Usually, I open my reviews with one or two vague paragraphs about the game, but this time I'm not going to beat around the bush. Uncharted is the best PS3 game, nay, one of the best games, I've ever played. If that's enough for you to get off your bum and go buy the game, fine, get going! If not, you can read this review to see if you fall off of that purchasing fence you're perched on. Even though I found the game amazing in almost every sense, I'm still going to approach the review as objectively as possible.
Uncharted follows the tale of Nathan Drake on his search for the Golden Man, "El Dorado". As a descendant of Sir Francis Drake, he has an edge on finding the treasure that his ancestor apparently knew the whereabouts of. It's a tale that could only be weaved by masters of film, but it transfers into the world of next-gen gaming perfectly. In fact, I'd much rather watch/play this game than ever see another Indiana Jones film. Well ... maybe, those are classics. But it's definitely preferred over the new fourth Indy movie coming out at some point. If Uncharted could get described as an amalgamation, it would go like this: One part Gears of War, one part Orgasmic, a dose of Prince of Persia, a dash of Resident Evil 4, and a plethora of storytelling akin to Indiana Jones.
Instead of listing all the positive aspects of the game first, I'm going to knock out the negatives first because they're trifling at best. First thing, I'm not sure if it was my copy of the game, or my PS3, but textures loaded a bit slower than I'd have liked. Sometimes at the outset of a cutscene or level, I was greeted with N64 textures that mysteriously transformed into their gorgeous selves moments later. This happens particularly in the second stage's beginning, or whenever I quickly scroll through my collected treasures.
Secondly, the game is short. I got through it in two sittings. Granted, they were long sittings, but the title clocked in at around 7 hours and I like exploring every room carefully. However, it's hard to count this as a negative. Look at all the high profile (not always highly scored) titles from our next-gen consoles: Gears of War, Bioshock, Heavenly Sword, Lair, Uncharted, and others I'm forgetting are all short games. Sure, the 360 titles have online aspects which really helps, but as a standalone campaign, games are getting shorter. They're more like interactive movies and they're definitely easier to enjoy on a casual basis.
For those who played the demo and thought there wasn't enough ruin exploring (an aspect that I was excited about as well), I hate to tell you that aside from the first hour of gameplay, there isn't so much exploration as Prince of Persia style gameplay: room of bad guys, room of climbing/puzzle solving, rinse and repeat. For the vast majority of gamers, this is perfectly fine. For those seeking ruin exploration, they get it in the first bit of the game and not too much afterwards. It's there, but it just doesn't feel like ... exploration.
For those who do like action and shootouts, you are in for the ride of your life. Uncharted features a pretty sexy cover system, like Gears of War, but makes it all feel a little more ... how do you say ... fluid? It's just fantastic to hide behind a pillar, then jump over to hide behind a box, leap over and throw yourself against a wall in front of you all while avoiding bullets. It works excellently with very few situations for hiccups. If you're finding Drake often doing stupid things, think hard about what you're trying to do. Often times if I was hitting cover snafus, I was trying to do something really stupid, though sometimes I would end up hiding on the wrong side of a pillar because I wasn't squared up center with it. Annoying, but not game-breaking.
This "check yo'self" method for Drake's actions carries into jumping and climbing mechanics, too. Yeah, sometimes he doesn't grab onto something you think you could grab onto or jump as far as he should, but often times it's because there's no reason for you to even try, or you jumped before you reached the very edge of a cliff -- something you had to do in the 8-bit generation of platform jumping. There's one mechanic that I do have issues with -- the vine/chain swinging. While relatively simple and intuitive, it does suck that you'll miss a ledge and fall to your death because you didn't shimmy up the vine/chain prior to swinging. Luckily it doesn't come up too often, so it's pretty dismissable as an annoyance. A similar annoyance arises in the haphazard Sixaxis controls of balancing across logs. First, I couldn't figure out how to balance worth a damn. Second, you only have three things to balance across in the entire game. It's a useless feature that seems tacked on, but luckily, some one-shot deals are totally worth getting added.
There are a few sequences that are awesome. One is the vehicle chase. It was easily the most fun I've had in a while, since Resident Evil 4's knife fight and jet ski levels. It wasn't particularly challenging or innovative, but it was one hell of a good level. In contrast, the jet ski levels aren't quite as perfect as I'd have hoped. Having to stop to aim and shoot exploding barrels or bad guys sort of took away from the experience. I would have rather been the passenger than driver again, but Drake insisted that "this time, I drive". The levels weren't bad, they just didn't have as much momentum as I wanted. The levels worked the same way that levels on foot did. Progress, stop, shoot, move on.
