Uncharted 1 Retro Review: Slow Start For The Cinematic Juggernaut

Uncharted Drake's Fortune Review

Given that many of the recent big-budget game releases on home consoles and PC are converged or filled with Left-wing propaganda, I’ve been hitting my backlog and playing through a lot of older games I missed out on or didn’t quite have time to complete when they originally released. I decided to go back and play through the original Uncharted trilogy as part of the Nathan Drake Collection, both to rekindle what made the series great and to wash the taste of the fourth game out of my mind, which was nothing short of creative sacrilege committed by the Israeli-born Neil Druckmann.

Pros:
+Nolan North
+Late-game set pieces
+Solid platforming
+Music score
+No pozzed crap
+Unlockable rewards

Neutral:
•Decent gunplay
•Melee combat
•Enemy AI
•Graphics

Cons:
-Slow first-half
-Pacing issues
-Lack of creative jungle levels
-Boring early-game platforming
-Nothing you can’t find done better in the sequels

I can unequivocally say that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is not that great a game. It has some solid mechanics, and the gameplay loops aren’t bad, but the game really struggled to retain my attention during the first third.

It’s interesting but it was the complete opposite of Scarface: The World Is Yours, where the first third of that game was just pelting you with all these different features and functions and meta-game elements that would come into play later on. In the case of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the 2007 outing that released exclusively on the PS3, basically everything that you’ll need to make use of in the game is given to you in the first half hour. From there it’s just a matter of rinsing and repeating the use of those mechanics throughout the six-to-eight hour experience spread across 22 different chapters.

The gist of the story is that the cunning but impoverished treasure hunter and thief extraordinaire Nathan Drake and his longtime partner-in-crime Vcitor Sullivan are on the hunt for the lost treasure that was the goal of Sir Francis Drake during his final voyage to El Dorado.

Journalist and filmmaker Elena Fisher accompanied the duo for their hijinks to the tropically dangerous island as part of a documentary she was working on.

The highlight of the early goings of the game is the obvious acting chemistry shared between Nolan North, Emily Rose and Richard McGonagle, who really help carry the game during the first third of the adventure, which sadly drags in a bad way.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Map

The main issue is that you’ll spend a sizable portion running through the jungle, climbing some pillars and infrequently shooting at some evil pirate natives using a dinkle pistol and later on a machine gun.

The shooting is passably decent, but it lacks the grit of Gears of War or Kill.Switch and fails to be anywhere near as compelling or heart-pounding as the Max Payne series due to a lack of bullet-time or shoot-dodging.

You can, however, wall-hug and dodge-roll to get out of the way of enemy fire, but it’s all really standard fare stuff. But what makes it so boring during the first third of the game is that all the levels are very bland.

Majority of the shootouts in the early part of the game take place behind some conveniently placed concrete blocks and horizontally positioned pillars situated in a series of samey looking jungle areas.

Couple that in with the fact that Drake lacks Lara Croft’s acrobatic abilities and you have yourself a rather tiresome yawn-fest. It’s a rinse and repeat whack-a-mole session for most of the early goings in the game.

Some of you might be thinking, “But isn’t there platforming and set-pieces?!” and to that I say… barely.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Helicopter

In the early part of the game the climbing sequences are just a lot of basic “get here from there” in the most rudimentary way imaginable. No elaborate set-pieces. No dynamic platforming. Just rock climbing, with a few loose rocks intermittently scattered among the many pillars and walls you’ll be climbing.

Most of it consists of obvious point ‘A’ to point ‘B’ scenarios with nothing really challenging happening throughout most of the first third of the game. Combat consists entirely of melee when you’re up close and shooting guns when you’re at a distance.

This will carry on all the way up until the plane crash sequence where Nate attempts to rescue Elena after the plane tears apart and she ends up at a ruined tower.

It’s here where the platforming puzzles begin to escalate; they finally introduce the .44 Magnum and M79 as new weapons, and the enemy placement starts to show a bit of originality.

The game – up to this point – still felt droll. There was just a lot of the same kind of repetition in the combat and the platforming, which madeUncharted: Drake’s Fortune feel more like a chore than a fun-filled journey.

Around the half-way point in the game things finally start getting really exciting when Elena and Drake make a daring escape via a jeep chase around a vine-laced cliff.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Jeep Chase

It’s here that the game finally kicks it into high-gear. The chase sequence is simple but well done, with players having to man a turret as Nate while Elena drives. You simply have to blow up all your pursuers in spectacular fashion.

From here onward it felt like the game was given a cash infusion to finally start eating up all that cinematic cheese so it could fill out the the britches it was always meant to wear.

Following the jeep sequence there’s a smattering of jet-ski segments where Elena and Nate look for clues to El Dorado while facing off against more pirates.

Several more chapters in and the game finally starts to hit the strides that the series is known for when a plot twist is revealed regarding the supposed death of Sully, and both Nate and Elena attempt to rescue him from the clutches of well-armed mercenaries.

It’s here that the more familiar tone of the Uncharted series begins to rear its head in more than just a perfunctory collection of working but forgettable gameplay mechanics.

One could say that the first third of the game was almost entirely carried by Nolan North’s charm and the chemistry he built around his connection with Emily Rose. It’s not that the story was all that interesting during these parts at all (since there wasn’t much for players to sink their teeth into at the time and none of the significant reveals take place until after halfway through the game) but it was more-so that there were interesting characters in a dangerous predicament and you really wanted to see how they were going to get out.

Whe0n the big reveals do happen, though, the game then feels as if it’s less a chore and more like a thrilling experience.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Elena and Nate

It’s also somewhat frustrating because there’s a lot of new content thrown into the game in a short order, and then everything ramps up from a 1 to a 5 in terms of pace going from the first third of the game to middle half, and then rapidly jumps from a 5 to a 9 in the final third of the game.

