A train’s derailed, and hangs precariously off the side of a mountain top. The train groans as it slides along its edge as it threatens to plunge completely off the side and down to the icy depths below. Treasure hunter and thief with a heart of gold, Nathan Drake, plunges out the tail end of the dangling cart, avoiding death by finger tips as he sways in the wind. Drake’s bleeding, his normal wisecracking composure vanished and replaced by a panicked weariness and sense of determination not to die. This is the scene gamers were thrust into in 2009 when they fired up Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and again in the newly released Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection.
Naughty Dog, a studio known for their cartoony Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter series, looked toward the cinema, specifically Indian Jones, when they created the first Uncharted game, but it wasn’t until that game’s sequel did they deliver something that rivaled the great action adventure films of the Silver Screen. Battling a helicopter across a moving train, ducking between buildings to avoid a rampaging tank, series protagonist Nathan Drake found himself in situations designed to please the thrill-junkie in all of us.
But unlike the Indian Jones films, Naughty Dog explored the brokenness behind Drake, the vulnerability behind his wisecracking personality, and the immaturity of his lifestyle and its effect on the people around him. Treasure hunting was a dangerous hobby that stunted his growth as a person, but it was the only life that he had ever known. Through three Uncharted games, it was this character study, along with the action adventure set pieces and realistic characters, that made the series a staple of the PS3.
Now with Uncharted 4 on the rise to close out the series early next year, Sony has partnered with Blue Point studios to rerelease the games in a collection with remastered graphics and at 60 frames per second. There’s much to say about rereleases and their tendency to be a cash-grab for publishers, but playing through Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection feels like revisiting an old friend.
The collection is mainly focused toward the many PS4 users who never owned a PS3, but this is the best way to play the Uncharted series and reminds gamers why Naughty Dog is one of the best developers in the industry. Despite the graphic overhaul, the games’ graphics still look slightly dated, particularly the first game, but animations and movements flow flawlessly without any graphical hiccups.
Out of the three games, the first Uncharted is the roughest around the edges but is fun in its own right and interesting to play as a building block for the games that follow. Here, Nathan Drake plays very much to the archetype of the action hero with many of his later vulnerabilities and insecurities not initially present. Chasing after the fabled lost city of El Dorado with his mentor Sully and love interest Elena, Drake comes under attack from rival treasure hunters and pirates. The first game sticks mainly with the lush jungle environment which offers a leaner tale but can seem repetitive by the end. Gun combat has been balanced across all three games but still feels more touchy and less responsive here than the sequels. Over half way through the story, the game takes an interesting dive into the horror genre as Drake and pirates alike are hunted by bloodthirsty monsters. The monsters propose an interesting dynamic when players are caught in a three way war between them and hired goons, but they show up far too late in the game to be fully realized.
The second Uncharted is the gem of the series as it improves upon its predecessor in every way and offers a larger, more open world spanning several continents for Drake to explore. Searching for the lost fleet of Marco Polo, Drake is drawn into a world of betrayal and deception. This game continues Drake’s relationship with Elena while offering a foil in the form of fellow treasure hunters Flynn and Chloe. Stealth and hand-to-hand combat are greatly improved upon as shootouts become increasingly dynamic. Action sequences have been amplified as Drake escapes a falling building, fights yetis and boards a fleeing train, but these action set pieces like the aforementioned train are tapered by the themes of the story. Is Drake a bad man? Does his lifestyle bring destruction? Drake becomes more relatable as his sarcastic front falls away, and his outwitted and outmatched. There’s a sense that Drake is just barely getting by through the thickness of his skin, and the writing is helped by a wonderful performance from that voice you hear in every game, Nolan North. In fact, all the actors are on point, creating a lived in world. The story while not dissimilar to the previous game feels larger, perhaps due to the variety of locations. Chloe and Flynn create a nice parable between the man Drake was, and through Elena, the man he wants to be. This is the game that pushes Naughty Dog into the upper tier of story tellers.
If not quite reaching the heights of its predecessor, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception closes out the collection on a satisfying note. Each level functions as a mini disaster movie in its own right. From a sinking ship, a crashing plane, to a burning building, Drake is thrown into situations that, while fun to play through, don’t necessarily make the most sense from a story point of view. The game raises some interesting questions about Drake’s past and his relationship with Sully, but the game adheres more to the “lets blow something up” rule of story telling. Hand to hand combat has been greatly improved upon, allowing for more dynamic fight scenes such as the bar fight that opens the game. Like the previous games, there’s also a focus on puzzle solving to find the fabled lost McGuffin, but like the previous game, the puzzles aren’t too taxing, mostly being used from a storytelling point of view to place gamers in Drake’s shoes rather than challenging them. Despite its short comings, it remains a great game and the increase in graphics make the game’s set pieces particularly pop.
The collection doesn’t include the multiplayer components of Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3, but comes with a voucher to play the Beta during the first week of December. For new fans, the collection offers a great starting point to catch players up in time for Uncharted 4, and as a long time fan of the series, it’s a great chance to enter that world again and become a world traveling, wisecracking treasure hunter.