litter the levels. Spend time thinking too much about why an island has so many pointless walls and crates lying about and you'll miss the excellent gunplay.
I was surprised to see how much weapons do come into play and it's well worth taking the time to learn each one's ins-and-outs because the frequency does ramp up considerably as you progress through the story. It's not all about the weapons, though. Nate can also use his hands, but Naughty Dog has taken a strange approach to fisticuffs. On-screen prompts constantly remind you how to pull off combos and the whole process is so distracting that I hardly used the hand-to-hand combat at all.