Goddamn, is this ever an anthology.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection combines all three original PS3 Uncharted titles, remastered/remade, in one package. On the surface it might look like a simple upscaling, but spend some time with it and it becomes clear that The Nathan Drake Collection is an enormous undertaking and one which has had a great deal of love, care and attention showered upon it.
It struck me on booting up Drake’s Fortune again just how much this series meant to me. PlayStation fanboy that I am, of course I love Uncharted, but the goosebumps I felt when the series’ John Williams-esque theme started blasting triumphantly from my stereo was something else. Uncharted has achieved that tricky feat of transcending games and gamer culture and become somewhat of a phenomenon in its own right. Those goosebumps were part of that. The way that fans lose their mind about Star Wars, Pokemon, Harry Potter and the like, is where Uncharted finds itself today.
On playing Drake’s Fortune, I had the sudden realisation that Drake is essentially Mario to some gamers. Younger players who started their gaming careers on PS3 will have had their first taste of the medium guiding Drake through a tropical rainforest in search of the mythical El Dorado. The silky smooth voice of Nolan North accompanied by a playable Indiana Jones-type adventure would be what many, many gamers remember as their Super Mario Bros. It’s fitting then — and lucky — that Uncharted was and remains so hugely playable and entertaining. A generation of gamers grew up with this and now get to experience it all over again, share it with friends and reminisce.
With all three titles included in one package, it becomes incredibly easy to see how Naughty Dog learned, refined and changed the iterations to improve upon what came before. While I personally think Uncharted 3 spectacularly fails on this front, it is still a refinement of the franchises core mechanics, albeit one that to my mind doesn’t work well at all. Drake’s Fortune was the first in the series and the first time Naughty Dog had developed a shooter after spending years creating platformers Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. It’s clear now (and especially with all three Uncharteds lined up) that Drake’s Fortune was a learning experience for the developer. Mostly it remains immensely playable and enjoyable, but in the eight years since its release, some ideas and sections don’t hold up as well as they could.
Drake’s Fortune feels like a rough sketch that outlines where the series would go. Changes made to Drake’s Fortune to bring it in line with Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception help to modernise it and make the whole experience feel fresh again. That’s not to say that all changes are for the best. The addition of Uncharted 3’s melee combat system — clumsily stolen from Batman: Arkham — doesn’t work well at all in the first two titles, which is unsurprising as it was never really well implemented in Uncharted 3 in the first place.
If Drake’s Fortune is the rough sketch, Among Thieves is a masterpiece. It truly is a modern classic and a title that anyone with any interest in gaming, story telling and game design should most definitely play. Here Naughty Dog took everything it learned from the first title and perfected it. Moment to moment, Among Thieves rivals any video game experience out there for sheer excitement, thrills and playability. There’s a reason Uncharted 2 ranks so highly, so consistently on lists of the greatest games ever made and playing through again I was stunned by just how amazing it is and that I’d forgotten it.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. While Uncharted 1 and 2 are incredible and both should be played and replayed fiercely, I simply can’t say the same of Uncharted 3. Call me crazy, stupid, both or worse, but I just don’t think it’s a very good game. It’s long-winded and confusing and spends too much time funneling Drake down one long, goon-filled corridor. It’s missing that special quality — that spark that made the other two so exceptional. It is a well made, gorgeously rendered title from a studio at the top of their game, but it just fails to reach the heights set by the other two. Of course, it still is very playable and you may love it to pieces. I just don’t. If you do though, then you’re in luck, because the same love, care and attention that’s been poured into this whole collection is clearly evident in Uncharted 3 also.
A range of gameplay changes help to unify the three titles including the way Drake throws grenades, the feel of shooting and aiming and opening up Crushing from the beginning, the graphics have been heavily overhauled by developer Bluepoint Games. Textures and lighting have been increased across the board and all three titles now run at 1080p and a butter smooth 60fps, with almost no dipping below that benchmark. Drake’s Fortune benefits the most from these graphical updates, but all three title look, feel and play even better as a result. Both Uncharted 2 and 3 are still so visually gorgeous that they can even hold their own against some titles released this year.
Unfortunately, there is no multiplayer mode in sight, which seems to be a huge oversight. It’s a real shame that nothing from either Among Thieves or Drake’s Deception was included and it’s a real missed opportunity. For those hoping to relive their glory days of Uncharted multiplayer will have to wait until next year when Uncharted 4 is released, although by purchasing The Nathan Drake Collection, you’ll gain access to the Uncharted 4 multiplayer beta later this year.
It’s not really difficult to recommend this collection — even with my feelings about Uncharted 3 — because this is a truly worthwhile package. The attention given by Bluepoint in improving the graphics, framerate and gameplay are evident and the having the entire Uncharted series playable on PS4 in one place is fantastic. Fans will most definitely want to get their hands on a copy and play through again (especially to check out the insanely difficult new Brutal mode) while those who missed out on Uncharted last-gen can get a chance to play all three at their best. It’s win-win. This is not some cheap, quick cash-grab. This is a labour of love for old and new fans alike and it demands your attention from start to finish.
Review: Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection