Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (Review)

I’m very late to the party having just played and finished Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune while most people have completed Uncharted 2 and are anxiously awaiting Uncharted 3. Even though I’m a bit behind with Uncharted, I’m still going to review Drake’s Fortune because there may be others out there who, like me, never bothered to play the Uncharted games for whatever reason and would like to know what the games are all about. Well, to my fellow PS3 owners who are late to the Uncharted party, I can safely say that it is indeed a party very much worth attending!

In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, you play as an adventurer and treasure hunter named Nathan (Nate) Drake who claims to be the descendant of famous English explorer and navigator Sir Francis Drake. The story involves Nate tracking the foot steps of his famed ancestor in an attempt to find the legendary treasure of El Dorado. Joining Nate on his adventure is long time friend and fellow adventurer Victor “Sully” Sullivan who is never short of cigars and wise cracks, and the spunky television reporter Elena Fisher who is looking for the story of a lifetime. Unfortunately for Nate and his motley crew, rivals of both Nate and Sully find out about the plan to locate the treasure of El Dorado and decide to beat the heroes to it. If 1980s action flicks have taught us anything, it is that treasure seeking bad guys are always pricks and have an unrealistically vast amount of gun tootin’ henchmen working for them. Drake’s Fortune does not stray from this as primary antagonist Gabriel Roman employs a huge army of pirates to deter Nate and company from reaching the treasure of El Dorado.

Platforming sequences will often lead Nate up and over walls.

Undoubtedly the best part of Drake’s Fortune is the fact that the game feels like an interactive movie. The cutscenes are truly among the very best out there thanks in part to the incredible script and voice acting in this game. Nate is voiced by the never-out-of-work voicing superstar Nolan North and he certainly gets the job done here very well. Emily Rose also brings the character of Elena to life, making her easily one of the most believable and realistic video game girls out there. Sully is voiced by the awesome Richard McGonagle, who has one of the best voices in the industry by far. The three main characters are so well written and so believable that, during cutscenes, it’s not unusual to view them as actual people rather than as video game characters. This is especially the case with Emily Rose, who happens to look pretty much exactly like the character she voices. Hollywood, you’d better cast her as Elena in the Uncharted movie if you have any sense!

The supporting cast is also fantastic. While there are three protagonists, there are also three antagonists. Eddy Raja is an apparent ex-friend turned rival of Nate, Gabriel Roman is a treasure loving crimelord who loaned Sully a great deal of money (which was never paid back, hence the hostilities), and Atoq Navarro is a smug archaeologist hired by Gabriel Roman to assist him who really comes into his own later in the game. Each of the antagonists are well voiced, with many fans still loving the cocky and energetic Eddy Raja to this day. “Don’t mess with Eddy Raja!” Indeed, Eddy. Beyond the three antagonists, the only other voices players will really hear are of the pirates who under the command of Eddy and Gabriel. Most of Nate’s encounters in Drake’s Fortune will be with these pirates and, for the most part, they are well voiced. I could not help but notice that they sound a lot like the terrorist NPCs in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same guy did the voice work for both Uncharted’s pirates and Vegas 2’s terrorists.

The supporting cast are not only memorable, but they're also handy as AI partners.

It is 2011 now and Drake’s Fortune is probably still one of the very best looking games on the Playstation 3. While the game does show a bit of age in some areas, it is still very pretty to look at and is certainly more pleasing to the eye than even many games released this year. This is a pretty wild accomplishment for a game that is four years old! The weakest point of Uncharted’s presentation is probably in the character models themselves. Facial animations look a little unnatural at times, and there are very obvious clipping issues with hair. Elena’s blonde hairdo in particular is prone to clipping quite a bit, and it’s painfully obvious whenever you see the back of her head in a cutscene. I’m also a little displeased at exploding objects in Drake’s Fortune. At one point in the game players must navigate a jet ski up a raging river that is, for some unknown reason, littered with exploding barrels. Ignoring how odd it is that there is a neverending stream of these barrels floating down the river, when you shoot one of these barrels to make them explode, the barrel will simply vanish and be replaced by an explosion. Even for a 2007 game, this is a really tacky looking effect which I thought we started to phase out during the last generation of consoles. Aside from these minor issues, the graphics are still very good for the most part. Jungle areas in particular are incredibly detailed and beautiful to look at. A few textures here and there look a little blurry or dated, but they are incredibly easy to miss unless you play this game with the intention of nitpicking and looking for graphical flaws.

