The evolution of Naughty Dog’s PlayStation sortie, from the humble bush-rat Crash Bandicoot to the tormented visage of Joel, has been one of passage and scale. While the former years of the 21st century saw the team melding together fantasy worlds and cartoonish visuals, their journey to PS3 brought forth a tint of realism and spectacle with the release of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a grand celebration of that evolution across generations, which includes the initial outing, as well as its near-perfect sequels: Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception. The cover and climbing systems may be utter pants at times, but these games, much like their roguish protagonist, are as legendary as they are fun; they are a gaming staple for any fan of PlayStation, and provide heart and nostalgia at every treasure-hunting turn. As Victor Sullivan would say: “Man, this is like trying to find a bride in a brothel”, or something along those lines.
For those of you have never inserted an Uncharted disc into your preferred PlayStation home video game console, each game takes the form of a third-person shooter; throwing the protagonist into corridors or arenas full of raiders, armoured militia or various types of rotten pirate. While the original versions of the trilogy often had problems when it came to the gun-toting combat, with a notable input delay while aiming, these issues have been noticeably improved through the implementation of smoother gunplay, thanks to the game’s rendered state of 60 frames per second. Nathan Drake can now dodge and shoot bullets effectively without slowdown, and the chaotic nature of the protagonist’s shaky marksmanship is also combined brilliantly with his happenstance persona, to create a combat system with firearm kickback that is equally tense, light-hearted and fun.
Guns seem to have also garnered a considerable amount of weight behind their shots, meaning that a well-timed shotgun blast to the face of an unwary pirate is both realistic and satisfying. The areas in which Drake is embroiled within combat contain obstacles designed with cover and vantage in mind, and while they are somewhat useful at blocking enemy fire, the cover system can also be a source of extreme frustration. There is an abject difficulty in getting in and out of cover effectively, with Nate often clinging to surfaces without prompt, or getting stuck on other elements of the environment, leading to many quick and discouraging deaths. While this may not be much of an issue for those lickspittle children that play on Easy or Normal, the failure of this system is regularly noticeable on Crushing, where enemies are much more aggressive and health is at a minimum. The final boss in Drake’s Fortune suffers dreadfully from this unrefined mechanic, and while playing, my controller was begat with a fit of panic, as I squeezed its plastic shell near to cracking in irritation.
The platforming mechanics also suffer from a similar lack of refinement. Getting from combat zone to combat zone often requires Drake to clamber up walls and over debris, and while this is generally a fine method of traversal, some cinematic camera angles, and a particularly sticky grip, have led to innumerable and baffling deaths. There are often situations when Nathan will climb in an inordinate direction despite being prompted to go in another; there is also a tendency for him to leap into great pits of sharp rock, spikes and endless depth, simply because the camera was facing towards an seemingly apt cliff or facade in the distance.
The third staple of any Uncharted experience is the addition of tomb-raiding puzzles. Within every game, Nathan Drake flaunts his way into temples, monasteries and deep-down crypts of mystery with the intent of raiding them for fortunes untold. The creators of such locales were not of course going to make this an easy venture, and so numerous tricks and enigmas have been set up to thwart Drake in his pilfering. Most of these puzzles involve matching symbols, colours or shapes to corresponding images in the protagonist’s journal, and while they are simplistic to master, they also provide a moment of quietude amongst the all-out action, and allow for a more careful look into the historical locales in which the games take place.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune opens the series amongst the jungle ruins of a paradisiacal island off the coast of Panama. The remastered version has been able to improve the visuals of the original significantly, making a game from 2007 look perfectly comfortable amongst PS4’s register of graphically impressive exclusives. Sunlight drips through canopies realistically, giving stone an ideally rough texture and producing a softness to the foliage beneath; water ripples in waves of reflection; and forests teem with vibrancy and the noises of animal life. The story of Drake’s Fortune remains engaging and easy to grasp throughout, but includes a number of distasteful clichés that pockmark adventure fiction to no end: the morally ambiguous standing of a close friend, and the linen-wearing European collector with a sinister eye for power, are two examples amongst many.
There is also a repetitious edge to the original, in terms of its environmental diversity, which is certainly made up for in Drake’s second, and majestically superior, outing, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The jungles of South America have been replaced by a deluge of beautiful locations, including a Turkish museum of antiquity, the streets of a war-ravaged city, and a mountainous region of Nepal, topped with deep pockets of gorgeously fluffy snow and shining ice. Not only are the environments more varied, but Drake’s adventure through them has been made more dynamic and exciting through a number of remarkable set pieces. The world around the protagonist is one that crumbles under his unfortunate presence, as train cars are ripped apart by helicopter fire, and ancient shrines crack and fall into destruction. These facets allow Among Thieves to feel like a memorable action movie, through a thrilling and constantly moving design that increases the intensity of Drake’s journey and makes it an entirely global affair.
Among Thieves is also conceived as a much darker tale than that of the original. While quips and fun still abound throughout Drake’s Nepalese adventure, suspense is built upon time and time again through the threat of death and defeat. The opening, which is one of the most iconic scenes in gaming, shows our hero trapped within a train car perilously overhanging a high cliff while gravely injured; “That’s my blood, that’s a lot of my blood.” This, along with other moments of harrowing intent, produce a greater sensation of emotional resonance, that makes you care more about the life of each primary character as a result. Grand explosions may be a more obvious conduit for death, but it is these subtle instances of fatality that are able to create such an unsettling amount of pity.
Drake’s Deception marks the end of the trilogy and while it is mechanically similar to Among Thieves, several noticeable improvements and additions have been made. You are now able to counter multiple enemies during hand-to-hand combat, relinquishing the frustration of being locked onto a single foe from previous games, while a number of pedestrian areas have also been included, allowing for some quiet exploration amongst a series of immersive Arabian environments. The globetrotting trend from Among Thieves has been fully implemented once again, but instead of bringing Drake to a site of ancient snow, he is now venturing forth to hotter climes, through the vast deserts and red rock canyons of the Middle East. While the entirety of the remastered version is visually impressive, nothing compares to the realisation of its virtual sand; Drake’s footprints resonate heavily upon it along a flat stretch of desert, while it pools in great heaps beside walls and other crumbling structures, giving Journey a run for its money in terms of beach-esque realism.
All three of these excellent games may present an exciting world of exploration and beauty, but it is their characters that make them truly special. A profound sense of camaraderie has been there from day one between Drake, Sully, Elena and many other supporting figures, giving this collection a streak of warmth that many developers fail to utilise. Naughty Dog has been able to create a cast that feels like an extension of your friends or family through their tenderness, banter and empathy for one another; and much like the movies from which these games take inspiration, like Indiana Jones, they always end on a note that exudes positivity and sentiment. Nathan Drake is celebrated here as a raggedy adventurer with typical human flaws, but he has been heartily characterised as a figure of joking propensity; as an endlessly likeable protagonist that emanates sarcasm, love, passion and a feeling of simpatico through every treasured moment.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection brings together a wonderful trilogy of games into a package worth the value of ten El Dorados. Their importance to the entire video game industry, in terms of cinematic scope, character development and hectic but fun shooting, cannot be underestimated. Nathan Drake, along with his series of misadventures, should be placed deep within the temples of PlayStation’s finest.
And remember, as Victor Sullivan would say: “I’m sweating like a hooker in church!”
Nathan Drake, along with his series of misadventures, should be placed deep within the temples of PlayStation's finest.