PREVIEW: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Is the ‘Bloke Raider’ tag warranted? Is it innovative enough? Can the graphics outdo those of Heavenly Sword?
One of PlayStation 3’s great hopes before the end of the year comes from Sony stalwart Naughty Dog, responsible for both the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter series on previous consoles. And the half-affectionate murmurs of ‘Bloke Raider’ aren’t too far off the chart in terms of how Drake’s Fortune is shaping up: you control Nathan Drake, a descendant of Sir Francis Drake, who finds in his predecessor’s coffin a clue as to the location of Eldorado’s treasure, then heads off on a search to a faraway island. Predictably, it doesn’t go smoothly.
The Tomb Raider comparisons are warranted: the game alternates between combat sections where Drake (and sometimes a companion) faces up to a flow of tooled-up mercenaries, and environmental puzzles that range from opening a door to finding your way up a big wall. The latter elements can seem something of a throwback, with the main examples shown thus far involving rotating statues and pulling levers to raise water levels, although they at least provide some sedentary and none-too-challenging moments away from the gun fighting (and one illustrates a neat movement between shifting items and checking Drake’s journal, which seems to hold solutions that aren’t obvious from the game setup). The only worry is that, like some locations on show, they may be badly signposted. Some areas look like they should be accessible but simply aren’t, so you’ll find yourself running up dead alleys and around the same space searching for an entrance you’ve missed that’s hidden in a wall.
The combat is accomplished in certain respects, but can feel a little clumsy. It’s from the cover-and-fire school of videogames, and alternates between tense standoffs with one or two enemies and large onslaughts from groups. Moving from cover to cover and ducking out to fire is relatively smooth (though will hopefully be tweaked in the remainder of development to remove scenery sticking points). The enemies have a tendency to dance from your bullets, and don’t seem like the most intelligent of foes, but they’re good shots and will quickly take you down in the open. Your partner, on the other hands, hangs back and takes potshots but can prove a little useless.
Graphically, Drake’s Fortune is perhaps not so much a technical as an imaginative achievement. In terms of sheer grunt it has already been surpassed by Heavenly Sword, but it does have its own pleasingly ruined aesthetic, with vaulted stone constructions covered in creeping vines, foliage peeping out of brick walls, and moss-encrusted fountains. Drake himself is excellently realized, and the game is full of little touches, such as his trousers getting wet in water. Less impressive is the animation, which isn’t as fluid (or easy to control) as had previously been suggested: making leaps can be fiddly at times, and it’s possible to feel little kinetic connection to the scenery.
Drake’s Fortune is looking like it will turn out to be an extremely solid, if unspectacular, title. For that alone, many PS3 owners will be delighted at its imminent arrival, and it certainly fits well with users’ tastes. But is it innovative enough? If nothing else, it needs a little tightening up of the fundamentals to be really accomplished, and worthy of those comparisons to Ms Croft.