Another one of my "I finally got around to"s, here... this time, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I'd known it was supposed to be quite good, but a game with no real innovations, no multiplayer, and an eight hour campaign with little reason to replay I will NOT pay fifty or sixty bucks for. Sorry, you gotta have more than that. So I finally picked it up now that it's a Greatest Hit, and the sequel looks like something I am willing to pay fifty to sixty bucks for. And though it doesn't melt my face with awesome... I am extremely pleased with the game thus far.
It's an extremely derative title, mixing a Prince of Persia-style gameplay of acrobatics and puzzles with a Gears of War inspired combat system and the backdrop of an Indiana Jones move. All of this is good, but it's not one of those titles that you know is going to rock just from the concept. If the team that made it weren't established already, I imagine they would have had a rough time getting the game off the ground. The concept is solid, but it's not very special. It's the execution that makes it so great.
First off, Naughty Dog tells a good story here, though the story is fairly light and typical. It's not the plot that is appealing, it's the well-acted, well-written characters, particularly Drake. He's one of my favorite protagonists I've played in quite some time... certainly in this generation of consoles. He's fun and charming without actually being suave- women hardly fall at his feet; he's very expressive, letting out whoops of success and managing some very delightful "oh no"s- he comes across as a character that is able to make light of any situation while still seeming realistic. As things are happening to him, he's always taking it seriously, but he doesn't stress about what is done. When it's all over, he wants to have a good laugh about it all. It's a great integration of a coping mechanism, and it makes Drake seem very, very human, and all the more likable for it.
Another point worth noting... I very, very rarely note graphics. Really, pretty graphics are nice, but that is not at all a priority to me. But Uncharted... it really astonished me. The first time I came out of a lake, and realized that not only were Drake's clothes actually wet, but they were actually wrinkling in response to his actions... I was just blown away. It's not poly count here, though the poly count is really something... it's cleverly applied physics and, not exaggerating, perhaps the best animations I have ever seen. Any action you do, there are multiple animations for. For some very basic actions, there are seemingly a dozen or more. It's staggering, and it really makes the game feel like a movie, feel great to watch.
The gunplay is simple but fun, the puzzles are challenging enough to make you think, but not hard enough to break the follow and momentum, and the acrobatics are delightful. Cutscenes, too, are wonderful, if only to experience more of Nolan North's awesome Nathan Drake. Seriously, if anyone but this man lands the role for Drake in the Uncharted movie (unless it's Nathan Fillion, that would rock too) I really don't think I'll see it, despite what a natural fit Uncharted and a movie are. There are no amazing new ideas for the industry, no moments of mind-blowing art design- the level designers set up some very beautiful vistas over and over, but they are not going to change the industry (no offense, they really are very gorgeous!). It's not a game that is going (or did, I suppose) to really advance game design. What it succeeds at is being a technically excellent, fun to watch, delightful to play, relentless single player game with excellent mechanics and characters, and some truly remarkable animation.
I was watching a Gametrailers.com review of the second, actually, and they summed it up quite nicely- the Uncharted games are a perfect condensation of the best ideas to come out of gaming in recent years, basically. And you know... that's not a bad way to spend sixty bucks. I suppose I would have paid full price for this game after all.