The new mercenaries the trio face off against have all new weapons for players to mess around with, and the platforming puzzles become a lot more challenging and unique. The stages also become far more varied than the boring jungle sections that wore out their welcome rather quickly in the early goings of Drake’s Fortune.

Players are thrust through stone-built church ruins, catacombs, a complex series of traps and mechanisms that lead to an old Nazi facility, and eventually a dynamic shootout from land, to air, to sea.

In some ways it seems like there are two completely separate games in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The first third acts like some amateur hour adventure game while the last half is an action-packed, rock-and-rolling blockbuster, complete with some supernatural horror elements thrown in for good measure.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Magnum

Now some of you might be wondering, “If the controls or mechanics didn’t change from start to finish why is the second half better than the first half?”

Well, to answer simply: it’s all about execution.

For example, Super Mario World basically introduces you to most of the game’s mechanics within the first three levels, but it’s not about what you can do that makes the game fun but how you do what you can do across the diverse range of uniquely built levels that makes the whole experience worthwhile.

For Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, a lot of the early goings of the game is just basic climbing and shooting without much tension or reason to feel enthralled at shooting or climbing.

The motivations in the level were rather trite; reliant upon simply getting from one point to the other. Once again, the only fueling notion to complete the early first part of the game is due to Nolan North’s charisma, and seeing what he would say or do next.

Naughty Dog really caught a lucky break having someone like that bring Nathan Drake to life, because otherwise the entire series could have died before it even got off the ground had they gone with someone who lacked North’s charisma and in-the-moment wit.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Parachute

Thankfully, the game matured enough throughout the playthrough and made better use of its sparse but functional mechanics before the credits rolled.

It was almost as if an entirely different map design team came in and constructed more original and unique scenarios for players to fight, climb, and run through that really added some sense of urgency and stakes to the game.

Also introducing the elite mercenaries with their own cache of weapons helped mix up how you approached different enemy encounters.

The last third of the game tossed in even more weapons, enemies, and some skill-based shooting segments, especially as Nate attempted to make his way out of a submarine hangar while some creatures battled with the mercenaries that were trying to kill him.

The big shootout at the church near the end is also another highlight, as you burn through ammo, killing enemies and trying to grab their weapons to avoid being flanked and overwhelmed.

While it’s a shame that the early goings of the game lacked the sort of intensity and cinematic scope of the latter half, I do have to commend them for at least constantly ramping up the intrigue, the action, and the stakes.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Jet Ski

One of the big problems with a lot of games – even in the later Uncharted games – is that they sometimes suffered from an uneven pace. For instance, outside of the Madagascar chase sequence through the shanty town in Uncharted 4, the game was terribly slow, with only short spurts of high-impact action scattered across a lot of boring walking and climbing sequences.

Here, there was just escalation. While the first third was a bore-fest, it still just kept escalating, and escalating, and escalating, with the team seemingly becoming more confident and courageous with their attempts to tackle unique scenarios and new challenges for Nate to face.

Meanwhile, a bombastic soundtrack from Greg Edmondson helped narrate the audible canvas of the game, and some decent enough visuals helped bring the adventure to life.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Boss Fight

The original Uncharted, however, is nothing to write home about in any regards, even if it is fun to play for what it is.

As part of the Uncharted : The Nathan Drake Collection, it does come with some noteworthy unlockables in the form of rewards. There are 47 different rewards you can unlock, ranging from art galleries and render modes, to playable skins for Nate, along with the ability to instantly acquire any of the weapons featured in the game if you happened to unlock them.

Unlocks are done by collecting treasure scattered throughout the levels, oftentimes hidden in corners or crevices that you might easily miss, thus rewarding players who replay through the game or are diligent enough to scour the stages for the sparkling trinkets.

The unlockables remind me a lot of 007: Everything Or Nothing, which allowed you to access features like slow motion driving or infinite ammo, both of which are present as tweaks in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, along with other options such as Mirror World, Fast Motion, Super Slow Motion, and One-Shot Kills.

And unlike the very politically correct and boring Uncharted 4, the Doughnut Drake skin is still available in the game.

Some other special unlockables can only be earned by beating the game on the hardest difficulty settings, thus forcing players to have to get good and ramp up their skill levels to earn the rarest of cheats.

Uncharted Drake's Fortune - Camera

Overall, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is the sort of game you play just to see what the original was like but not necessarily because the game is a must-play experience. If you were curious about how the relationship started between Drake and Elena, I suppose you could force yourself to play through it, but it might be better to just watch some YouTube videos.

Some of the platforming segments can be somewhat frustrating, too, since you couldn’t always tell where or what you were supposed to grab in a few segments, but to their credit that sort of occurrence was rare.

Visually the game was decent for what it was, but was obviously a step behind more graphically impressive titles out at the time, such as Gears of War or Valkyria Chronicles. It’s not like you’ll look back fondly on the PS3 exclusive with any sort of admiration for the aesthetics unless you’re a diehard Sony fanboy.

Even still, the graphics are serviceable for what it was at the time and if you play the game on the PS4 you don’t have to worry about any of the performance or loading screen downsides that plagued the original PS3 outing.

Unfortunately there’s nothing really here in Drake’s Fortune that you can’t already find in Uncharted 2 or Uncharted 3, and done miles better.

I think it’s safe to say that unless you’re grief-stricken with a strong sense of nostalgia, then you can skip the original Uncharted and dive straight into the second or third game if you really wanted to experience the more noteworthy moments from a franchise that’s probably considered as one of gaming’s most recognized cinematic juggernauts.

Verdict:

Uncharted Drake's Fortune Review

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