Last night I had the uncontrollable urge to fire up UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune. I don’t think I have played it since the UNCHARTED 2: Among Thieves came out back in October 2009. Too much studying gaming to get done, you see. I was quite keen to see how I would react to playing the game again in a post UNCHARTED 2 world. Until Among Thieves, Drake’s Fortune was possibly my second favourite game (after Wizardry8), but Among Thieves very quickly took the top spot. (I think it had me at “There’s a guy above you, there’s a guy above you!” – pull the guy off the roof, he falls to his doom – “There’s a guy below you, there’s a guy below you!”)
After its 2007 Release
Drake’s Fortune was (quite rightly) praised for almost every aspect of the game. Ok, so not everybody loved it, but largely speaking the game was well received. The negative criticism centred around the shortness of the story, the lack of unique points (apparently action-adventure has been done before) and a few weirdos thought Nathan Drake lacked “charm.” However, the graphics, gameplay, story, sound and characters were hailed as being something special by the majority.
When I switched on my PS3 yesterday evening and heard that beautiful title theme, I felt that warm, fuzzy feeling you get at Christmas with a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie (or a glass of warm milk and a chocolate chip cookie for you US folk). Maybe that’s just me, but I knew that I was not going to have to worry about having Drake’s Fortune ruined by its more handsome, younger brother. As you know, the game opens with Nathan and Elena opening the coffin of Sir Francis Drake. Nathan’s charm is immediately obvious; he is clearly enjoying the moment that I presume he has been building up to for a lot of his life; going a step closer to proving that Sir Francis faked his death, and therefore he did potentially have children, from whom Nate could be descended.
What stands out about this opening scene is that we have instant chemistry between Nate and Elena, and I don’t even mean sexual chemistry; they spark off each other brilliantly. Credit for this must certainly go to Naughty Dog’s script writers, but also a hefty share lands in the laps of Emily Rose and Nolan North. The dialogue in the crucial opening sequence is spot on. I’ve seen and heard it all a million times before, but it still makes me laugh. Nathan does come across as a bit cocky in this scene, but he is showing off to a woman he fancies a little bit.
The prologue to Drake’s Fortune, up until the U-boat scene, is far friendlier than that of Among Thieves. You can tell that Nate and Victor Sullivan have been partners and friends for a long time, and although they don’t always agree on the correct course of action (see Nathan’s exasperated glare when Gabriel Roman tells him that Sully had let on that he was on the trail of some hot treasure), they fit together as a team; the relationship also strikes me as paternal/filial. The attraction with Sully’s character, from the point of view of the gamer, lies in the fact that he is one of those ‘older men’ that you don’t mind being a bit of a flirt. You can tell that he is ultimately harmless and a softie at heart.
On the Other Hand
Among Thieves feels entirely different at the start. Nathan is accosted in a beach side bar by his old pal Harry Flynn and is roped into the museum theft job. I have long since believed than while intelligent, Nathan is incredibly naive, and leaves himself, his brains and his good nature open to exploitation by those less well-meaning than him. This is, for me at least, quite uncomfortable to watch, as stepping in and staging an intervention can not happen. It isn’t just in the opening sequence that this naivety comes out; when Harry produces tranquiliser guns in the museum, Nathan mistakes them for real guns. Once Nate is certain that he is not about to take the lives of innocent museum guards, Harry explains how they work. “I know how to shoot a gun, genius” is the slightly sulky and defensive response.
Because of this chummy feel that you don’t get with Among Thieves, returning to Drake’s Fortune feels like a friends’ reunion. You just know that Elena is going to be on your side (OK, so you have played it before, but still…) You don’t worry that she is going to screw you over at the earliest opportunity. (Chloe Frazer.) The mood therefore seems lighter and breezier. This is not to say that Among Thieves is dark and humourless; in fact its humour is one thing that I often cite favourably above all else. Some of the lines in Among Thieves have me laughing out loud; particularly those between Nate and Flynn; “I appreciate the update Captain Obvious”; “Ladies first” [sarcastic laugh]; “There’s a life-size statue of your ego…”; but, in returning to Drake’s Fortune I am reminded of a different sort of humour.
Nathan is much the same, he is still slipshod, a bit clumsy, and the sort of guy that gets a bit carried away and a bit out of his depth, and this is where his humour shines, particularly in the first. It is lines like “Why do I always get myself into this crap?” that really define his character, and they come, for the most part, in the first game. By the second game we know who he is, and his humour, and that of the game as a whole is born out of this. It is in the way in which Nate interacts with others around him rather than how he interacts with the situation he finds himself in. This is where I think the games differ, and while I could not say which style and humour I prefer I appreciate returning to the character defining moments of the first game. Nathan’s character develops in Among Thieves, but it is given such a solid base in Drake’s Fortune that it is a joy to experience all over again.
On a technical level
Drake’s Fortune still stands up incredibly well, and I have to say I am not surprised by this. It looked beautiful when it came out, and that was only three years ago. There is slightly less detail in the graphics, and less texture in the character modelling… I don’t know if this was deliberate (but as it was Naughty Dog I’ll assume it was), but Nathan looks younger (naturally); his skin is smoother, and he has that slightly fresher look about him.
Among Thieves takes place a couple of years after Drake’s Fortune so this works very well; it can not merely be a coincidence. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of animations for cover, rest, run, shoot etc. that Nathan gets. Because you don’t see the same animations time and time again the game looks natural and very fluid. Returning to the first game did not disappoint. It still flows in that magnificent way that makes it look like you are watching a film. Nathan originally felt like an extension of my arm, and I did not lose this sensation last night despite the technically more advanced Among Thieves coming between us.
I was delighted that Drake’s Fortune still plays like a dream; if Among Thieves were not released I would still be getting joy out of it. While I believe that, on balance, Among Thieves is the better game (for a whole load of reasons that I am not going to go into here) it would not be the game that it is if it were not for its elder brother. People sometimes ask me whether they should play Drake’s Fortune before Among Thieves. My answer is always that Drake’s Fortune should be played, if only because it is a stand out game its own right, but now I can hand on heart say that you’d miss out on the little subtleties that make Among Thieves possibly the best game I have ever played.
Have you replayed UNCHARTED: Drake’s Fortune after Among Thieves, and if so, has your impression of the first game changed at all? Let us know in the comments!