In terms of gameplay, I can pretty much say that if you’ve ever played a Tomb Raider game then you will know exactly what to expect with Drake’s Fortune. Simply replace Lara Croft with Nathan Drake and bang, you’ve got Uncharted! For better or for worse, the gameplay in Uncharted really doesn’t do anything new that we haven’t seen before. However, for everything gameplay related that Uncharted does, it does well. The gameplay can be divided up into three categories: gun fights, platforming, and puzzle solving. Since this is a third person game, the gun fights are a little tougher to get used to than they are in first person shooters and the aiming can be horrifically difficult to get used to. Making Nate point and aim his gun can be a slow process. This isn’t Resident Evil 4 or 5 where the character can whip out their gun and point it anywhere in a fraction of a second, no. Aiming Nate’s gun is a pretty slow process as he moves his arms around at a snail’s pace, if you are the kind of player who blindly charges into battle, you’re going to die because of this. Due to the aiming being fairly slow, pretty much all of your firing will be done behind cover. Pressing the circle button will make Nate leap behind any piece of cover nearby, protecting him from the endless onslaught of ammo being flung his way by Eddy’s pirate goons. The key is to find cover, wait for the pirates to stop firing, and then pop your head out and get off a few good shots. I would advise most players to go into the options and put the aiming sensitivity slider around the middle of the bar. I found that if you have the aiming sensitivity too low then aiming is pretty much as slow as molasses which doesn’t help when you have to pop out of cover to take down a sniper before he gets a headshot on you. In contrast, putting the sensitivity all the way up makes it too hard to aim well. Lining up a headshot is extremely difficult with maximum sensitivity, as even just the slightest tap of the analog stick will cause your crosshair to whip around further than you want it to.

Four years later and this game is still gorgeous. A remarkable feat by Naughty Dog.

The only other issue I have with the fire fights is that it is not uncommon to kill all enemies in the room only for half a dozen more to spill in from another entranceway. It isn’t so bad in games where reinforcements come once every five or six fights, but in Drake’s Fortune you had better expect a constant stream of reinforcements in any room that is larger than the typical school or work cafeteria. When almost every large opening or room becomes a five to ten minute long shoot out, things can become a bit tiring. Unfortunately for Drake’s Fortune, there are a lot of these rooms. Around the middle of the game when Nate is working through a series of ruins with Elena, there are several very long fire fights that really just drag on for too long. Gamers who decide to check out Drake’s Fortune primarily for the platforming and puzzle solving aspects will probably be a bit turned off with the repetitive gun fights. Thankfully, for most of the game Nate will have either Elena or Sully alongside him providing support in shoot outs. On less stressful difficulty settings, players who aren’t too exceptional at shooting games will surely love their AI partners who don’t just stand around or behave erratically like in most games of this game. Elena and Sully take appropriate cover and are pretty decent at taking down enemies on their own. It is entirely possible for the AI partners to clear out areas for less skilled players, though this would probably take a bit of time and I wouldn’t advise doing this at all unless you are a player who REALLY despises shooting games. Unfortunately for players of this kind, towards the end of the game everything is turned upside down as enemy encounters change drastically (I won’t go into details for the sake of spoilers) and you’ll be without a partner for the last few chapters. The change of pace in terms of how encounters work is actually very well done and will force pretty much everyone who plays the game to change their strategies. Everything the game teaches you essentially becomes irrelevant as the fights become completely different and it is a lot of fun adapting to the changes.

There is also melee combat which involves running up to an enemy and mashing the square and triangle buttons to perform what the game refers to as brutal combos. These are pretty unfulfilling overall and just feel really out of place for some reason that I can’t really pinpoint. I would advise avoiding melee combat if your gun skills are more than up to snuff. I’m not even close to being a good shot, but I only ran out of ammo a few times later in the game and had to backtrack for more, so the melee combat isn’t an essential aspect of the game and it can be beaten very easily without going all Rocky Balboa on every pirate you meet.

The platforming sequences are pretty much ripped straight out of Tomb Raider. Nate will scale tons of cliffs, fortress walls, and vines throughout his travels. Most of the platforming moments just involve climbing up walls, shimmying around a little bit, and jumping to adjacent walls and such to find a way past obstacles. These sequences rarely last long and are, in my opinion, very under-utilized. Drake’s Fortune could have potentially a very incredible platformer but instead we’re only treated to Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider-esque climbing moments once every twenty or thirty minutes and they rarely last longer than a minute or two. This is a shame because they’re often quite fun and I enjoyed having to stop and look around for things to climb and jump to.

Melee combat is woefully unfulfilling and most players will probably opt to use firearms.

The puzzles of Drake’s Fortune are pretty straight forward and usually just involve flicking switches. The most advanced puzzle is one around the middle of the game when you have to point four statues in different directions to open a hidden passageway. Another puzzle indicates that you have to make two large church bells ring simultaneously to proceed. Well, that would be pretty hard in any other game, but in Drake’s Fortune Nate has guns. Yeah I just ruined the bell puzzle, but even a five year old would be able to figure that one out in approximately five seconds. Drake’s Fortune has very basic puzzles that will rarely, if ever, make you stop and wonder how you are supposed to even proceed. This isn’t all that bad since it keeps up with the steady pace of the rest of the game. It goes hand in hand with the quick platforming sequences, though the overly long gun fights usually bring the steady pace to a screeching halt for a few minutes.

