Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Review
One wonders how PlayStation 3 would’ve fared without Uncharted last generation. After getting off to a very slow start and spotting Xbox 360 to a one-year head-start, it seemed as if the glory days of the PS2 had disappeared in the blink of an eye. But eventually, PS3 clawed its way back, due in large part to several important price drops and an ever-increasing array of excellent exclusives. Leading the way was Naughty Dog’s new franchise that served as a pioneer in the third-person action genre, which needed lots of refining after the previous era. Now, looking back on the excellence of Drake’s adventures, we find that while the first didn’t age particularly well, the remarkable quality of the games is still quite evident.
In Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, fans and newcomers alike get the benefit of beautiful 1080p visuals presented with super-slick 60 frames per second. Don’t forget that these productions always settled around 30fps so to have the 60fps upgrade is indeed noticeable, especially when it comes to large-scale battles. The character models, wonderfully detailed and immersive backgrounds, great special effects and overall presentation is remarkable and better than ever. The only downside is that, as I stated above, the first game hasn’t benefited as much from the upgrades. Back in 2007, Drake’s Fortune was a fantastic achievement but by modern standards, even the graphical enhancements can’t quite bring it up to snuff.
The sound hasn’t changed much but then again, it doesn’t really need to. We have some of the best voice acting in video game history, a stellar soundtrack that continues to mold itself to the ceaselessly engaging on-screen action, and a heady, atmospheric mix of subtle and hard-hitting audio effects. I can’t tell if Bluepoint Games has refined this category because I’ve always associated sound excellence with Uncharted and that excellence hasn’t altered one iota. I think there’s a curious balancing issue in the first game that I don’t remember when first playing it but I can’t be sure. Aside from that, there isn’t much to talk about; Uncharted has always sounded great, from top to bottom, and the Collection does, of course, feature almost unparalleled audio.
There are two reasons why this package gets an 8.9, which is below the review score I’d give to any of the entries when they first arrived on the scene: Beyond the technical boosts, there isn’t much here to entice fans who have already played and completed the titles in question. I realize that many such collections are similar, and they’re produced mostly for those who haven’t played all the games, but when it comes to Naughty Dog, I always expect something more. Secondly, it’s true that the first entry, Drake’s Fortune just doesn’t fare well when in direct comparison to the other two installments. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves won just about every conceivable industry award, not merely because it was amazing in its own right, but because it was a significant if not dramatic improvement on the first franchise offering.
The good news is that Bluepoint worked to make the control a little tighter and more reliable in that original production, so it’s not quite so floaty and awkward. Unfortunately, this upgrade doesn’t cancel out the movement issues which, 8 years ago, we didn’t really bother about. The control was actually much better than most third-person adventures at the time; as I stated earlier, the genre had a lot of growing up to do in that period. However, when you toss it into a collection with two later entries that are indeed superior in terms of basic control and movement, the age of Drake’s Fortune is all too evident. The cover mechanic didn’t work as well as the team wanted, climbing was more demanding and often imprecise, the story progression doesn’t have great pacing, and it lacks bombastic set pieces.
I was actually surprised at how old the game really felt. Just about everything, from the fundamental mechanics to the narrative – which seems rather disjointed and unemotional when I play it now – feels…well, outdated. It only proves just how far we’ve come in such a short span of time so in point of fact, it’s not a bad observation. It’s just something fans will have to accept if they choose to sit down and play through this revolutionary series again. What worries me are the newcomers who have never played an Uncharted and they start things off with Drake’s Fortune. They will make incorrect assumptions about the later titles, and might not realize just how much better everything gets across Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception.
The other downside is that if you want to see the full story arc, if you want a taste of the beginnings of Drake, Elena and Sully, you sort of have to start with the first title. This means feeling a little frustrated until you can get to the smoother movement, better cover mechanics, greatly developed melee combat, and aiming refinements we find in the later entries. Of course, if you can manage this, you will soon find that Naughty Dog isn’t considered one of the industry’s leading developers for no reason. The second and third installments remain two of the best games ever, in my estimation, and while I’ll give the slight edge to Among Thieves, I think Drake’s Deception is very close and in fact, better in some ways. It simply suffered from minor backlash because its predecessor was so good and expectations were basically impossible.
Everything continues to improve through the series, as the characters become more fleshed-out (and in some cases more human and fallible), the story becomes deeper and more intricate, the environments become more diverse and innovative, and the puzzles, gunplay and platforming reach new heights of interactive achievement. One could argue that Drake’s Deception is actually the most accomplished in terms of third-person mechanics and despite the inclusion of questionable supernatural elements, it remains a stunning adventure. You always want to see what happens next in both games; you always want to play through the next chapter, wondering what amazing sequences you’ll encounter. I’d forgotten some of them and to revisit them was an absolute pleasure. Some sequences are downright iconic.
I’ve also noticed a certain lighthearted joviality in these games, a trait that seems to be waning in video games. It’s certainly true that Drake is more of a cartoon and one that doesn’t really start to gain enough dimension until later on, and there’s always the question we typically ask of all action heroes: “How are you a bastion of goodness and protection and righteousness when you’re killing everyone in sight?” Yes, well, that’s obviously an unanswerable question because of the nature of the entertainment. You’re not supposed to ask; you’re just supposed to enjoy. And the death on display in these games has never been gory or shocking; it’s very much like an “Indiana Jones” in this way and I appreciate this more carefree presentation.
There is some freshness to this compilation, too. There’s the addition of the super hard Brutal difficulty and the easy-as-pie Explorer mode, along with the unique Continuous Speed Run mode that keeps track of your time during certain scripted sections of the adventure. These new modes add some depth and a slightly different perspective to a rather straightforward experience, as novices and veterans have solid options. There’s no new content aside from this, though, so for the fans, they might think this collection is a tad light. Is it really worth it for that 1080p and 60fps and a few extra difficulty modes? Well, don’t forget about some of the refinements Bluepoint brings to the games and really, if you’re a true fan, what does it matter? You want the best of the best, right?
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is exactly what you’d expect. The first game doesn’t quite measure up and could turn off newcomers (always a concern), and the games really don’t have a lot of “new” in them. But really, the brilliance of this top-tier action/adventure series remains in full view throughout, and the remastering veterans at Bluepoint did a good job. They refined a little here, tweaked a bit there, and delivered a package that appropriately highlights the sheer greatness of the Uncharted franchise. The story arc reminds us that in fact, there’s one more Drake quest on the horizon, and also reminds us that linear storytelling with great acting and endlessly awesome action, will always be relevant.
The Good: 1080p and 60fps absolutely makes a marked difference. Top-notch voice performances throughout. Excellent gameplay fused with solid narratives. Some appreciated tweaks and fine-tuning. Great pacing and characterization. Unparalleled blend of puzzle, combat and platforming. More than a few memorable set pieces. New difficulty modes for both veterans and novices.
The Bad: Not a lot in the way of new content. First title shows its age and as a result, newcomers might be turned off. Some mediocre character development early on.
The Ugly: “No matter how old any Uncharted gets, it will never qualify as ‘ugly.’”
10/19/2015 Ben Dutka