A few weeks ago I decided to do a bit of ‘spring cleaning’ and ended up selling about half of my old 360 games collection. With the proceeds, I bought the Nathan Drake Collection and have now completed at least 1 of them – the first one, on easy.
Uncharted was a series that flew past me, again because of my past with Nintendo and then my fling with Xbox. From what I could gather, it was Tomb Raider in proper 3D with a dude. I assumed there were intricate puzzles, cunningly laid out by ancient civilisations that had somehow managed to remain in complete working order for thousands of years just to screw around with future archaeologists, with some platforming and combat thrown in there too.
I enjoy puzzling and challenging gameplay, such as raiding tombs or uncharting islands, so that aspect of Drake’s Fortune was fun; they were sufficiently challenging and engaging. They give you a chance to slow down and think about what’s happening. They’re spread out fairly regularly through the game, although they do tend to lean towards “climb this wall, but be careful because some of the handholds will fall” more often than not.
Something that always gets a lot of praise when it comes to the Uncharted series are the setpieces and I’ll admit the landscapes are beautiful. This is the earliest incantation of the Uncharted world, so perhaps a little outdated, but good enough to keep me playing. Everything was set on one island, split between the jungle, ruins and being underground – when you’re outside, everything is lush and colourful, the ruins look weathered and aged and being underground is dark and claustrophobic, so the design aspect of Uncharted was pretty good.
This leaves everything else.
I’ll start with the combat: it’s horrible. You can have two guns at a time and I pretty much always had a pistol and an AK-47 or an M4. Basically, something that takes 20 shots per kill and something automatic. In the heat of the moment, you stick yourself beside corners and pop out to be shot by 7 guys who are also behind cover. You could choose to throw a grenade but if you can figure out how to do that reliably, you can have a crown.
It’s annoying, to say the least. Especially when it gets to the later game and the whole experience becomes twitch-based firing because there’s a new threat, which runs on 4 legs and darts around on its way to you. There are other weapons you could try out, but they’re situational and you hardly get any ammo to make them worth it.
One of the better points I will give to the shooting is that a shotgun can easily and reliably hit a dude on the other side on a courtyard.
At a certain point, around the halfway mark, you realise that there’s a formula to Uncharted and it goes like this: climbing section, puzzle section, shootout. Occasionally throw in a cutscene to spice up the mix a little. When I noticed this pattern, I started getting bored – you’d finish up a puzzle and see a large room with conspicuous chest high walls spread across it, sigh deeply and reload your AK. Two or three waves of enemies later and you can carry on (probably into another shootout).
Also at the halfway mark, you gain access to the first of two jetski sections. Apparently, driving a jetski is meant to be the slowest experience you could imagine. The controls are simple: press X to go, release X to stop. Whilst you can shoot from the back, you can’t drive at the same time – you have to stop, shoot in 17 different directions until the bullets stop raining down and then carry on. Just to make the whole experience more memorable, throw in some exploding barrels and, in the second iteration, waterfalls.
The story is fairly bland, you’re on the trail of El Dorado which Francis Drake brought here. Unfortunately for you, some other generic bad guys have also found their way here and intend to nick it for themselves. That is enough to propel you through 75% of the game, until they throw in a twist! It does come off as a bit of a ‘M Night Shyamalan’ style change to be able to inject something different into the story.
And at the end of it all, there’s a boss battle. It’s an annoying little section, tacked on to the end after continuing to drag the bull-headed combat to the very end. Your epic journey through ancient civilisation climaxes with a quicktime event and a cutscene.
I have been reliably informed that the one I played was not the best of the bunch. Apparently things get better in the next few games. I am willing to believe that, mostly because I’ve only touched a third of the disc I bought by selling my childhood toys, so I’ll have to squeeze my money back out.
Drake’s Fortune was a lovely game to look at and be a part of, but there were missteps in bringing the story across: combat needs to be less torturous and heavy-handed, without setting up an arena to have people stream in to shoot at. Personally, I’d like to be faced with more puzzles to figure out, without staring blankly at Drake’s notebook which gives you the bare minimum amount of information for you to go on. And if there’s going to be a driving sequence or four, perhaps have a look at a more involved control system.
But besides that, it’s alright, I guess.