Something clicked. With the release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End this May, purportedly the final entry in Naughty Dog and Sony’s acclaimed action-adventure series, I knew it was time I checked it out. The first game that is, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Yes, after nearly ten years of opportunities, I finally got around to playing the Uncharted series in typical fashion, by starting at the beginning. Released on November 19, 2007 for the PlayStation 3, a couple days past its one-year anniversary on the market, Drake’s Fortune was arguably the high-water mark of the platform to that point.
The game started briskly and only slowed that pace a couple of times over its ten hour runtime. Off the coast of Panama, treasure-seeker Nathan Drake and documentary filmmaker Elena Fisher uncover the coffin of Sir Francis Drake, Nate’s supposed ancestor. Rather than housing a body, the coffin contained a diary detailing the existence of El Dorado. Before getting on with their search, they were attacked by modern-day pirates. Nate addressed them in one of two ways: taking them out with his handgun or taking them to fist city. With little time to adjust to the animation-rich character movement or intricacies of combat, I would’ve been dead in the water but the control scheme was familiar enough to stave off death at this moment.
Enough damage was done to their boat and it was soon destined for the bottom of the ocean. Thankfully, Nathan’s smooth-talking partner Victor Sullivan arrived in the nick of time with his seaplane and the trio was soon away from danger and on solid ground. While discussing the possibilities of El Dorado privately, Sully convinced Nate that they needed to abandon Elena and collect the bounty without her. Despite some hesitation, Nate relented and they departed for a temple in the Amazon. As they walked through the jungle, the duo maintained a meandering conversation, shedding light on their relationship and personalities. Low-key conversations like this occurred frequently and helped to portray the characters in a realistic manner.
Exploring the temple reminded me of the time I played through Tomb Raider: Legend in the early days of the Xbox 360. Both were straightforward affairs with a few rudimentary puzzles, some platforming, and ample gunplay. Progress here, and throughout the game was quite linear. Nathan’s path rarely branched, offering little chance for exploration other than ogling the richly detailed environments. Seriously, although this game is nearly a decade old, it still looks beautiful, with special consideration directed at the incredible outdoor environments. The paths he took often required him to dangle from walls and make edge-of-your-seat jumps, yet these were rarely tense due to their linearity. Nonetheless, Naughty Dog displayed a knack for camerawork, pulling out and panning around to display the obstacles to be traversed by Nate in spectacular ways.
As detailed by Sir Francis Drake’s diary, El Dorado was not a city of gold but rather, a golden idol. The temple Nate and Sully explored once housed it, although it was no longer present. Telltale drag marks led them to an almost incomprehensible sight, a Nazi U-boat stranded underneath a waterfall, in the Amazon rainforest, mind you. As it turns out, Nazis were once on the trail of El Dorado too, as were the Spanish, centuries before them. After a brief examination of the vessel, the duo was ambushed by one of the two factions also on the hunt for Drake’s treasure. The game’s small cast meant all characters were in the same line of work. The banter between the protagonists and antagonists was lethally serious, but everyone maintained a chummy sense of competitiveness, even with guns drawn, as they often were.
Nate’s time was predominately spent exploring and rummaging around the temples and ancient cities of South America while searching for El Dorado but gunplay is what kept him alive during the frequent encounters with rival thieves and their hundreds of henchmen. It was impossible to go through last console generation without playing a third-person cover-based shooter and I played my fair share. Accordingly, I was immediately comfortable with the combat. Variety in weapons was typical of the genre and I alternated between the different handguns, shotguns, and assault rifles constantly; in part, for ammunition concerns, but mostly to unlock some of the game’s forthright trophies. Melee was a brutal, infrequent part of combat and stealth was nonexistent. The lack of a dedicated stealth attack meant sneaking up and taking out an enemy without alerting others was difficult. Speaking of difficulty, I found the combat to be very challenging, despite playing on normal. Nate seemed to get taken down much quicker than his enemies, who were relative bullet-sponges. A few curse fits were had, especially during the final boss fight.
Fantastical elements permeated the narrative and settings, but they rarely felt overwhelmingly outlandish; much of what occurred seemed realistic, with a grain of salt. Again, I think it was the way the characters were grounded in reality that helped to make those elements of the story more believable. Nate, Elena, and Sully were just as awestruck as I was when something remarkable happened. Their relationships were believable as well; the irritation Elena had for Nate when she reunited with him, the uncertainty that Sully elicited in Nate and Elena when they spotted him seemingly working for the enemy after he was presumed dead, etc. They reacted in ways that you and I likely would, and made mistakes just like we would. The way the characters were written and the performances of the actors encouraged me to really pull for them, despite their dubious trade.
Being an achievement-hunter, or in this case a trophy… tracker (?), the trophies deserve special mention. The game launched before Sony had incorporated trophies, but Naughty Dog retroactively added them, so they get a big kudos from me… roughly ten years later… They already had in-game rewards that were the equivalent of achievements, so the trophies were simply overlaid onto this. In-game rewards provided cool cheats and great “special edition” style content such as mini-documentaries, which were particularly appealing, being someone who loves that type of content with movies and TV shows. The trophies weren’t creative but they did persuade me to alternate my behavior while playing and kept me around after the credits rolled, so I guess they served a purpose.
I’d kick myself for not playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune sooner, if not for the fact that now I don’t have to wait to play its successors. My grievances with the combat and linearity pale in comparison to the achievements of the adventurous narrative and character performances. The story worked out as one might suspect, Nate got the goods and the girl, but it was a fun romp nonetheless. Save for a few chapters that featured little more than getting from one place to the next, the pacing was on-point, and I was raring to go at the end of each chapter. After nearly ten years, this still remains an impressive title in the PlayStation 3’s library, and of that console generation. Time for me to fast-forward a couple years and play Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.