From fairly humble beginnings, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series became the must-have trilogy on the PS3, adventure games par excellence that revitalised climbing puzzles while remaining tense and cinematic. The entire series to date has now been given the PS4 remaster treatment courtesy of indie developer Bluepoint.
This collection features all three currently available titles in the series – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. All three titles have been uprezzed to 1080p from the PS3’s native 720p and now run at a silky smooth 60 frames per second. It allows you to really appreciate the amazing visuals that Naughty Dog were getting out of the PS3 (indeed this collection means all four of Naughty Dog’s PS3-era games, including The Last of Us, are now on the PlayStation 4). Colours pop, the little nuances of the character animation are easier to detect and the environments feel more lived-in.
The series follows intrepid and quippy explorer Nathan Drake, played memorably by Nolan North, and his friends Elena, Chloe and Sully as they race around the globe in search of ancient relics and lost treasure. Along the way, Drake will scale perilous cliff faces, buildings and mountains, kill hundreds of nameless henchmen and thwart the plans of any villains that might oppose him. They’re honestly like playing through the greatest Indiana Jones movies ever made.
Of the three titles, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune has always been considered the series’ weak link. Created as a PS3 launch title by a Naughty Dog desperate to leave Crash Bandicoot behind, playing U:DF today feels both a bit dated and like a game that is kind of making it up as it goes along. Drake frequently either misses his mark on a risky jump, the environments aren’t very good at telegraphing where you should be going next and there are so many guys to kill that actually starts to beggar belief. Indeed, the sheer amount of combat is something that I’d honestly forgotten about the original Uncharted. There’s actually very little in the way of downtime between puzzles or battles. You move into an area, the guards are triggered and they pour in, five, ten, twenty of them. As you kill off little packs of them, another five arrive. And another five. You wreck them too and move into the next area. The guards there are triggered and start to pour in. Add to this that the aiming controls are far from precise and … it’s exhausting. For fans of the series, I’m preaching to the choir with this criticism, however. Everyone knows that U:DF is the weakest game in the series.
Which is why many people will likely head straight to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, widely considered to be the series’ high water mark. Right from its grim, nerve-wracking introduction, U2:AT establishes itself as superior to its predecessor in every way. It couldn’t be clearer that Naughty Dog took every lesson they learned on the first game and put them to work in the sequel. The environments are better, the combat still isn’t perfect but it is improved, the action set pieces are bigger and more cinematic and even game’s story of thieves double, triple and quadruple crossing one another is more engaging than the original’s. Many who played U2:AT on release still have lovely things to say about “the train level” in particular and this section of the game still holds up remarkably well. It’s smart, considered design and it remains exhilarating to play through even after all this time. A personal favourite.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception divided fans a little when it came out back in 2011 with some feeling that it didn’t measure up to the lofty bar set by Uncharted 2. That’s a fair assessment in my opinion. Uncharted 3 is objectively not as good as Uncharted 2 – it doesn’t have the quite the momentum and charm of U2:AT – but that does not mean it isn’t an excellent game in it’s own right. It further refines the shooting mechanics, the melee combat system is improved and the climbing has been tweaked, allowing Nathan to scale surfaces faster than ever. It’s also a very important game for Naughty Dog, who very visibly began laying the groundwork for The Last of Us in plain sight. Go back and play through Missions 6 and 7 in Godfrey’s Chateau. The overgrown building reclaimed by nature? Rotted floorboards and fixtures? Water filling the lower floors? It positively screams The Last of Us. Uncharted 3 also finally provides some backstory on the relationship between Nathan and Sully and how they came to be partners in crime.
The primary criticisms of these games remain the same – sometimes the game telegraphs what you’re supposed to do next so subtly you miss it and end up stranded for a while as you try to climb everything in sight. At other times, this will lead you to fling Nathan at things that look like they can be climbed but actually can’t, after which he ends up looking rather dead and unprofessional at the bottom of a ravine. That most mid 2000’s design quirk of “giving enemies more health instead of making their AI better” also rears its ugly head again, a pet peeve of mine. Simply put (and at the risk of this review devolving into a full-blown rant), if I take a sniper rifle that fires bullets longer than my forearm and I put one up a guard’s nostril I expect him to die.
With the glut of remastered titles appearing on current generation consoles these days, it’s easy to become cynical about them. “Can’t wait to play a game from eight years ago on my brand new console,” cry the detractors. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection provides the rare counterpoint to that argument. These are games that, even at their weakest points, are often still lightyears ahead of what third-person adventure titles are doing. Getting to play through all three of these adventures again was a real treat for me and has only served to excite me further for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, due out next year.
Review Score: 8.5 out of 10
Highlights: Silky smooth; Still exciting; Elena is my homegirl
Lowlights: Original Uncharted feels a bit dated; enemies still take way too much damage
Developer: Bluepoint (Remastered Editions), Naughty Dog (Originals)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe
Released: September 27, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4
Reviewed on PlayStation 4