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Uncharted Collection Review

Uncharted Collection

From what I’ve learned in video games, Indiana Jones is wrong. Nothing belongs in a museum, everything must be stolen before it’s stolen by the bad guys. Pre-emptive stealing so stealing cannot occur – the only righteous choice. And if we get a little moolah and some fame/glory along the way, it’s our good karma coming back to us! These adventures are always treacherous and deadly so it’s only right we get something out of to. And who is the guru bestowing all this knowledge to me? It’s not Lara Croft… it’s the cheeky, quick witted Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series of games! This review will focus on the original trilogy of games; I won’t go ham on the details of each, but I will mention specific changes across each title!

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Overview

The original, the fire that ignited the series. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is undeniably rough around the edges when comparing it to modern games, but at 15 years old (2007) it’s fair to say it’s aged relatively well!

The story centres on Nathan Drake: fortune explorer, treasure Hunter and supposed descendent of Sir Francis Drake. He’s a seasoned adventurer and experienced agitator; often running his mouth a little too confidently. Accompanied by his friend and mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Nathan is more than seasoned in burglary, tomb robbery and art heists.

His adventure here starts with him aiming to find the lost coffin of Sir Drake. But, aside from an aged diary, it’s empty! Alongside Elena Fisher (a budding reporter documenting the finding of Drake’s coffin), the game begins as it continues – with folk who Nathan and Sully owe money to hunting him down and trying to capture him! This continues as the story goes on, with the revelation that Sully is in more debt than he lets on to some ‘real bad guys’, leading him to let slip to them that they’re onto something big. The location of El Dorado.

The whole experience moves from one exotic location to another, with Drake and co. finding new clues using a diary and piecing together Sir Drake’s final venture to make his mark on the world. The story is tied together neatly with a combination of puzzle solutions and cutscenes, with characters adding information as needed to support the narrative flow. It features clear balances of gunplay, platforming, exploration and puzzles. The game can be done in around 8-10 hours, with a completionist a doubling that time to claim every trophy.

How It Handles

Drake’s Fortune is undeniably the clunkiest of the original trilogy but still plays as a fantastic action adventure game. This was Naughty Dog’s first move away from the anthropomorphic Crash and Jak, as such you can imagine new challenges arose quickly. However, this little gem still holds the test of time for fun factor and engagement with little effort beyond its core mechanics.

The climbing works a treat for its age and Nathan will lean to indicate where an appropriate ledge is (though most are obvious and very convenient). The shooting is also surprisingly fun for a game not mechanically built for shootouts. It’s very diluted; you have one of each type of weapon in the game and the bad guys never branch out into other brands. The cover system encourages you to be daring and careful, with some walls breaking under the sheer firepower of the enemy. It makes the actual combat exciting enough to enjoy and not just be a break between the climbs. However, higher difficulties reduce health and increase enemy aggression. Playing vanilla I can just barely make it through crushing difficulty, but on hard I can burn through it! It depends wholly on your experience with a third person shooter.

As you progress through the chapters, you’re given snippets of what Nathan knows and it’s neatly combined with the notes from Drake’s diary. The diary can have a “plot device” vibe in this game as you can never just browse the whole thing as you can in later titles, however there’s never a moment where the information given tells you outright where the X is to dig. It still takes some exploration and investigation, but works well to steer you with the game feeling overly linear. There’s a superb balance of exciting features – including a turret selection, because what early 2000s game was complete without one? Overall this is an excellent (and obvious) starting point for this gorgeous trilogy!

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Overview

Many of the core mechanics are still here from the original Uncharted, so I’ll skim those unless anything’s pressing. This beauty is Uncharted cranked to 11 and, despite being originally released in 2009, easily still holds up today for its plot and gameplay.

The game starts oh so incredibly strong, with Nathan’s life immediately hanging in the balance in the most literal sense. This mid game event that is shown as a starting sequence and tutorial shows how much higher the stakes are for the hero and, once this is done, the game begins at the actual beginning. The synopsis is that an old associate of Nathan, Flynn, and his ‘colleague’ approach him with a job: steal a lamp linked to Marco Polo’s doomed voyage. It goes pear shaped quickly and Nathan is betrayed, leading him to spend time behind bars. Luckily, Sully is on hand to bail him out – alongside Flynn’s ‘colleague’: Chloe. Together, they plan how they’ll steal the treasure back from Flynn and claim Marco Polo’s treasure for themselves.

Much like the previous game, this elegantly moves from destination to destination. The group show real human interaction throughout and convey emotion, attachments and sheer dumbfounded awe at what they experience. There is more balance in what players experience in this one and it runs more like a feature length adventure film than a third person shooter, simple because of the reduced emphasis on gunplay. Narrative is the driving factor and it shows in how the game relays information, introduces characters and develops the story without ever feeling like a plot device was conveniently discovered.

How It Handles

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is, without a doubt, my favourite of this trilogy. Everything the first got wrong, this got right. Everything it got right, this one doubled the dose of it. It’s way more akin to a cinematic experience – an epic – than it is to anything else before it. There’s a real feel of investment in both the characters’ history and actions. They know one another, the interact as such. Heck, they have in-jokes whilst discussing things together! This beauty wets Uncharted at the peak of character design for me. No robotic, uncomfortable cringe. Just humans making poor choices and suffering emotionally for it. Peak character design.

