Not everything ages gracefully. Sure, you’ve got your cheeses and wines that improve with maturity but let’s not forget milk or Sonic Adventure, both of which get gross pretty quickly. The Uncharted trilogy is getting on in age now, having kicked off way back in ’07. These games aren’t at the cutting edge of video games as they once were, and they’ve got the grey hairs to prove it. By today’s standards, not each of these games could be considered masterpieces as they almost unanimously were at launch. Even after all these years, though, Nathan Drake’s adventures are thoroughly entertaining romps worth experiencing – to varying extents.
For the unacquainted, Uncharted tells the story of Nathan Drake – a descendant of Sir Francis Drake intent on following in his footsteps. Think Indiana Jones with an AK-47 and a button-up sweater – no hat. We’re introduced to Drake along with his charmingly sleazy mentor, Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan and reporter Elena Fisher in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. This first outing mixes typical early PS3-era third-person shooting with what was modern, realistic platforming for the time. Clinging to cover and poking out to pop a baddie in the head makes up the majority of this one – unfavourably so. Enemies are everywhere. Drake’s Fortune never goes more than a couple of minutes without throwing waves of enemies at you, and it grows monotonous quickly. The shooting is a satisfying good time to be sure, but the repetition was wearing on me by the end.
Platforming on the other hand, manages to remain amusing throughout, despite slightly sloppy controls and some slippery edges – the majority of my deaths in DF were due to running off edges as a result. The occasional entertaining – albeit lucid – puzzle helps counteract the repetition of shooting and, in tandem with the platforming, rounds the experience out nicely. Throw in a couple of jet ski sections and a jeep-mounted turret chase and you’ve got a fun little adventure – just be prepared for 86 dudes around every corner for no reason.
The narrative-driven, cinematic experiences Uncharted became known for started small in Drake’s Fortune. The dialogue in particular here is more believable than in most games, even by today’s standards, but not mind-blowingly so. The story is entertaining enough too, as Drake hunts down El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, but it’s not until its last few chapters that things get strange and interesting. The majority of the game takes place in a classic jungle full of classic jungle ruins, so it’s especially nice when you come across some differing scenery. There are some definite plot issues in this one, especially given the context the second and third games provide, but it doesn’t ask you to take it too seriously, so don’t.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the most highly regarded games of its generation; an inarguably incredible game for its time. In the Nathan Drake Collection, Uncharted 2 isn’t the epitome of technology it was in 2009, though it is a great time none-the-less. Insane set pieces and beautiful environments keep the action fresh and exciting. Thankfully, much of the uninvolved shooting of DF is replaced here by crazy scenarios. Whether you’re hanging from something, running from something, or fighting atop a moving train, Uncharted 2’s famous action sequences do all they can to keep things exciting. As in the first game, though, enemies can take a numbingly long time to take down. There are human enemies in this game that will survive three direct RPG shots. It feels more like dragging the gameplay out than challenge.
Puzzles are still pretty straightforward in Among Thieves, but far more involved than those of its predecessor. Platforming is more interestingly sprinkled through combat too, often calling on you to shoot some soldiers on your way across some street signs, or pull a poorly placed guard to his death from a ledge. To mix things up even more, Drake’s learned some sneaky stealth tricks. The ability to take out guards silently one at a time is such a suitable improvement, fitting to the narrative and gameplay flow. It’s a shame the stealth mechanics weren’t developed a little further given the rate at which the game relies on them. Every enemy will shoot exactly at you the precise moment one guy notices you, instantly initiating typical gunplay, but the stealth goes a long way to providing a more rounded experience all the same.
The narrative and character of AT is where it truly leaves DF in the dust. This time around the mythical city of Shambhala is the goal. The scale of this adventure is tremendous in comparison to the previous. The journey takes Nate through Borneo, Nepal and the Himalayas. While Sully is disappointingly absent for most of the adventure, Drake makes friends and enemies with some great new characters, full of personality and twisted motivations. It’d be hard to get through Among Thieves without caring about Drake and friends, thanks to exceptional, often genuinely funny writing, and superb acting. On the flip side, there is still a psychotic amount of mindless killing that is only made more unsettling by how lightly the characters take it.
Uncharted 2 is considered by many to be the greatest of the trilogy. Many are wrong. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is, to this day, an absolutely exceptional game, and the highlight of this collection. Deeper hand-to-hand combat mechanics mean conflict isn’t limited to shoot-outs, several of the most ridiculously epic moments to ever grace video games keep tensions high, and all with a level of immaculate polish that has been paralleled only a few times in 4 years. Drake’s Deception is fun, amusing and engrossing from start to finish.
The huge quality I appreciate in DD is how it marries gameplay with narrative. The story here is always used to develop characters and create interesting situations, where it often feels like an excuse to throw men with guns at Drake in DF and AT. You’ll go from a bar brawl to a quiet museum, to a burning building full of armed opponents. Shooting is spread sparingly here, and, as a result feels much more impactful when it does kick off. Enemies die pretty quickly, as does Drake, and things rarely drag on as a result. The verticality of environments keep even the more typical shooty parts fresh and exciting, and stealth segments are designed to be fair and rewarding. In lieu of excessive gunplay, we get thrilling chases, clever puzzles and a proper, uninterrupted sense of exploration.
Drake’s Deception tells an excellent story, digging into character back story and developing complicated and believable relationships. There are genuinely heartfelt moments in Uncharted 3, which says a lot when paired with its immense, explosive scenes. There is real heart and wonderful character here, on top of crazy action. The globetrotting scale of Among Thieves is outdone too. In DD, Nate and Sully are after Iram of The Pillars – The Atlantis of The Sands. On their way to the desert, though, they head through London, France, Syria, and Yemen. The extreme diversity in setting builds such an immense scope to the adventure, and that’s without mentioning the ridiculously immense set pieces scattered throughout.
Bluepoint has done an excellent job porting the trilogy to PS4, with a nice selection of bonus features. I’m particularly fond of the friend leaderboards. Manage to overtake your friend on total headshots, for example, and a list will pop-up, without obscuring view, to give you an idea of where you stand against your friends in appropriate stats. There are two new difficulties in this package too, Explorer and Brutal. Explorer makes things as easy as possible for those who aren’t too experienced with games, or maybe just want to enjoy the adventure without the nuisance of drawn out gunfights. Brutal, of course, makes things a step tougher than the already frustrating Crushing mode. If you’re into speed running, there’s a mode for that too, keeping track of your time and cutting out cutscenes.
Visually, each game is considerably improved. Drake’s Fortune, in particular, looks much nicer than it did back in 2007. The little imperfections that we mightn’t have noticed back then are much more obvious in 2015 though. There’s no hiding the age of these games when Drake’s eyelid flips in the first game or snow suddenly covers his body in the second. That’s not to say there’s any shortage of beautiful scenery in The Nathan Drake Collection. Whether it be the icy caves of Uncharted 2 or the ship graveyard in Uncharted 3, there are some truly admirable artistic achievements in the visual design of the trilogy.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection contains a good game, a great game, and an excellent game. If you missed the trilogy the first time round, this is a great way for you to experience it, and I wholeheartedly recommend you do. It gets off to a bit of a rocky start, but Drake’s adventures are full of unrivalled exhilarating moments, great writing, and wonderful characters.