Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune released in 2007, and it was a showcase of what the PlayStation 3 was capable of. It looked more realistic than any other prior system seemed to be capable of, and it was impressive at the time. Naughty Dog showed they had something more to prove than simplistic platformers; however, could the team create something memorable for years to come, or is this first instalment usually skipped over for a reason?
Nathan Drake (played by Nolan North), a descendant of the legendary Sir Francis Drake, and journalist Elena Fisher (Emily Rose), travel on a sailboat to the coast of Panama so that they can dig the grave up of Drake out of the ocean. All that is found is a notebook inside the coffin, but pirates ambush their ship, so Nathan calls onto his friend and mentor Victor Sullivan (Richard McGonagle) to bail him out of the flaming ship. The notebook points to El Dorado, and so the three intend to discover the treasure for themselves, whilst fending off fellow archeologist Gabriel Roman (Simon Templeman) and pirate leader Eddy Raja (Robin Atkins Downes).
This plot is decent for a first instalment and raises intrigue as to what will occur next, but not only does it undergo a very slow beginning, but also has one of the main villains, Roman, out of the picture until the very end. Raja serves as the major villain for most of the second act, and he is a much more threatening antagonist than Roman, but is still not really a fleshed out character, unlike the main cast. The three protagonists are established quite well here, and you can get a sense for their personalities. Most of the major players have an arc in this game, but the protagonists have the clearest ones.
The visuals, for the time, were amazing. Straying away from the brown palette of other games that strived for authentic graphics, Naughty Dog instead implemented a jungle that is vibrant and still looks very convincing today. However, being an early PS3 title means that it looks quite rough if you look closely. The character models that were once lifelike now seem much worse, due to the shaders being all wrong – everyone has a waxy quality that is quite strange. The time period that it came out in is quite evident today. However, the PlayStation 4 remaster done by Bluepoint Studios in Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection cleans up the aging models and the lighting – it is not perfect by any means, as there are still rough edges that are holdovers from 2007, but it does clean up the majority of glaring problems.
The soundtrack aids the game in heightening the etherial and mysterious qualities of the jungle. When the score kicks in, it makes the locale even more interesting to attempt to solve, and aligns the player with Nathan’s viewpoint of attempting to uncover the mystery. However, the other tracks in the action segments incorporate this motif while also upping the tempo, thus making the situation seem more desperate for Drake. It is quite an effective soundtrack, and the suspense of what really happened is driven home by the score.
This original Uncharted was a solid foundation for future games to build upon, but it feels antiquated now. Nathan jumps, climbs, and shoots, but both portions of the design have a janky feel to them, and require getting used to. Regularly, I experienced issues with swinging from one climbable wall to another, and sometimes the wall scaling controls were not as intuitive as I would have preferred to have. The other half of the game, the third person shooting, felt great in the control department for the most part, but a lot of it was parking in one spot and waiting for the enemies to pop their heads out from their cover. It was not as dynamic as the latter two PS3 titles in the trilogy managed to be – I occasionally went onto autopilot in this first outing, whereas I had to think about positioning in the later three entries in the series, including Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is not a bad game by any means – in fact, it is quite good. It put the team at Naughty Dog on the map once more, and it paved the way for their best shooter efforts, but the tired plot and simplistic characters for now felt like pale imitations of Indiana Jones’ adventuring. Still, if you want to play the series, it is highly advised to start here, because the future games are improved when you know the solid beginning adventure for Nathan Drake.
Note: I played the original three PS3 Uncharted through the remasters created by Bluepoint Studios, and the images in this review are of this PS4 version. These remasters iron out some flaws of the originals, plus run in a full 1080p at 60 frames per second, so I would recommend these iterations of the games.