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Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Score: 98%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Naughty Dog
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is the first game to hit the PS3 exclusively that gives you a true reason to purchase the system. The graphics are amazing and while not photo-realistic and scary perfect like Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat, they are still jaw-droppingly beautiful. You'll spend the bulk of your time on a lush island or in and around the water. Levels are wide-open in appearance and although you might not be able to pass through a copse of trees, you can stand on an outcropping and look way across the water to see buildings and areas that you will visit later in the game. Water is simply gorgeous in this game, whether you are padding through a small stream or gazing down upon crashing waves. While some things do look a tad too shiny, in all, Naughty Dog has simply outdone themselves.

Your main character is Nathan Drake, a ruggedly handsome guy on a mission. His sometimes sidekick, Elena, was really annoying to me in the beginning of the game, but then grew on me once they were reunited later on. Enemies are generic pirate types, but the things they spout out while in pursuit of you never get tiring. Neither do Nathan's quips, for that matter. In fact, they become more endearing the longer you play. My favorite has got to be "Oh no" or "Oh crap" when a grenade lands too close. I know it doesn't sound like much, but when he says it, it's really funny. Nathan's attitude is "take things as they come" and he never really seems to stress. He just adapts and becomes a very loveable protagonist.

The soundtrack is of the rousing, sweeping, orchestral variety during times of battle. Its pleasant stuff and very well done. During downtime, ambient music and sound effects tinker in the background. It's not unusual to hear birds chirping and cawing, water flowing and waves crashing in the outdoor areas. While in the various caves and buildings, you'll hear appropriate creaking sounds and fire torches crackling.


Gameplay:
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune has gameplay down in spades. You begin the game as Nathan Drake, distant relative of Sir Francis Drake. Using a passed-down family heirloom he believes contains the exact location of Sir Francis' secret burial spot, he embarks on a hunt to find the casket. In tow is Elena Fisher, whose company has fronted the money for the excursion and sent her along to film the entire event for their TV show. They do locate the casket and it is, indeed, empty except for Drake's long-lost diary. Here, Nate hopes to find clues to lead him to the lost city of Eldorado, which he discerns is actually a giant statue made of gold.

Nate's real adventure begins after battling some pirates, ditching Elena on an island, meeting up with old pal Sullivan, meeting back up with Elena and heading to the mysterious island where Drake's diary directs them. After parting ways again with Elena, although through bumpier means, Nate's fight for survival begins. He and Elena aren't the only folks searching for the famed Eldorado and there will be plenty of enemies to face. They mostly come in the form of pirates, but at times, there will be many of them and they don't play nice.

Uncharted reminds me a good bit of Tomb Raider, but it seems to work better and takes things a step further. Everything Nate does feels fairly fluid and natural. It's a 3rd person shooter/action/adventure and as such, Nate will be climbing, jumping and traversing everything he comes across. Well, almost everything. There were a few times where Nate refused to jump onto something he clearly should have been able to, but that didn't happen often.

As he cruises around the island, there will be booby traps to spring and avoid, all while Nate is being attacked by those who don't want him progressing. Nate will do lots of wall climbing, he'll swing from ropes, he'll even do a few mad dashes on both jet skis and in a Jeep, where either he or Elena has to do some clean-up work on the folks pursuing them.

One thing I really like was the ability to collect treasure. In secluded little spots, Nate will often find ancient treasure such as precious metal artifacts. As you collect these, your "treasure hunter" rank will increase. There are also medals and rewards to collect, basically achievements obtained by performing a particular action.


Difficulty:
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune has three difficulty levels: Easy, Medium or Hard. Playing through on Medium provides a really nice level of difficulty. There's a healthy challenge, but it isn't overwhelming. In Easy, enemies aren't quite as aggressive, but in Hard, prepare yourself for the worst. One thing that is nice is that if you find yourself stuck and you can't seem to get past a certain area, you can simply pause the game and switch difficulties to ease things up.

From time to time, one thing that increased the difficulty in a round about way was the fact that Nate was sometimes problematic while hiding in cover, then shooting at his enemies. He'd get into a spot where he was convinced he was protected, but had part of his body in the open and would get shot. Still other times, I'd try to have him shoot and even with switching shoulders, I couldn't get a good bead on the enemy.


Game Mechanics:
When Nate needs to engage the enemy, you can either blind fire while running about by holding down the (R1) button and using the Left Analog stick to move and the Right Analog stick to look around, or you can hold down the (L1) button to manually aim and click (R1) to shoot. Since enemy A.I. is fairly aggressive, Nate will often be served best by ducking for cover. By clicking the (O) button, Nate will jump for cover around anything that is close to him. To shoot the enemy while in cover, he peeks out and shoots. To melee attack an enemy, Nate can deliver a serious blow by pressing a combination of (Square) and (Triangle). If you can run at an enemy, sometimes you can do this serious flying kick and take them out with that one hit. Nate can also perform a stealth kill by sneaking up and pressing (Square).

When Nate is exploring, you'll use (X) to jump and climb up onto ledges, etc. and (Triangle) to pick up ammo, treasures, and the like, and also to perform special actions such as opening a door or a hatch. The (Triangle) symbol will indicate when you have to do this. As has become the standard in these types of games, instead of a health indicator bar, your vision will start to turn red around the edges when you are taking damage and continue to worsen until you die, unless you seek cover.

There are a wide variety of weapons Nate will have access to during his adventure, but he can only hold one pistol and one rifle at a time, along with up to 4 grenades. So you have to be choosy. Although the shotgun is an awesome weapon, there might not be ammo for it where you are headed. A nice use of the SIXAXIS controls comes when Nate has to cross across a narrow log or path. You'll rotate the controller as if you were physically balancing Nate. You will also use the controller when setting up your trajectory for grenades.

In addition to plenty of fighting, Nate will also come across puzzles and he'll pull out his handy-dandy diary to assist him. If you are stuck in an area for too long a period of time, the game grows impatient and flashes (L2) for a hint. When you press (L2), Nate looks in the direction of where you need to go. It doesn't necessarily tell you what you need to do, but it's enough to get you going again.

Overall, this game is an absolute blast to play and a must have for any action/adventure gamer who owns a PS3. If you don't already own one, this game is a reason to invest. Tomb Raider fans - you have a new obsession.


-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins