Friday, August 1, 2008

Uncharted [PS3] - Review

I'm a little late to the party with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune but that doesn't matter with a game of this quality. The game comes across as very much like an interactive movie and not just any movie but a summer tent-pole blockbuster. The kind of movie that is big on action and charismatic action heroes and light on originality and logic. The story has Nathan Drake (the player) searching for El Dorado all the while being pursued by pirates intent on finding the treasure for themselves and killing you in the process. There are numerous cut scenes throughout the game but they are well written and acted so they won't bore you while you wait to continue playing. In fact, I found myself looking forward to each scene so I could have the story advanced a little bit further.

It is a difficult game to place into a specific genre. At times it is most definitely a third-person shooter, very much in the GoW mould with you diving into cover and blind firing around corners. The shooting mechanics are top notch but it probably helped that I'm well used to GoW. The left shoulder button will aim while the right will shoot and this gives you great control over your shots. You will need it at times as ammunition can become quite scarce. Honing your accuracy is important as a headshot will take down an enemy in one go, which is very effective and hugely satisfying. The enemies show some impressive AI at times in their bid to stay alive. You will see them almost panic when caught out in the open and then watch them slide into cover to avoid your shots. They will stay in cover and will jump out to take shots but not always jump out in the same way. This extra intelligence helps to make the gunfights more fun and reduces the chances of getting bored. There is also some fun hand-to-hand combat if you get tired of shooting. Simple button combos lead to some pretty spectacular fight moves on screen.

At others times you put away your gun for some impressive platforming and puzzle solving sequences. As Nathan you will pull off some very impressive leaps and platform grabbing. The way in which the environments are designed makes it intuitive to know where to jump next without making it so obvious so as to ruin the challenge. Some of the puzzles are clever but none are tough enough to leave you scratching your head in frustration for any length of time. These sections do add a lot to the game and give you time to relax after some of the more extended shootouts. The balance is a little skewed in favour of the shooting scenes and if you prefer the shooting parts that will be good news for you. On the other hand if you prefer the platforming sections then you may find the action parts becoming a bit too numerous and overlong. Personally, I liked both elements with a slight leaning towards the gunplay so the balance was just right for me.

Before playing Uncharted I had read and heard a lot about the quality of the graphics and everything that was said is true. This is the most visually impressive game I've ever played. As the game progresses you think you've seen it all but then you enter a new environment and are wowed all over again. The detail in the jungle levels and the fantastic architecture on show in the ruined city levels is nothing short of amazing. The water and lighting effects are also set a new standard. I also really liked the physics used on the enemy characters. When you kill them they fall over and react realistically to their surrounds and it is great fun to watch them fly though the air after being hit by a grenade. The sound doesn't disappoint either with a fantastic soundtrack and great sound effects to create a truly absorbing gameplay experience.

The game is not perfect however, as I have a few gripes about certain things. I have already compared the game to a Hollywood movie and the story does a good job of pulling you in and getting you to care about the characters. I did enjoy the story (even if it is a heavy distillation of many past movies) but at a certain point in the story it takes a left turn that I found quite jarring. It didn't quite fit what had gone before and I feel it did affect my overall feeling for the game. I will praise the level design as the levels can be quite large but they are well thought out. However, I did start to feel at times that they are too linear. It looks at certain points like you can take a different route only to be blocked by invisible barriers. The game also felt a little on the short side. I think I beat it in around 7 hours (could be wrong) but if you add in all the cut-scenes the amount of gameplay is actually less than that.

Is there any replay value? I think it depends on what type of gamer you are. If you like to find every collectable in a game then Uncharted is the game for you as it has many, many hidden treasures through out the levels. I tried to find as many as I could but I only finished with just over half. There are also medals to be collect for doing certain things, i.e. 10 headshots, 20 stealth kills etc... The forthcoming patch to include Trophies is going to use the medals system to unlock the Trophies. Some are fun to get and hard so it will add some longevity to the game if your that way inclined.

There is great fun to be had with this game and I for one can't wait until the developers (Naughty Dog) officially confirm a sequel.

Uncharted is undoubtedly the best looking game on the next-generation consoles. The level environments are simply stunning, featuring jungle environments with lush vegetation, exquisitely detailed ancient cities and amazingly lit underground caverns. Then there are the wonderful character models with amazingly lifelike animation. Throw in some spectacular water effects and you have one seriously pretty game.

The sound is another area where Uncharted excels. The musical score sounds just as impressive as any that would be put on a Hollywood blockbuster. The sound effects are particularly impressive, with gunshots sounding incredibly loud and powerful. An extra layer of polish is added with all the ambient background effects in the jungle environments.

The game controls superbly well and is very similar to Gears of War in many respects. You control your character with one stick and the camera with the other. The face buttons are for diving into cover and performing certain situation specific actions. The shoulder buttons are for aiming and shooting. It is all brilliantly responsive whether you are platform jumping or involved in a shootout. The controls are particularly good for the platforming sequences and jumping from ledges and running along walls while holding vines will be second nature in no time.

Uncharted has unbelievable presentation from the graphics and sound to the Hollywood quality presentation and story. It is married to some great game mechanics and the meshing of the shooter and platform genre works brilliantly. Apart from some small concerns I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this to any PS3 owner who hasn't played it.

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