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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (Playstation 3)

Naughty Dog's latest title brings high-adventure, puzzle solving and shooting action to the PS3 with the release of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The game follows the travails of Nathan Drake, descended from the legendary explorer as he tries to locate his namesake's long-lost treasure on an isolated, dangerous island. However, a nasty group of pirates is also on the trail, and will stop at nothing to eliminate Drake and claim the fortune as their own. The game mixes action and strategy with an excellent storyline to create an engaging and challenging experience that feels like a good popcorn movie with good action sequences and an entertaining story. Uncharted is a fairly solid game with excellent visuals, intuitive controls plus an excellent mix of action and strategy that makes for an engaging experience.

Taking elements of traditional platforming, shooting and puzzle solving and blending them together, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune offers an engagingly cinematic title with an intense storyline and impressive visuals. As the game begins, we meet our hero, a lovable rogue named Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter looking for hidden gems and items. His adventures are being filmed by an enterprising reporter named Elena who tags along for the ride until things begin to go awry. Suddenly, their boat is attacked by a group of international pirates, and barely escaping with their lives, they find themselves in the deep jungles of a forgotten island. The game casts you as Drake on your quest to find the legendary fortune of El Dorado, the clues to which are found in a map you discovered in a long-forgotten tomb.

When you encounter a group of mercenary pirates, you'll need to grab your gun, and can shoot at them in either the standard behind the character mode or use the lock-on button for more accurate shots. There are loads of guns lying around in the game including pistols and sniper rifles and you can pick up additional ammo from fallen enemies as well. It's fairly easy to get off your shots, but you'll need to find cover when you're attacked by multiple foes. Like many other recent shooters, instead of using a health bar, the game screen gradually loses its color as you take damage until things are black and white. You don't need to pick up a health bar, just find cover and rest for a few seconds and your health regenerates automatically. This system makes the battles much easier and helps to keep the flow going. There are a number of strategies you can use, such as blowing up nearby barrels or using grenades that you can use to wipe out enemies. Its shooting sequences are well done, but the game isn't all about gunplay and offers a surprising amount of depth in its puzzle sequences, too.

Naughty Dog has done an excellent job in creating a believable, coherent environment to explore. Uncharted gives you a great deal of freedom when traversing its environments, with the ability to climb up walls, jump over gaps, hang from ledges and more during each level. These expansive levels act as puzzles and there are many points where just getting from one side to another is a difficult task that requires skill and dexterity. You'll have to do a lot of thinking and looking around to get through these sections of the games. It resembles Tomb Raider in some of its approach, especially when you find yourself in a dark temple. There are objects to move and puzzles to solve as well, which can be quite intricate. You can look at your map for clues to and use some of the ancient symbols and stones as guides in many instances. There are some fairly elaborate puzzles for you to solve, which require multiple tasks to complete, which can be time consuming and frustrating or relatively easy. These areas are very well done and give the player a break between the platform jumping and gun battles, helping to balance Uncharted's gameplay with some additional puzzle elements.

While the game feature several different types of play Uncharted's controls are both responsive and intuitive, which makes its climbing and running mechanics easy to understand. Drake's different moves are easy to perform, and most players should have little trouble getting the hang of things quickly. Most of the game's interface offers a fairly standard operations for platforming games with the occasional use of the Sixaxis. In these sequences you tilt the controller to use its motion senses to provide a balance when walking on an unsteady object. There are some tricky areas where you'll have to perform leaps from one high platform to another, which makes things a bit dicey, but you can usually accurately gauge height and distance without much trouble. In addition to these real-time areas, the game also features intense cinematic set pieces where you have to react quickly as a preset sequence occurs. For example, Drake will find himself running across a rickety series of ramps that are quickly collapsing and must run and jump quickly to avoid plunging below. Some of these sections have confusing, rapidly changing fixed angles, which can be frustrating, but this is a minor flaw in the grand scheme of things. Additionally, don't have much reaction time in these areas, causing some frequent and annoying drops, but they add some excitement to the gameplay. Uncharted's pacing is excellent with an excellent mix of gunplay, puzzles and platforming that switches things around frequently, which avoids boredom from setting in.

From a visual standpoint, Uncharted sets a high standard because its sense of scale and drama is impressive and effectively showcases the Playstation 3 console's graphic abilities. Each level is quite large and is beautifully rendered. There's an incredible amount of detail with impressive light sourcing, realistic water effects, richly detailed plants and fauna life that creates a real sense of being on an island. The expansive design creates a sense scale that makes for some occasionally breathtaking. Everything from dense jungles, to abandoned temples and other buildings is looks solid and gives the game a firm sense of depth. For the most part, the cinematic camera angles do a good job of bringing a sense of drama to the action without becoming obtrusive, though there are some points where you might fall into a trap accidentally. Uncharted's in-game cinematic sequences are smooth and highly polished with realistic, believable character modeling and animation that helps bring things to life vividly. Superb voice acting, great dialogue and an engaging storyline help to immerse you into the action without becoming over-produced. The music does an excellent job in accenting the action, though there are moments of quiet as well during the puzzle sections that allow you to think, which is a nice touch. Overall, the game's slick production values create an excellent cinematic experience that's impressive and easy on the eyes.

Uncharted is a fairly enjoyable and exciting action game, that effectively brings a B-movie style experience to life. It's a great game on its own merits, but it isn't without its faults. Its cinematic approach can be thrilling at points, but it also makes the gameplay a bit too linear at points. Most players should find the controls to be quite intuitive and responsive, but there are some sequences where the game throws a lot at you quickly with fast-angle changes and little response time. However, these problems are largely mitigated by the game's dramatic sense of scale, beautifully rendered environments and impressive character animation. Uncharted's gameplay unfolds at a solid pace, offering a variety of intriguing puzzles, intense action and solid platforming adventure that makes for a satisfying, if not overly difficult experience.   

- Michael Palisano


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