With no impending AAA releases until the release of the fourth instalment of Sony’s flagship series on March 18, 2016, it makes (business) sense that Sony would attempt to fill that void with the flavour of the generation: remasters. With The Nathan Drake Collection we have not only one, but three remasters- the whole trilogy of Naughty Dog’s murderous casanova’s adventures, brought to you by the remaster masters at Bluepoint Games.
Uncharted is a series I’ve never understood the hype around. That being said I only ever played Uncharted 2 prior, but it seemed like a Tomb Raider-type game with more bravado, like a video game adaption of Indiana Jones. One thing I did realise quite early on in the collection is that first and foremost Uncharted is a third-person cover shooter. There is a lot, and a lot of shooting, which is prevalent across the three titles included. In fact the breadth of differences between the titles is minute. From the story to the gameplay and dialogue, if you’ve played one Uncharted, you’ve basically played them all. This doesn’t make them bad games, because critics and gamers alike seem to love this series. I guess I expected a little more evolution as the series progressed.
If you don’t know what Uncharted is, let me quickly break it down for you. Uncharted follows explorer-cum action-hero, Nathan Drake as he traverses the globe in hoping of discovering lost ancient artefacts or cities. Drake’s first adventure is titled ‘Drake’s Fortune,’ and sees him following his ancestor’s, Sir Francis Drake’s footsteps and seeking out El Dorado, a city made out of gold. Drake finds clues that lead them to a southern tropical island, where they learn the truth about El Dorado. The second instalment, ‘Among Thieves,’ takes Drake from Istanbul to Nepal in search of the Cintamani Stone, supposedly located in the lost hidden city of Shambhala. But he isn’t the only one after the stone, with Zoran Lazarevićalso also wishing to lay hands on the artefact. Drake must get to the stone before Lazarević, to ensure its power doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.
‘Drake’s Deception’ is the third iteration in the Uncharted series. This time around we take a trip down memory lane and discover some of Drake’s past, and how he became the treasure hunter he is in the present day. The past also helps Drake on his new expedition, which is finding out what Sir Francis Drake found on his journey through Arabia. This takes Drake throughout England, France, Syria and Yemen, in pursuit of the lost city of Ubar.
Drake’s never alone on these escapades. Good mate and mentor, Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan is usually in close proximity, as well as the chosen damsel for the expedition, which is either journalist Elena Fisher or Australian explorer, Chloe Frazer. Not too far behind them or in front of them is a generic megalomaniac antagonist that is chasing the same treasures as Drake, for more evil reasons of course. It is Drake’s job to gun them all down, save the girl and stop the end of the world. Along the way you’ll solve a few puzzles, crack a wry smile at the cliché-infested dialogue and probably become slightly frustrated at the gameplay. Make no mistake, the Uncharted series is an epic, action-packed third person adventure. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Michael Bay was hired to direct the upcoming film. Yet as I think about the film I can’t help but wish that the film adaption had come out in the late 90s or early 2000s, because Brendan Fraser is a perfect fit to play Nathan Drake. I mean his role in The Mummy is pretty much the same character as Drake.
There’s a swag of changes that Naughty Dog and Bluepoint Games have implemented within the Drake Collection, most notably three brand new game modes. There’s Brutal mode, a difficulty level only for experienced treasure hunters wanting a punishing playthrough. You also have Speed Run mode where you can race your friends in completing campaigns. Lastly there is Explorer Mode, a new easier mode for beginners who are more interested in simply experiencing Drake’s tale. You’ll also hear the soundtrack remastered in 7.1 surround sound and there’s also a photo mode for you to take selfies of Drake in exotic locales. Additionally there’s a bunch of new trophies to collect which should appease the trophy hunters out there.
Back to the games and the gameplay, and as mentioned above, the games are third-person cover shooters with climbing and basic puzzles thrown in. The shooting and climbing are generally smooth to operate, yet it’s the cover system that left me frustrated time and time again. To me, Nathan Drake felt sticky a lot of the time. Entering cover wasn’t the problem, it was exiting cover, especially in the first two games. I found myself climbing over walls, dropping down onto ledges, jumping out into the path of enemies armed with shotguns and giving away my location by simply standing up, as I was unable to round corners in cover mode while trying to avoid detection or going for a stealth takedown. The third game fixes this issue slightly, especially by making it easier to round covers, but I still found myself needing to jump over something to exit cover occasionally.
