At first blush it would be easy to compare Nathan Drake, the treasure-hunting star of Sony’s new adventure videogame “Uncharted,” with “Tomb Raider’s” Lara Croft. But Drake leaves Lara in the dust, delivering the Indiana Jones experience better than gamers have ever seen it before, thanks to an intriguing plot, intense action, emotive graphics and the sort of true character development rarely found in a videogame. Though a weak final level drags down the overall experience a bit, “Uncharted” brings the PlayStation 3 a much-needed new face and should quickly secure a diehard fanbase.
The game opens as Drake and romantic interest Elena Fisher uncover a clue to the treasure of El Dorado in the long-lost coffin of Sir Francis Drake, an ancestor of the hero whose diary provides clues along the way. That sends the duo on a shooting, climbing, puzzle-solving adventure that unfolds over approximately 10 intense hours.
Gamers control Drake from a third-person perspective, floating behind and above his shoulder as he explores the tropical settings of the game looking for clues and fighting mercenaries. A large portion of “Uncharted” involves intense firefights with the bad guys — mercenaries who use a surprisingly diverse mix of tactics to pin down and eventually kill Drake. Not content with just sitting in front of him and popping off shots, the mercenaries work together to flank the hero, sometimes sneaking around the sides of a battlefield or providing each other cover fire.
Game’s few racing levels, both on Jeep and Jetski, don’t hold up to that quality level, however. The graphics suddenly become choppy and the gameplay less smooth.
Developers were careful to break up the intensity of the battles with plenty of beautifully animated cut-scenes. The facial animations and eyes in particular are beautifully rendered. Only the mouth movements fail to rival live-action video.
The plot is filled with snappy dialogue and unexpected twists and turns. But thankfully none of it is overindulged, leading to a well-paced experience that doesn’t try to draw too much attention to the writing.
“Uncharted” is also filled with dozens of puzzles, some quite simple and others impressively challenging. As Drake swings around giant stone sculptures in an underground library to unlock a hidden door, to take one example, players will appreciate how much more the game is than typical run-and-gun shooter.
The end, however, fails to live up to the rest of the experience. The final confrontation of “Uncharted” is a drawn-out ordeal that seems to have been created to lengthen the game rather than better it. The need to repeatedly face the game’s main antagonist but never directly take him on becomes annoying and then ends so abruptly it almost makes the payoff not worth the journey.
Fortunately, the final cut-scene gets the game quickly back on track and reminds gamers why it was worth playing.