The Perfect Prelude to Thief’s End
When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released on the PlayStation 3 in 2007, which was almost ten years ago, I never expected it to be the beginning of what would become one of Sony’s largest franchises. Before launch, the previews and screenshots for the game gave off the impression that it was meant to be an expensive tech demo. After all, the characters and concepts seemed bland, at least when compared to Naughty Dog’s classics like Jak and Daxter. When I had a chance to play Uncharted, however, it caught my eye with its action movie style and a color palette that, thanks to the jungle setting, was refreshingly more palatable than Gears of Wars’ murky atmosphere. It’s with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, however, and subsequently Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – both of which pushed the PlayStation 3 close to its peak – that I realized that Uncharted is deserving of being one of Sony’s flagship franchises, and Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection reminds me why.
The Uncharted series is designed with set-pieces that attempt to emulate blockbuster action movies like Indiana Jones. Each Uncharted game is linear, which is an ugly word to some considering the rise of open-world games; however, the results pay off for this series because its concise level-design complements the story spectacularly.
Each game’s story is structured the same: Drake, Sully, and Elena embark on a globe-trotting adventure looking for a fabled treasure, and end up saving the world due to the treasure hunt spiraling out of control. The stories emulate swashbuckling action movies, and although the plot twists and witty banter come across as calculative, they’re at least well-executed. Even if Sony and Naughty Dog hadn’t released a collection, players could easily pick up any game without missing a beat, although the games, particularly Drake’s Deception, are closely linked.
When describing the gameplay, which is also similarly structured throughout, the easiest comparison I can make is to the Batman Arkham series. As in the Batman games, neither the action nor the exploration mechanics are particularly deep. Each section of the game usually contains the following events: Drake climbs the sides of cliffs and other hangable objects in order to reach higher places; Drake fights some bad guys using his expert close-quarters-combat and firearms training; and Drake consults his journal to solve puzzles leading him closer to the treasure. You don’t need to memorize patterns to master Uncharted’s platforming, nor do you need to be an expert in deductive reasoning to solve the puzzles; however, these components are blended perfectly to make you feel you like a treasure hunter or action movie star.
Although the latter games are clearly superior to the original, it’s worth playing through the entire collection to not only get a feel for how the series has progressed (not much since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves) but also because the stories are self-contained and provide enough value for a marathon – if you can sit still long enough to complete three games containing 10 to 12 hours of gameplay each. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, although still fun, is probably the most choppily paced game in the series. The transition between combat, puzzle-solving, and platforming is too separated, and the combat, although finely-tuned, feels like a chore because enemy encounters go on for a little longer than necessary. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves propels the series to the upper echelon of the PlayStation’s beloved franchises, successfully addressing the choppiness of its prequel by blending the three components together. It would be nearly perfect if it weren’t for the sticky cover mechanics and the tiring waves of enemies. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, apart from improved hand-to-hand combat, carries the momentum of its predecessor without too great a need for modification; however, in exchange its story explores Drake’s past. Naughty Dog and Bluepoint Games have also modified each game so that the combat has the same feel, making it easy to transition between games.
Part of the appeal of the HD collection is to improve the series’ presentation so that it meets the PlayStation 4’s standards; however, the series already has a penchant for pushing the boundaries – the collection’s PS3 counterparts could pass as medium-end current-gen games. Still, the touch ups are quite appreciated, and I’m still fixated on the lush jungles, frozen landscapes, and scorching deserts present in the series. Textures and character models have been improved, and the improved lighting and shadows provide richer detail. The games run in 60 FPS, giving you the ability to handle all of the waves of enemies and explosions without the game fighting you. The soundtrack has also been remastered, although the differences seem negligible. That said, I still felt the same chills I get every time I hear the theme song, and the voice acting challenges other games to reach Uncharted’s level. As amazing as the PS3 counterparts look, you’d be hard pressed not to check out Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection if only to be awed once again.
Naughty Dog also included some bonuses like difficulty settings, a photo mode, and a speedrun mode. At the time of this review, I have not had the time or courage to unlock the new brutal difficulty; however, it’s there for completionists. Also attached is the continuous speed run, which just tracks your gameplay time during the normal campaign. The appeal is that you can compare your best time with your friends’. Unfortunately, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection does not come with multiplayer; however, players will have access to the Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End multiplayer beta, which we’ll receive on December 4, 2015. I’ll begrudgingly admit that that’s a fair trade.
The only other complaint, which might be nit-picky, is that the collection has a glaring omission: Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the PlayStation Vita. Naughty Dog has considered including the portable game before, but it ultimately decided to against it due to the three PlayStation games being perfectly paced for leading up to the final game in the series. Still, considering that the PS Vita is now a legacy console, it would have been nice to introduce the portable game to fans who didn’t have a chance or reason get a PlayStation Vita – not to mention that the collection will always remain incomplete.
Prior to Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, each Uncharted game was already a technical masterpiece, and Naughty Dog did an excellent job of making it enticing to me to marathon through the series. Fans who have already played the PS3 games will be pleased with the improvements, and newbies interested in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End will have the perfect place to start.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
Time has had a marginal effect on the Uncharted series, but Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection hides what few blemishes we didn’t notice anyway. The 60 FPS is a nice addition. 4.5 Control
The controls still hold up, although the cover mechanics in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves are still clunky. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound design has been improved overall; however, the voice actors already carried the game to begin with. 4.0 Play Value
The three main games have new modes to keep you busy, but there are a few glaring omissions such as the PlayStation Vita game, and we still have to wait a while until the beta. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend|
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid||2.5 – 2.9 = Average||3.5 – 3.9 = Good||4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy|
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor||3.0 – 3.4 = Fair||4.0 – 4.4 = Great||5.0 = The Best|