Having played The Last of Us before any of the Uncharted series, it’s now identifiable where Naughty Dog got most of their mechanics for the post-apocalyptic survival game. The shooting and climbing are both relatively intuitive, which is good because you’ll be doing a lot of both. This is where the games become a little tedious. There will be a set-piece where you will need to clear out an area, climb to another area and clear that section out. You’ll then come to a puzzle, which is pretty easy to solve given all the clues are contained within Drake’s trusty journal. It’ll also most likely involve you climbing to activate some sort of mechanism. The shooting is fun and although some of the enemies are bullet sponges, the array of weaponry at Drake’s disposal such as the M9, AK47, Shotguns, Grenade and Rocket Launchers and handguns makes the murdering of innocent villains fun. Drake is also a brawler and close quarters combat is mostly a combination of QTEs and button mashing. The most disappointing element of this is that the mini-boss and boss fights use these sequences. One fight in particular builds up throughout the game and the fight itself is an anti-climax. In Naughty Dog’s defence, these sort of games really only allow for bullet sponges or these monotonous hand-to-hand combat boss fights. Overall the game’s mechanics are smooth and there are no real game-breaking issues, the only downside is sometimes the game is saturated by shootouts, and instead of avoiding death by using Drake’s explorer abilities, you’re merely killing everything in your path.
The trilogy is running at a smooth 60fps and 1080p resolution. I had a couple framerate stutters in the first game, but nothing untoward. Did the 60fps make a huge difference? Not really. Sure, it was nice that it ran a bit smoother, but I don’t believe my experience was enhanced because of it. Having not seen most of the series in action on the PS3, I don’t have much of a comparison, but the games definitely look impressive graphically. The locales, especially some of the ancient cities, look beautiful and the characters look and act naturally. Some of the texturing up close (when climbing a wall) can look slightly average, but for the most part this is one of the more impressive remasters I have seen. The team at Bluepoint Games have put a lot of elbow grease into making this bad boy shine.
The premises of the Uncharted games are probably my favourite aspect of the series. It helped me play out a boyhood dream of being an archaeologist and finding hidden treasures that have been buried for centuries. The plots have elements of historical truths that don’t make them sound too farfetched, and ‘Drake’s Deception’ in particular had my undivided attention as the premise encompassed some of the history I studied at university. One of the highlights in this game included mention of Queen Elizabeth and her order of agents, in particular spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham. Exploring the lost, dilapidated cities and solving puzzles is where I felt Uncharted shined the brightest, even if the puzzles were simple. It felt like I was on a true adventure; unlocking secrets from the past with nothing but the clues Drake had discovered along the way.
The voice-acting is delivered with conviction, and the quality of the delivery, along with the occasional satirical wit alleviates the excessive use of clichés. In turn it makes it rather enjoyable to watch the scenes play out. Only the main characters seem to have any sort of development, and it’s very minimal at that. Furthermore a lot of past relationships aren’t very well explained, which left me a little confused at certain moments. While the characters all look good and interact well, they all come across a little undercooked, except maybe Drake, who, thanks to voice actor Nolan North, is rather a likeable guy. He’s the kind of guy who would have some cracking stories to tell over a few beers.
Individually the Uncharted games are epic, action-packed episodes that have all the flair and charisma necessary to carry its lack of substance across the finish line. Collectively they are fun, balls-to-the-wall third-person shooters which certainly pack a punch when it comes to production values. As the stories unfold you’ll find yourself getting frustrated every now and again, but there’s enough to like here to take the trilogy for a spin. Besides, it’s three games in one, who can argue with that value? Despite the shortcomings I found with the series personally, namely the prioritisation of action over true adventure, I’m still looking forward to Uncharted 4. I’m hoping the success of The Last of Us inspires Naughty Dog to craft a gripping final chapter in the story of Nathan Drake. There is a great potential for a great story to be told in there, it just needs to be discovered.
Reviewed on PS4.