Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune Retrospective (Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection)

Uncharted-The-Nathan-Drake-Collection-box-artI love the Uncharted series. I played them through sequentially and never really went back to them once I was done. Naughty Dog added a lot of tweaks and improvements as it went on that would make going back a bit tough. But now that the PS4 remastered collection of the trilogy is out, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, it’s a perfect time to revisit the series, see what they’ve improved, and whether it the games still holds up.

Firstly, I still love the stories in the Uncharted games. It’s a bit Indiana Jones, maybe a bit National Treasure, and probably some other stuff but I don’t really watch a lot of treasure hunting films. The first time I experienced the first two Uncharted games were actually in the form of Let’s Plays, though that’s not to say the gameplay isn’t good. At the time I couldn’t afford a PlayStation 3, and had instead opted for an Xbox 360 (which turned out to be the wrong choice). Uncharted, along with Metal Gear Solid 4, seemed like one of the more interesting PlayStation 3 exclusives at the time, and as one of my favourite Let’s Players, Chip Cheezum, had done Let’s Plays of them, I decided to check them out and was immediately hooked (Uncharted, Uncharted 2).

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The game isn’t too long, about 8-9 hours, and that’s including cutscenes. It’s a pretty nice length to get through, and one of my favourites for story driven games. The game has fallen under some criticism for its heavy use of cutscenes — its full body motion capture acting and emphasis on script were forerunners of the time, and from the looks of Uncharted 4 still are — but even though there have been great examples of storytelling without reliance on cutscenes in video games lately, I still think there is a place for something like Uncharted in the medium. Production values were high at the time, and the graphical polish makes this version even nicer. It’s hard to notice it some of the time, though the water is a big improvement, but holy hell is it a big step up for the the first game, just look at this:

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I’ve also seen some people claim that the new 60 frames per second doesn’t fit the game(s) as they weren’t designed with that frame rate in mind. Even some of the people that liked it eventually said it felt weird at first. I have to say I didn’t find it weird at all. It felt great from the get-go, and as the first Uncharted generally felt clunkier than its successors, it adds a wonderful smoothness to the game, in both the combat and traversal sections, making them nicer to player than ever. I mean, it doesn’t speed it up, just make the animation smoother. It’s also worth noting that a couple of the funky jumps from the original have been ironed out, and are now no longer annoying to get right. In fact, that’s probably the aspect of this remaster I appreciate the most.

Which isn’t to say there is no clunk to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The updated mechanics have not been applied retrospectively, and while there are some gameplay tweaks, this still feels a lot the first game in the series felt like before. Moving around cover can still be a bit fiddly at times, and there are still some super annoying grenade launcher and sniper enemies in places. There are some pretty hard arenas, but staying on your feet and running and gunning still makes these much easier, and with the PS4 smoothness this is better than ever.

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The gunplay is just as satisfying as it was before, and while the selection of guns on offer don’t feel particularly weighty, their use is still very satisfying, which was key in completing the package the first time around. Shotguns send enemies flying, you can mix and match guns and fists, and a well placed headshot will drop an enemy instantly, unless they are wearing a helmet, in which case it’s one shot to remove the helmet, and another to finish them off. Even on Crushing mode, the hardest difficulty. It feels very fair, and that’s much appreciated when some games will just jack enemy health up and call it a hard mode. Crushing is still pretty brutal, though, with Drake dying in just a few shots. But the combat feels hard in a way that is challenging rather than unfair. As difficult as Crushing is you’ll want to give a hard section another, and after a while you’ll start to get it, lining up headshots, wildly spraying AK-47 fire from behind cover to hold off the advancing AI, holding enemies off with grenades. It works very well for the most part, even though sometimes the wave approach can be a little bit grating.

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One key difference between Uncharted and its sequels are its sense of place. Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 are very set-piece orientated, and take Drake and his friends journeying through pretty varied environments. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, however, takes place almost entirely on one island in the Pacific on the search for El Dorado. This fairly static location and sense of place really does give this first entry in the series something the others doesn’t. All the locations feel connected. Drake ends up running all about a large, stone fortress early in the game, across a few chapters. Some environments are reused because of things like this, but it makes it feel like each piece is a part of a whole. When near the coast you can see areas you’ll get to far across the water.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune still feels like it lacks some of the mechanical improvements of its successors, but it feels like this matters less than ever in the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection. Even toward the end of the PlayStation 3 life cycle the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune didn’t look or play bad, but it still has to be said that in the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection it’s never been better. In spite of lacking some of the shininess of the later titles Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune has a wonderful simplicity and tightness, from its environments, story, or reasonably limited weapon collection — which the later games don’t really have.

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I often see people asking if they can skip any games in the Uncharted series. Of course, you can. But why would you want to when they’re all so fun, and so well made? The Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection just provides more reason to not miss out on Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

The remastering of the Uncharted series in Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is by Bluepoint games, also responsible for the great PlayStation 3 HD remasters The Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection and Metal Gear Solid HD Collection. They are also working on the upcoming Gravity Rush Remastered for PlayStation 4, a game I am currently enjoying very much on Vita.

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