This isn't a bad formula, though you do have to kill every bad guy you come across, basically. There are probably some situations where I could have run away, but for the most part, when you're attacked, the enemy has such excellent accuracy that any sort of escape is out of the question. From Eddy's pirates to the laser-sight mercenaries, they play the game just as well as you do and that's great news for those looking for a challenge. A strange part of the game comes about two-thirds of the way through where you meet a different breed of enemy ... cursed Spaniards, dubbed Descendants. Ever see the movie "The Descent"? Think of those creatures and you've got a good idea of what to expect. It makes sense in the context of "ancient curse", but it seemed like Naughty Dog wanted to have some situations where you didn't have a shootout with cover. These enemies are run n' gun action and guess what? They were a lot of fun to fight.
Enough about the gameplay! We'll touch on the graphics, but there's not much to say other than "fantastic". It's one of the best looking games I've ever played and every animation is fluid and unique. Drake's movements seem realistic because he doesn't always run perfectly, land squarely, or duck professionally. He's human and it shows in his motions and in the cutscenes. There is so much facial animation that this might as well have been a movie. Every character reacts realistically and luckily the voice acting cast captured every line of dialog perfectly.
In addition to the voice acting being fantastic, it helps that the writing is better than most film scripts. This goes back to my comments about Indiana Jones ... this game has everything to translate into a blockbuster popcorn Indy flick, but it delivers so strongly and laces in the gameplay so well that you don't mind there aren't any crazy boss battles (though the last battle is epic in its own right) or giant tanks to down. The music fits perfectly also into this equation -- it's perfect for the themes being explored and in general, it fits fantastically.
What about features? Surely a short game has some replayability if there's no online function, right? You are correct, me. There are 1000 "medal points" to unlock during your playtime, which give you access to concept art galleries, behind the scenes movies, and gameplay options like weapon select, slow motion, etc. You can even change Drake to other characters if you so prefer with enough medal points. They're a challenge to unlock, so you'll find yourself playing specific levels to get them all. Once you beat the game, you can select what chapter to play -- always a nice feature. In addition to medal points, there are 60 treasures to find across the course of the game. Not particularly difficult to find if you explore well, but it's a good way to get you to really check out each room. If you beat the game on Hard mode (which most gamers good at shooters should start on), you unlock "Crushing" mode. It's difficult.
Did I cover everything? Hell no. I could go on and on about this game, but I need to stop myself so you can go out and buy the game. You are not going to get a better overall experience in a game than this, in my opinion. Graphics, gameplay, story, execution, features ... this game oozes quality in every aspect. Despite a few minor setbacks including linearity, there is practically nothing wrong with this game except personal tastes. If you don't like the game, guess what? It's not the game -- it's you. It's not what you're into and that's perfectly fine. From an objective standpoint, this game is excellent and deserves to get recognized. Since we're on a 1-10 scale and 10 is perfection, I can't say it's perfect, but damn it, it's as close as we're going to get for a while. Buy this game. Now.
PS3 Fanboy Score: 9.5
Second Opinion: Andrew
Nick's high praise of Uncharted is fully warranted. The adventure of Uncharted is unparalleled on PS3, and stands not only as Naughty Dog's best game yet, but the PS3's as well. Sure, one could write an essay about the stunning graphics, but what needs to be commended most is the thrilling gameplay, which only gets better the further you get into the game. The way you move through the environment in combat may not have the same elegance as Gears of War, but the brutally intelligent enemy AI will challenge, but not frustrate, even the most skilled of gamers. The melee combat has become so refined, and becomes an integral part of the gameplay experience. Platforming is also meticulously executed, with a humanity that Assassin's Creed can only wish it had.
Ninja Theory's Heavenly Sword was promoted heavily for its use of performance in games, but ultimately failed to deliver a truly significant cinematic experience with their attempt. Naughty Dog's use of actors in games has produced a far more believable and endearing cast of characters, in a story that pulls you in and refuses to let go. This really is the Indiana Jones for the modern era, and I personally can't wait for the next adventure of Nathan Drake and his crew.