The trend of cinematic games can be traced back to Naughty Dog’s adventurous series: Uncharted. These third-person shooters have a heavy emphasis on writing, storytelling, and cinematic aspects. If you were to transform Indiana Jones into a video game, Uncharted would be the result. The series follows Nathan Drake, a charismatic treasure hunter who is addicted to the thrill of unraveling century-old mysteries and claiming their bounties. The first game in the series, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, sets the tone and formula for its successors.
Uncharted bases its adventures in myths from reality, which provides an interesting alternate history spin on most of Drake’s travels. For example, in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Drake and company are hunting for El Dorado. Drake deciphers a series of clues to lead him to the lost city of gold. There is an air of mystery of why the city has never been found and why its treasures have been undiscovered for so long. The trail of clues leads the player across the globe, from remote jungles to abandoned citadels to dilapidated cities. While the overarching story is nothing spectacular or groundbreaking, it serves as a backdrop to the characters themselves.
The quality of writing in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is shockingly good, especially for a game that came out in 2007. Video games have always had an issue with campy writing, but are usually excused as writing is not nearly as important in games as it is in film. Luckily, games in the past few years have done a much better job at hiring professional writers to create natural and flowing dialogue. The Uncharted series may have been the start of this trend, as the emphasis on quality dialogue is apparent. The characters banter and rib each other like friends would in real life. They have obvious motivations and flaws which shape their personalities. Drake’s drive to discover lost treasure is one of his greatest strengths as it makes him remarkably persistent. Yet his single-mindedness in this regard often thrusts himself and his companions into danger. All of the characters of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune feel like real humans, with tangible desires and personalities, and this is all due to the natural dialogue and writing.
The gameplay of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune revolves around three pillars: gunfights, puzzles, and climbing. The game attempts to strike a balance between these vastly different styles of interaction. These components have strikingly variation in player interactivity. Gunfights require the player’s full attention, you need to constantly search for cover, aim and shoot, keep track of where enemies are, rotate through different weapons, and so on and so forth. Puzzles in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune do not necessitate much thought or input from the player. The vast majority of them have the player open up Drake’s notebook and decipher a clue on how to progress. Most of the time, this means hitting switches or levers in a certain order. Not exactly cerebral or engaging. Climbing is the least interesting element of all. Simply hitting a button to jump from ledge to ledge is a far cry from strategically making your way through a gunfight.
What I consider to be the core gameplay of the Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune series are its gunfights. These games are third-person shooters which utilize a cover system. Hitting a button will duck the player behind nearby cover, and clicking your aim button will pop your head out to take a few shots at open enemies. Generally, this iteration of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune feels a bit like a shooting gallery. You pop up for a couple of seconds to blast at an enemy or two, and then duck back down to avoid taking too much damage. Rinse and repeat until all enemies are eliminated. Occasionally, enemies will try to run up to you or use grenades to flush you out of cover, but for the most part you can just sit behind a single wall to dispatch of most foes. Its not nearly as exciting as it could be.
Moreover, the gunplay just feels off to me. Bullets don’t feel like they have significant impact. Enemies don’t really recoil when they are hit, so its hard to gauge if you are even landing your shots. This is not helped by the fact that some enemies have massive health pools and take loads of shots to take down. Furthermore, hit registration feels very off. Headshots in particular seem to miss way more often than they should. All in all, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune definitely feels a bit dated in its gunplay mechanics, which is not surprising for a game that I am playing 12 years after its initial release.
What Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune does best is cultivate the feeling of adventure and discovery. The prospect of playing as a globetrotting treasure hunter is one of the most appealing aspects of the series. Drake travels the world, picking up breadcrumbs left by historic adventurers. This idea lands the player in a variety of locales, exploring tight caverns and catacombs as well as climbing to peaks of mountains to view scenic vistas. Every game needs an intriguing concept, and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune nails that.
Overall, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune felt dated in a lot of its design. The stiff gunplay and occasionally cumbersome controls cannot be ignored. Additionally, a huge draw of the series is just soaking in the scenic horizons of the game’s various locales. This is far less attractive when the game is 12 years old and is far removed from being graphically impressive. Its hard to fault the game for me playing it so late, but its undeniable that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune suffers from its age. Regardless, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune did a great job in many aspects such as capturing the sense of adventure and having well written characters. That is why I am excited to play the later entries in the series, as I hope that some modernization is all that Uncharted needs.