Without question, one of Sony’s most popular, and bankable, video game franchises is Uncharted. Nathan Drake’s pulpy-blockbuster film styled adventures have wowed gamers with its simplistic, yet tightly refined, gameplay, impressive action sequences, and overall consistently great stories.
The four main games in the series have won a variety of awards including a few Game of the Year awards.
Now, the series has reached another milestone: it’s now officially an age where people can create retrospectives on it!
While an entire series retrospective would be great (and potentially something later on…) we’re taking a look at the first game as a curiosity. What made Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune so appealing? Or better yet, how did it become a franchise?
“Greatness from small beginnings…” Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune development
After Jak 3 wrapped up, Naughty Dog decided to create a brand new IP. The new series was a drastic overhaul in terms of art and design, as up to this point their games were cartoonish and stylized. This time around, Naughty Dog wanted to create real people. They also wanted to make an action game that was less videogame-like and far more cinematic. Amy Hennig, who served as the creative director and writer of the first three games, took cues from old-school adventure films from the 40s, as well as colorful summer blockbusters of today. Thus, the core concept behind Uncharted was born
How is Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune?
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune tells the story of Nathan Drake, a supposed descendant of Sir Francis Drake, who is on the trail to find the lost city of El Dorado (cue recently-praised-for-some-reason-reference to The Road to El Dorado). Drake is accompanied by his grizzled, wisecracking mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan and television host Elena Fisher. Along the way, some old enemies of Drake and Sully come back to take the gold… The adventure involves an ancient curse, old Nazi U-boats, and more than several gunfights.
From the moment you boot up the PS3, you’ll notice something that was missing from games circa 2007: color and personality. The opening cutscenes still hold up in terms of how well animated and acted they are. Nathan Drake is almost immediately likable as a rougish everyman when he and Elena encounter some pirates. From there, all the characters fit right in place with the game and all exhibit real chemistry with one another. Nate and Elena aren’t immediately love interests, but rather work together throughout and Elena even holds her own in the action.
Not to go off on a sort-of tangent, it’s nice to see a legitimately interesting female lead who is well-rounded and doesn’t seem like she’s just there. As the series progresses, Elena becomes one of the franchises most likable characters.
Throughout the game, the story will keep you hooked. It feels like an old-school film serial, as plot points have the melodramatic “Okay, and now what?” motif. For example, Drake is searching through an old German submarine, fights off bizarre creatures and then finds the bad guys right there. Another point of the game has a huge fake-out that gets revealed 3/4ths in and then transitions into another plot point involving an underground city!
At its core, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a cover-based, third-person shooter. In terms of new features, for those familiar with Gears of War, the shooting will make you feel at home. But something about it feels smoothed out. Same goes for the platforming, as it is always fun to jump from ledge to ledge or swing across the ocean on some ancient temple.
The game’s level design ranges from linear, but fun, platforming to wide-open gunfights that transition into one another with ease.
One thing that keeps Drake’s Fortune from being boring is the fact Naughty Dog changes things up. From one minute you’re in a jungle with ancient ruins, and then you’re in an old Nazi compound, and then you’re in an ancient church. Every environment is gorgeous to look at and just oozes with color. The jungles and water effects are two standouts in the graphics department. Naughty Dog tends to set their platformers in tropical, outdoor environments and this is no different.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and the rest of the series as a whole, embodies Naughty Dog’s spirit of consistency. Many of their games have an underlying development theme of “not doing anything new, but rather doing everything right.” In the same way, Indiana Jones was a celebration of adventure film serials and tropes, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune celebrates the same tropes but within action video games. The game does not do anything truly new or revolutionary, but rather sets out to entertain the player till the end.
And in that regard, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune succeeds in nearly every category.
Uncharted as a franchise has stood on its own based on these merits, with each game just looking to be more entertaining than the last.