Narratively, this iteration holds the same strong vibe as the original. Where is emboldens that strength is in the sequencing. Having that initial scene both blew me away and set the strong tone for the whole experience. Knowing where we were going but not having a clue how we got there made every story twist and turn all the more riveting. I spent the whole game on the edge of my seat awaiting the big split. How did Nathan go from being surrounded by these allies in the tropic to alone, abandoned and at the end of his rope hanging off a cliff? Chances are it’s your fault by the end…

As for ease of life improvements, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves takes the core principles of an “Uncharted” game and fine tunes and improves them. The notebook element – one of my favourites – is now Nathan’s personal one. It still gives clues, hints and other bits of advice, but it’s now personal. It’s riddled in jokes and other personal thoughts that give Nathan that extra cheeky layer of personality. Shoot outs feel far more refined without changing the whole recipe for them. Shields and sights give players more variety and option, but sadly this is only when provided by convenient resource placement. The game runs a very cinematic vibe throughout and always provides the tools you need… but as with the original, be wary of the difficulty slider. Hard is possible, Crushing is, well, Crushing!

Uncharted Drakes Deception

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Overview

Naughty Dog was working their socks off once again to make this sequel. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was released in 2011, just 2 years after the prior! Again, this beauty holds the “Unchartedness” of the previous iterations. Climbing, shooting and puzzling are present and prevalent throughout. Any new elements I’ll cover, but these mechanics have been once again been refined and improved accordingly with the gaming industry’s improvements.

Uncharted 3 starts with the selling of Nathan’s ring, the one that previously belonged to Sir Francis Drake and one of the key plot devices of the first in the trilogy. This goes sideways very quickly and they begin a shootout with Talbot – an antagonist and employee of the crimelord Marlowe. The bar fight serves as a fine tuned tutorial to teach players the nitty gritty but doesn’t feel like one. You aren’t babied into the mechanics and it encourages you to flow with the scene. After this, it switches to a flashback of Nathan’s childhood and his first encounter with Sully. Sully was working with Marlowe – who was trying to retrieve this ring from a museum when Nathan steals it. The young Nathan is captured but Sully rescues him and takes him as his protégé. This sets up the plot for this iteration in the franchise.

Turns out the ring that Nathan has had near enough his whole life is a key part to discovering the lost city of Ubar. This takes the gang on a global race to outmanoeuvre Marlowe and Talbot in discovering clues and key pieces of information to find this treasure trove. The game moves at a solid pace and introduces old allies and some new along the way. There is always a clear history between characters and the obvious hidden history is prevalent in both their jokes, insults and reactions. It provides clear depth and structure without ever feeling like a character is a plot device.

How It Handles

As you’d expect, the latest of the trilogy is the most refined mechanically and graphically. That’s not to say the prior had it obviously wrong, it’s just a fact that this has that little more in both areas. Things are crisper, sharper and more akin to modern graphics. And the gunplay just feels better; more refined and enjoyable overall. What’s more is that hand to hand combat has been given a bit more care and attention. The previous games made it look flashy but never went beyond a button mash or short combo. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception gives it that little bit more to make it both still viable, but also varied.

In terms of narrative, the game holds onto the lessons learned from the second game and utilises strong characters and narrative sequences. The game is longer and does have some elements that feel a bit more dragged – for a good 90 minutes you’re on a ship sequence. It’s brilliantly fun, a superb spectacle and holds all the excitement you want… but it never seems to advance the plot. Why it’s there is beyond me, but I’m somewhat thankful for it as it’s more Uncharted to get my teeth into! The initial sequences in this game are, in my opinion, some of the strongest across this trilogy. A big claim for someone besotted with the second iteration! However, the final sequences don’t hold that same weight and depth. They’re still quality and good fun but don’t quite have the same sequencing and balance of puzzles, fights and climbs I saw in the first half.

As a finale to the trilogy, this game nails the “tying it up” part. There’s a definite feeling of reliance on the previous game’s narrative and built world in this game to really appreciate some of the interactions that occur here. Nathan and Elena clearly have strong history that occurred between each game, Sully’s endless wisdom and characters’ respect for him is demonstrated at all times… it’s a deep and meaningful world these characters exist in and it makes them both relatable and human. Not for their adventuring and bravery, but for their clear flaws that the game makes them wear on their sleeves. It makes the game far more cinematic and dramatic than were it simply robotic plot points being met. As always, this narrative is executed to a fantastic standard and it stands out as a blockbuster of a game!

Online? Collectibles? Extras?

There is an online combat mode to both Uncharted 2 and 3 and a cooperative mode too. It has players competing against other online players in different game modes with cooperative having them pitted against AI players. In honesty, these are ok. Uncharted’s main staple and brand is action adventure, not third person shooter. The in game shooting is satisfactory for what it aims to achieve and doesn’t go beyond the necessary amount. If you’re wanting online shoot outs of epic calibres, you won’t find them here.

As for collectibles, each game is a treasure trove of both trophies and in game treasures. There’s a long list of treasures to find in game. Collecting these will unlock a whole host of extra options that can be unlocked, including alternative skins for Nathan, infinite ammo and new starting weapons. Absolutely not necessary extras but perfect for the completionist amongst us!

Overall

The original Uncharted Trilogy absolutely nails immersive narrative and superb characters with real depth. The action sequences are engaging and fun with enough collectible content to keep you occupied for hours and hours. Uncharted’s gunplay isn’t the most exciting or refined, but it does what it needs and does a decent job enough to make it satisfying. However, it’s the trilogy’s narrative and sequencing that sits centre stage of these games’ success. Deep, meaningful and relatable characters with human flaws fit beautifully into the narrative story being played out. A top tier game for story without a doubt!