By the time Nathan Drake -- the smooth-talking, treasure-hunting descendant of famed privateer Sir Francis Drake -- arrives on a teeny island in the middle of the Pacific, you will agree that the Sony PlayStation 3 has a much-needed holiday hit on its hands.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune really gets going at that point, about two hours into the game, when the agile explorer, accompanied by an attractive female videographer, crash lands on the dangerous isle in search of the legendary El Dorado.
SCREENSHOTS: Check out Nathan Drake in action here!
Best described as Tomb Raider meets James Bond, this PS3 exclusive is played from a third-person perspective in which you control Nate as he swims rivers, jumps chasms, swings from vines and exchanges fire with mercenaries -- all without losing his charm while trying to impress his reluctant sidekick, Elena Fisher.
Speaking of fighting, Nate can duck for cover behind boulders, walls and tree trunks by tapping the O key on the PS3 controller, and then twist around to aim (L1) and fire (R1) at enemies using a variety of weapons. Similar to most action games, ammunition and new weapons can be found on fallen adversaries. If you get shot too many times, the screen begins to fade to black and white with a red border, which means you better find cover before it's game over. Fortunately, the game's auto-save feature does a great job at picking up where you left off.
If you're out of ammo, you'll have to rely on your companion to take out the baddies or you might resort to some hand-to-hand combat by tapping the triangle button quickly or performing a combo move with other buttons.
Along with exploration and combat, Nate must also be adept at puzzle-solving as he inches toward the fabled treasure. While not too difficult or original, these temporary obstacles are fun and gratifying, be it stepping on stones in the correct order to open up a cave door, scaling a mountainside to get past a waterfall or creating a bridge over an abyss by pushing a tall rock across it. You will also have fun hunting for the 60 collectible treasures hidden throughout this world, such as gold and silver statues, coins and other relics.
Despite some shimmery edges around parts of the environment, such as trees, the graphics are great, especially the fluid character animation and huge outdoor levels. Plus, every few minutes you will be treated to a short cinematic interlude to help push the story along. There are more than 100 minutes of these high-quality non-interactive sequences. You will notice subtle touches, such as facial expressions, the body language of Nate's friend Victor "Sully" Sullivan or when our protagonist grabs the edge of a narrow doorway while crawling through it. This all adds to the suspension of disbelief.
The high production values will attract you to Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but its tense game play will keep you glued to the TV. Armchair adventurers might feel a bit of deja vu with the many borrowed Tomb Raider -like elements, but you won't be disappointed with this polished and immersive single-player journey.
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