Overall, there is no shortage of awesome things to say about Drake’s Fortune. It isn’t without problems, but the issues this game has are extremely minor and can be overcome, if not completely forgotten, by devoted players. The game only takes about eight hours to play through, but there are dozens of hidden goodies that will be missed on the first play through the game. By finding hidden treasures littered throughout the world and performing various tasks that award trophies, players will amass medals ingame which will unlock various bonus features such as playing with fun screen effects filters, using any gun in the game whenever you want, to even playing as Elena, Sully, or any of the game’s antagonists. There’s quite a bit to do in this game besides enjoy the fantastic story. The gameplay is blast, the characters are extremely likeable and memorable, and there’s tons of hidden goodies. Fans of adventure games will find lots to love in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Pros:
+ An unforgettable cast of characters who you’ll fall in love with.
+ Script and voice work are both among the best ever in a video game.
+ The game is still beautiful four years after release.

Cons:
– Aiming controls can be fairly sluggish.
– Melee combat feels out of place and depressingly bare-bones.
– Some shooting sequences can drag on for too long.

Final Score

9.5/10

Terraria (Review)

Terraria is a creative new action/adventure sandbox game by Re-Logic that encourages players to explore and be creative. While Terraria is often compared to Minecraft by many people, I won’t be making many comparisons between the two games because I feel that they are vastly different from one another. So, let’s dive on in and talk about Terraria.

First off, there is no story. After you make your character (picking a hairstyle, adjusting colour sliders, and slapping a name onto the sprite), you are just dumped into a randomly generated world with no indication as to what you need to do. Terraria does not hold your hand, so it is likely that anyone who didn’t properly research the game before buying it will immediately feel lost. Thankfully there is a “guide” NPC who will at least give players a few semi useful tips when he is right clicked.

The object of Terraria, right from the get go, is to harvest lumber and gather resources from subterrane locales so that you can outfit yourself with forged materials while also constructing a proper house or shelter for your character as well as the guide NPC. This must be done relatively quickly at the beginning of the game because, when night comes, flying eyeballs and zombies prowl the randomly generated landscape and they will not hesitate to tear you a new one due to the fact that players are grossly unprepared to take on either of these creatures upon first starting out.

The underground is where you'll spend most of your time.

To protect yourself for the nights, the game implies that you should use your hatchet to cut down trees and build a house. This is pretty easy to do. The hatchet, along with many other tools such as the hammer and pick, can be used by selecting them in your inventory and just holding the left mouse button down over whatever it is you wish to chop or cut. When you fell a tree, it will turn into about a dozen pieces of wood that you can pick up. Each piece of wood is a single block that can be used for building. If you want to make a square home, you’d need about forty pieces of wood (approximately five pieces for each side).

The wood you harvest can also be used to make objects such as chairs, work benches, and doors. Making the right objects and placing them in your constructed abodes can attract NPCs to live in your settlement. All NPCs have their own special requirments that must be met before they show up (as an example, a merchant will not come to settle unless your currency is equal to or greater than 50 silver coins) but beyond that, all they need is a room with a door, chair, table and sufficient lighting. Make a room with these elements and chances are you’ll eventually have an NPC living there.

There are several NPCs which all serve different purposes. The merchant will buy your goods and sell you various pieces of gear and miscellaneous items while the nurse NPC will heal your wounds. There are approximately six or seven different NPCs who can come to your settlement, and it feels really wonderful to have them show up and settle in your constructed buildings.

Beyond building houses and attracting NPCs, you can use the resources you gather to upgrade your equipment. Your tools (axe, hammer, pick) can all be upgraded, and you will also be able to forge armor and weapons as well. What you can forge depends on what kind of ores you have mined. Low tier ores such as copper or iron will give you pretty average armor and weapons that should enable you to stand up to creatures a little better, while higher tier ores such as gold or hellstone will definitely enable you to stand up and overpower most monsters with ease.

Want to build up into the sky? Not a problem. How about underground? Go right on ahead!

While Terraria’s surface world gameplay is mostly about building structures and staying safe, the underground gameplay is vastly different. With your trusty pick and torches, you will dive deep into caves and catacombs in search of ores and treasures. Terraria is fairly generous when you are close to the surface, giving you an ample amount of copper and stone while throwing relatively few enemies at you, but as you dig down deeper you will begin to encounter many new monster types that will force you to change your combat tactics often.

