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Talk of writing about games for cash is not the best way to start a review. But here I wanted to highlight how infrequently am I so moved by a game experience to put pen to paper in favour of a thousand other things I should be writing. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is one of those rare moments that reminds me why I love games.
The game starts with us peering through the murky depths at a barnacle encrusted coffin, Sir Francis Drake's coffin we are led to believe. Up on ship, whilst our male and female leads are introduced, we are presented with a notebook drawn from the now open coffin that will lead us through the coming ten hours or so of adventuring, gun play and puzzles.
Before long we have dealt with our first gun fight, and are in the jungle trying to make sense of Drake's scribbled notes. Already we have found this to be a game of excellent parts. The climbing and exploring is a more scripted version of Altair's exploits in Assassins Creed. The gun play, complete with melee and cover system is as fun as anything we have seen in Gears of War. The sense of place, ingenuity and believability of the environments exceeds tops anything Tomb Raider has to offer.
Nathan is as much a Han Solo lead as you could wish for.
However, even with all this excellence and attention to detail, this game is overshadowed by one element within which the other parts all coalesce. This is a game more about characters than anything else. Nathan is as much a Han Solo lead as you could wish for. Not a million miles from the ironic man's man stylings of Firefly's Mal, with an equal number of comedic expletives and knowing looks (almost) to camera. This overlap is echoed in the filmic musical score that has been created by Greg Edmonson who also did both Firefly's and Serenity's soundtrack.
More impressive than the game's commitment to it's visual delivery and sense of place is its commitment to these characters. Cut scenes are full motion capture and stick to the game engine. Voice work and lip syncing is as good as it needs to be and equals anything of its age. Dialogue is well written and believable. But most interesting for me is the fact that the spoken word sections are not skipable. This commitment pays off, and probably most telling is that I rarely reached for the skip button in any case.
Story and setting barrels along at a quite a lick with both plot points and locations making their mark and then moving on. The graphical language of each location is often as good at narrating proceedings as the dialogue. Sun breaking through a broken castle window, or low over the Mediterranean sea is both delighting and appropriate. The story takes a turn for the worse and is matched by misty highland ruined temples. It plunges into the depths of depravity and likewise the player is taken into the dungeons and Moria like cave systems, the bright evening sunlight now just a memory.
And because you are more involved you become more committed and the experience stays with you that much longer.
Then some ten hours or so later we emerge out the other side of our ride. Slightly breathless and still processing all that has gone before, the credits roll and orchestra kick in their crescendo. It's a feeling that stays with you as much as watching an epic movie that managed to grab you (for me Lord of the Rings). You reach for the remote to instinctively watch the extras, and here too Uncharted delivers as comprehensive a set of Making Of strips as you could want.
But Uncharted being a game, there is something more than all the big movie feeling. The story has been told as much by your actions as by the narrated sections. Your emotions have been evoked more by your agency as Nathan as by the beautiful setting and music. And because you are more involved you become more committed and the experience stays with you that much longer.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: