Very charted waters
Nathan Drake isn’t the deepest gaming protagonist out there, but there is something to be said about a character that is simple and charismatic. His indisputable charm is a welcome virtue on the PS4, where the collection of Drake’s first three adventures can now prepare players for his fourth console expedition coming out early next year. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a sufficient tool to remind fans of the iconic characters that hold these games together, but for those who missed out the first time around, it also serves as an excellent opportunity to catch up.
The three Uncharted games have little that connect them outside a returning cast of familiar faces with one or two fresh personalities occasionally rotated in. Though no direct plot points bind them together, each narrative takes on a rather formulaic process of hunting down a lost city that holds a sacred relic while being hounded by less morally reputable treasure hunters. In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune our hero is hunting down The Lost City of El Dorado; in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, he is seeking out the paradise of Shangri-La; and in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, he is after the secret city of Ubar. All three adventures come with their own trademark antagonist, namely a mercenary leader, a war criminal, and somebody’s rich grandma respectively.
The procession of characters and plot twists serve the stories well, but what holds your attention between those moments are the exotic and fantastical locations the player is pulled through. The first Uncharted supplies beautiful scenery but struggles to bring the character outside a succession of jungle ruins, old bunkers, and even older castles. By the time Uncharted 2 comes around, the game picks up speed and broadens the settings to some urban and mountainous terrain alongside the conventional temples and ruins. Uncharted 3 sees the antithesis of the series so far by taking Drake all over the world to locales such as a Syrian castle, a storm-tossed cruise ship, the rolling sands of the Rub Al Khali desert, and more.
In these settings, one can see the influences of the remastering more than anywhere else. The first Uncharted, as the oldest, finds the most to gain with the upgraded technology, losing much of the plastic-like sheen from the original. Instead, softer textures and a richer color palette give it some of the life of its successors. The second and third titles do have some noticeable touches made to their visuals, but not nearly to the same degree. This is not due to the Collection’s insufficient remastering, but simply because the last two games were at a graphical level where new technology could do little for them without a more involved reworking.
Luckily, The Nathan Drake Collection adds more to these experiences than a fresh coat of paint. One of the Collection’s newest features is a photo mode that allows players to freeze a shot, edit the image with adjustments to shading, lighting, focus, angle, or more, and then upload it through the PS4’s sharing function. The feature can be found in all three games, and its extensive design could lead to some interesting snapshots in such a cinematic franchise.
The more curious addition to the collection is a speed run mode. Here, players select either a whole campaign or one particular chapter, set the difficulty, then run through it with an in-game timer and all the cinematic cut scenes removed. It is an understandably easy method of giving the experience replay value, but in a franchise that is so heavily focused on narrative—and one where there isn’t even a sprint function—it feels like an unnecessary inclusion. For those looking for more congruous means of testing themselves, new trophies have also been added to each title.
Two unfamiliar difficulties can be found in this Uncharted compilation, both sitting at different ends of the spectrum. Explorer is now the easiest difficulty, providing almost no combative challenge at all—instead inviting players to experience all the narratives through a leisurely progression. The Brutal difficulty, on the other hand, is quite the opposite, as it ups the ante from the series’ original hardest challenge of Crushing. This mode is unlocked for each campaign once it is beaten on another difficulty, and doesn’t just make the game harder, it makes it unreasonable.
Regardless of what level you play on, the Uncharted titles support a prime example of solid third-person shooter gameplay unburdened by overcomplexity. Every game incorporates the three action-adventure pillars of combat, platforming, and puzzle solving without any feeling like they are stapled onto another. Combat is always tight and action packed, platforming is cinematic while still posing some challenge, and puzzles find an effective balance between pace and difficulty.
While these pillars are the foundation of the Uncharted games, they have undergone little evolution over the course of the series. What sets these three titles apart aren’t the mechanical improvements, but the set pieces that incorporate the mechanics in new and interesting ways. Drake’s Fortune is again the most conservative, generally switching between the three gameplay styles at an even pace. Among Thieves leans more confident by having players escape an attack helicopter across building tops or fight enemies while jumping between cars of a moving train, and by the time Drake’s Deception rolls around you’ll find yourself shooting at targets while hanging out the back of a plane or chasing off swarms of killer spiders in a burning mansion—or something equally intense.
All of this cinematic action can be found faithfully recreated in the new collection, but that is not to say all elements of each game have made the transition unscathed. Clipping seems to be a slightly more common occurrence than it should be, even to the extent that once or twice Drake fell right through the object he was grabbing for. Melee combat is guilty of the occasional failure to autolock as well, and although these are relatively small complaints, the most irksome issue can be found several hours into Drake’s Fortune. While walking forward in the same direction the camera is pointing, your character will fluctuate rapidly between walking and sprinting. The glitch only happens outside of combat, but lasted for several hours in this case and almost became too much to continue. Developer Naughty Dog has confirmed there will be a day one patch that includes “minor gameplay bugs” as one of its fixes, so these issues should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, keep an eye out.
Those repelled by the Collection’s lack of multiplayer should keep in mind it does grant access to the Uncharted 4 multiplayer beta going live in mid-December. The omission of these experiences is unfortunate, but considering Uncharted 2’s multiplayer had only a cult following, and Uncharted 3’s multiplayer is now free-to-play on PS3, their absence is not all too surprising.
Final thoughts on remastered collections normally fall on the cliché of “fans of the games will like it” but Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection should be considered beyond this. These are three solid games and their consolidation on one disc provides an efficient way for both fans and newcomers alike to re-familiarize themselves or jump on board before Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End drops next year. The Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is a good demonstration of how far this series has come, and maybe where it can go.
|Developer: Naughty Dog, Bluepoint Games • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment • ESRB: Rating Pending • Release Date: 10.07.2015|
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is an exercise in reestablishing familiarity with one of Sony’s most recognizable faces. Almost everything new in the game is ancillary, but what makes this retrospective collection worth consideration is the the quality of design the original games brought to the table.
|The Good||Anyone who has ever been a fan of this series can now find all they need in one convenient spot.|
|The Bad||While understandable, it is unfortunate that the Collection will not host the amazing multiplayer from the second and third game.|
|The Ugly||Nathan Drake in the original Drake’s Fortune rendering. Sorry, bro.|
|Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is available exclusively on PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Sony Computer Entertainment for the benefit of this review.|