The minute I started Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune I thought, “This is going to be a great game.” The characters are strong and likeable, the atmosphere is amazingly designed and rendered, and the story is fun and wondrous. It wasn’t until I was about 40% into this game that I started to realize that Drake’s Fortune is not good, and that’s okay.
Uncharted came out for the PS3 in late 2007 and immediately impressed players with the game’s engine, snappy dialogue, cinematic structure and acting. All of those features should help make Drake’s Fortune a good game, and that it was, but today those mechanics just don’t hold up.
General consensus is that the first Uncharted is the worst game in the series when looking back on it as a whole. Uncharted came from an established studio and at a time when the PlayStation 3 needed a flagship exclusive. In addition, the game looked so good in 2007, and nothing else like it was on the market at the time, and as a result, Drake’s Fortune was revered among critics and fans alike.
Uncharted has a way of convincing players that the game’s mechanics are good by the way the game is structured with its incredible way of capturing cinematics. However, when it comes to actually playing Drake’s Fortune, it’s plainly not fun. Uncharted is billed as an action-adventure, but in reality, Drake’s Fortune is a repetitive, second-rate cover-based shooter unevenly speckled with some awkward climbing and cheesy puzzles. I personally enjoyed the puzzling, but emptying entire clips into the same handful of bad guys literally spawning from everywhere does not make for the best gameplay.
For me personally, I found it exhausting to keep repeating the same shoot, climb, cut-scene pattern no matter where I went in the game. I found myself yelling at my screen on the verge of tears after repeating shooting segments over and over and always failing; “I’m tired of shooting people! All I want to do is find some fucking treasure!” I know that cover-based shooters were in their infancy in 2007, but in Drake’s Fortune, the mechanic almost seems like an afterthought.
Parts of the internet agree with these gameplay complaints but are usually met with comments suggesting that maybe Uncharted just isn’t the game for that person. I considered this in regards to myself, but the thing is, Uncharted is the type of game for me. I cut my teeth playing platformers, but where I really grew as a gamer was playing third person shooters. I loved taking out a slew of enemies and honing my headshot skills. But somehow, in Drake’s Fortune, it didn’t feel good. I think it’s because the fun and simple story is padded out with many mindless and unrewarding shooting segments. The amazing storyline and the clunky action scenes plainly don’t compliment each other. Drake’s Fortune is not quite an action-adventure game, and not quite a shooter, and therefore falls into the cracks between the two.
But I’m not alone, and Naughty Dog developers agree with many of these complaints about the gameplay in the first Uncharted. Gamesatura published a “post-mortem” article in 2008 written by two Naughty Dog developers, Richard Lemarchand and Neil Druckmann, who both worked on Uncharted, and they fully recognize that the action segments of the game came as an afterthought. The authors put it that “because [they] were very focused on creating technology in the early part of the project — the engine, the rendering pipeline, and tools — [they] didn’t have the programming support to prototype our gameplay ideas.” Lemarchand and Druckman describe that the team was often so focused on their “lofty aspirations” for what they wanted the game to be, that the actual building of these ideas came late in the process and the team spent a lot of time playing catch up.
Additionally, these developers recognize that correctly tuning enemies to capture realism is incredibly hard. Developing the enemies began with the idea that each enemy would be a formidable opponent for Drake, but test players brought up that enemies taking a bunch of bullets before dying is unrealistic. Naughty Dog then tried to tune it to waves of enemies, which is why the game feels so exhausting: the player defeats one wave and another wave generates in order to create difficulty. But this type of artificial difficulty doesn’t always equal fun, and that’s the case in Drake’s Fortune.
Regardless of all of these problems, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is still pretty alright. I love the story’s simplicity and getting to play as Nathan Drake alongside great secondary characters. It’s understandable why this game won so many awards and accolades and is regarded as pioneering for the PlayStation 3. All of the problems I have with the game went on to be fixed in the rest of the Uncharted franchise, but going back and playing Drake’s Fortune, one can see that the game isn’t up to today’s standards. Drake’s Fortune is clunky, frustrating, and very emblematic of game development in 2007. Play Drake’s Fortune, and you’ll likely get frustrated because it doesn’t hold up very well after ten years, but it’s an experience worth enduring to see how Naughty Dog became one of the most well respected studios in gaming.