I continue my impromptu run-through of Naughty Dog’s catalog with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the cinematic blockbuster that took the developer to a whole new level. Even so, while there are elements of Uncharted that are truly sublime, its formulaic delivery and a few frustrating segments hold it back from being on the level of much of the company’s previous work.
One thing that Drake’s Fortune does better than any previous Naughty Dog game is fostering a meaningful relationship between the characters. There were elements of relationships between the cast of Jak II and Jak 3 that didn’t quite add up (especially between the games), but the bonds formed between main protagonist Nathan Drake (who I’d take over Crash or Jak any day) his friend and sidekick Sully and the innocently beautiful Elena are established quickly and continue to morph over the course of the game in a believable and natural way. From a graphical standpoint, it was on a whole other level from just about any previous game; the character animation is top notch and the environments are breathtaking. The gunplay is also fluid and exciting, improving upon what Naughty Dog had accomplished with Jak II and 3 and delivering it in a much more realistic manner (or as realistic as having one man shoot down an army of would-be killers can be).
Despite these triumphs, though, there are some key elements that don’t always click in Drake’s Fortune. While much of the platforming works once players get the hang of it, there are too many instances where specific paths that the player is intended to take are unclear, resulting in some frustrating trial and error that simply doesn’t exist in Crash Bandicoot or Jak and Daxter. Also, as great as the gunplay is, there really isn’t much else to do in the game beyond running and gunning, which can get old quickly if you’re not into that sort of thing. When the devs did try to mix things up (which happened much more rarely than in Jak 3), they did so with even worse results; a couple of watery rides atop a hard-to-control jet ski resulted in a number of annoying deaths and I was always ready to get back to dry ground as quickly as possible to avoid the frustration. Finally, the final boss deviates from what made much of the rest of the game great; players must best him in a specific way that, much like the platforming, results in some frustrating trial-and-error, and it doesn’t make much sense considering how easily Drake blasted through all of the main baddies’ henchmen only minutes earlier.
I’ve always heard that the sequels in the Uncharted trilogy deliver a markedly better experience than the original. If that’s the case, then they must be wondrous games indeed. Drake’s Fortune isn’t a masterpiece, but it does build an excellent framework that sets the stage for some potentially grand follow-ups.