The underground areas of Terraria are actually far more interesting than the overworld. There are many different “regions” underground such as mushroom forests, underground jungles, dungeons, and rivers of molten magma. The environments that you come across depend upon how far down you are (except for underground jungles which are placed in any random underground location).

Now for a bit of technical aspects. How are the building/movement controls and the combat? They may feel a little peculiar at first since the game handles very much like a retro Super Nintendo game, but it is not hard to adjust. Placing blocks and building is extremely easy as it is just all point and click, while combat pretty much comprises of just pointing your character in a direction and clicking repeatedly until whatever you are fighting dies. It’s not a revolutionary combat system and it’s not at all deep, but it’s good enough and is fun at times. However, sometimes it feels as if monster respawn times are far too fast and you may be bombarded by upwards of half a dozen enemies at once. When this happens, combat may become frustrating or tedious.

Ingame menus can also be a little frustrating to navigate. While the overall presentation is pretty simplistic, the inventory screen is pretty cluttered and gets messy in a hurry. The crafting menu is nothing more than a column that you click through with your mouse. Clicking on an item will craft the item, but if you click even slightly off of the item’s icon, you’ll move the column to highlight another item, which can be a little annoying at times. The health bar is also confusing, as your life is depicted by a series of hearts like in Zelda… However, hovering over your hearts will present you with a numerical value for your life. Since whenever damage is inflicted in combat it is visually displayed in numerical format, wouldn’t it make more sense to just use plain text to display life rather than hearts? It is not always easy to judge how much health you are at. It’s an odd system, but it doesn’t put too much of a damper on the gameplay.

Bosses are large and incredibly epic. Bring lots of health potions!

The graphics are pretty admirable as a whole. Terraria looks a lot like a Super Nintendo game, which may partially be due to the fact that the creator of the game previously worked on the freeware Super Mario Bros. X game. The creator seems to have a deep love for retro gaming, and it really shines through Terraria’s graphics. Enemies are simplistic but nice looking, and environments all look like standard 16-bit platforming fare. Anyone who appreciates 2D graphics should feel right at home in Terraria. 3D enthusiasts, however, are less likely to enjoy Terraria’s worlds.

The sound effects are mostly generic noises that won’t sound too new to anyone. Most of the sound effects in Terraria are bumps, clunks, and thuds. The music is a whole different story. It seems to be widely agreed upon that the music in Terraria is exceedingly pleasant to listen to. Like the graphics, Terraria’s music seems to have come straight out of the 16-bit gaming era. The day time music sounds cute and cheerful while the night theme is spooky and really evokes a feeling that you need to get to safety before the flying eyeballs make quick work of burying you six feet under.

So how much of a sandbox game is Terraria? Well, even though there is the goal of building a settlement and expanding it while keeping it safe, there is no time limit to it and you’re basically free to do whatever you want at any time you desire. For example, rather than working at upgrading gear and attracting NPCs, a friend and I have instead been focusing on turning a floating island into a stronghold that we can live in and store our resources and supplies in, and it’s taking several hours to do this!

Terraria is $10 on Steam and is a real steal at such a price. Free updates over time have been confirmed, promising that this already entertaining and open game will become even better with time. If you like dungeon crawlers or sandbox games, then Terraria is definitely worth checking out.

PROS:
+ Building is simplistic but very satisfying.
+ Insane amount of craftable items.
+ Multiplayer is loads of fun.

CONS:
– Too much time is spent underground.
– Crafting menu and inventory are not user friendly.
– Combat could’ve been fleshed out more.

Final Score

8.8/10

Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light

It looks like a new Tomb Raider game is in the works, though “Tomb Raider” has been dropped from title and has simply been replaced with Lara Croft’s name. Even checking out what the game is all about, it’s not hard to see why the naming of this installment is different.

What sets this game apart from Lara’s previous adventures is the nature of the game itself. This is no longer a third person adventure game. Guardian of Light is, instead, an isometric 3D platformer/puzzle game that relies heavily on co-op multiplayer. Now that’s certainly a different approach to Tomb Raider!

In this game, Lara is off looking for a “Mirror of Smoke” which is apparently stolen by some bad guy. The Mirror’s guardian, Totec, must work together to get the Mirror back. This is where the title comes, as Totec is the Guardian of Light in the name.

The game will apparently play like an arcade adventure game. My immediate impression is that the game probably played like a Diablo style game, but instead I believe it to be closer to the classic Prince of Persia titles. The arcade aspect comes from having a score that will increase as you defeat opponents and find collectables.

I have never been a huge Tomb Raider fan, but this looks wildly different from Lara’s previous adventures and just may be more mainstream. Overall, it looks like an interesting game which will be available via digital download. If the price is reasonable, I will probably give the game a try. To conclude this little article, here’s a trailer.

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