January 9, 2008 by Tim

So I’ve been playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and true to my word, I bring you my impressions. To sum it up, this is one of the best games I have played in the last few months. And not just the best PS3 game, because let’s face it, that wouldn’t be saying much at all. No, this is one of the best games I’ve played in the last few months on any system, and that company includes Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect.

I’ll get to the “finally, PS3 gets a great title” part of this in a second, but I want to talk about the game itself first. I think the best way to describe it would be to say… that it is like playing a movie. As far as I’m concerned, this game at least, if no other, disproves the idea that video games cannot be written and acted to the same level of television and film.

The voice acting for these characters is some of the best I have ever heard in a video game, and that’s what grabs you right out of the gate, the sheer character of these… well, characters. It also doesn’t hurt that (at least to me) Nathan Drake sounds eerily like Nathan Fillion (but it isn’t his voice). Also, it may just be me, but I think Sully looks an awful lot like Paul Newman. All I can think of when I see him is Fast Eddie. Though he also has a little bit of young Marlon Brando to him as well.

This is the opening scene of the game, so there are no spoilers here. It gives a pretty good idea of the caliber of voice acting (and movie style feel) you can expect throughout the game (video quality is kind of crap, the first 10 seconds especially, but it’s the only thing I could find)

That’s all in-game graphics by the way (I think… if they’re not, the actual gameplay looks so damned good I can’t tell the difference). Second cut scene is here, if you’re curious for more.

Basically you play as Nathan Drake, a descendant of Sir Francis Drake, on a hunt for big treasure. It’s a lot of pulp action/adventure with tomb-raiding, vine-swinging, cliff-scaling, modern pirate-fighting alongside your sassy female reporter tag-along, and your older partner who owes money to all the wrong people. Not a lot that you haven’t seen before, if you enjoy action/adventure movies in the vein of Indiana Jones. However the execution of all of these elements is so masterfully done, you’ll end up getting sucked into and enjoying the story just as much as an Indiana Jones flick (not counting the new one, since we have no idea yet, but I hope it measures up).

And dare I say it… this game may just be a better tomb raider than Tomb Raider. Which goes to show that crypt-crawling and treasure hunting can be fun without big hooters. Though on an interesting note, I seem to have been conditioned by years of gaming to always expect the “surprise attack” when I’m crawling around in the dark ruins of a long dead civilization. So it was throwing me off quite a bit, as I was expecting all of these skeletons lying around to leap out at me. I found myself jumping and shooting a lot of “just to be sure” bullets for a while there. However Uncharted is (so far) not that kind of game, and is (so far) rooted mostly in reality. So aside from the present-day pirates hunting the same treasure you are, your number one foe becomes the environment itself, and Uncharted handles it well. It’s a lot of platforming and leaping from ledge to ledge, but controls are nice and responsive, so I haven’t encountered any of those frustrating platforming moments we’re all familiar with.

If you have a PS3, and you don’t own this game, I don’t know what the hell you spent $600 for. So far, this is the very first PS3 game that commands me to play it through to the end. The PS3 has had titles I enjoy, don’t get me wrong. I liked Motorstorm, I liked Ratchet and Clank (though I haven’t sat down to seriously play it yet, the first level did not grab me in the same way Uncharted did). The fact that the really good cross platform titles (Stranglehold, Orange Box) come to the PS3 literally months later doesn’t help the system at all, but it wouldn’t matter for me anyway. I like achievements, it’s as simple as that. So my PS3 is all about the exclusives, and so I’m really psyched about actually getting some use out of the thing. Now just a few more games of this quality on the shelves and the PS3 might start shaking off that awful launch stigma.

In the end it’s all about personal taste anyway. I mean I can tell you flat out right now that the PS3 will just never match my 360 for my attention. And it’s not that one system is “better” than the other, or any fanboy horseshit like that, and it’s not even the achievements. It’s personal taste. What kind of personal taste? Well… the Xbox is an American system, and the PS3 is a Japanese system.

That’s not an “Oh America is so great, Japan sucks” kind of statement, but there are some very stark cultural differences between America and Asia, and Microsoft puts out mostly American games, and a lot of Sony’s games tend to come from Asian developers, and in the end I tend to prefer games that are of American (or English) origin, for a variety of reasons.

For instance, there is a gigantic difference between American RPGs and Japanese RPG’s. I prefer the western take on RPGs: Lots of character customization and personal identity, very open worlds, and most often real-time combat. On the flip side Asian RPGs tend to stick you with some very stylized characters, often the same ones over and over again, and if they do give you a character creator, there are very few options. The worlds are usually chock full of invisible barriers (stay on that road, you can’t go on the grass, for some reason) that keep you on a very linear path. Turn-based combat… well, it’s not the worst, but I just don’t prefer it.

Our two cultures just have a lot of differences and that makes its way into our video games and the emphasis on certain features over others. Of course I’m not saying that I’ve never enjoyed a game from Japan, because that’s just ridiculous. But there are certain elements of Asian games that have no appeal to me. I don’t like Final Fantasy for all of the reasons listed above. Dynasty Warriors and similar games where it’s just grind, grind, grind, then grind some more are another example. Ten minutes or so of your one dude wiping out whole armies is pretty neat, but soon realize that’s all the game is, for eight to ten hours, and there’s just no interest for me there.

Poor translations and voice acting is another killer of Asian imports for me. Folklore on the PS3 is a prime example of this. I thought it was a really interesting game, and it clearly had a neat atmosphere and story going for it. I couldn’t handle the horrible translations and voice acting. You could just tell something got lost on the trip overseas.

The PS3 has a lot going for it, if it can just get some of their hyped game actually, you know, out. Metal Gear Solid will probably sell a few systems. Home and Little Big Planet (which is now due in September if you hadn’t hear *grumble grumble*) would go a long way to competing with the community aspect of Xbox Live.

When I play a game like Uncharted, it reminds me that the PS3 most definitely is capable of being a next-gen system. It’s easy to forget about it when week after week there are no games coming out for it that I want. But I would love to see them pull out of their slump and turn things around. Who knows, maybe 2008 will be their year.

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