Uncharted – The Nathan Drake Collection Review (PS4 Pro)

If I were to explain to someone how Uncharted plays, I would say that it is like Tomb Raider, only with more shooting, more linear, and a lot more character-building and interaction.

I guess I’m done here. See ya next time. Thank you for reading.

Yeah, no. I am incapable of being that brief. It is 2022, and I am enjoying a game franchise developed initially for the PlayStation 3. The first entry in the series was released fifteen (15!) years ago by Naughty Dog, nowadays of The Last of Us fame. Uncharted 1 Drake’s Fortune debuted in 2007, was followed up in 2009 with Among Thieves, and the trilogy (yes, I am aware there is a part four) was completed in 2011 with Drake’s Deception. I am not really one for nostalgic trips, so I picked up the remastered version instead of the originals (and I do not have a PS3). Bluepoint, now a part of PlayStation Studios, enhanced these three games for the PlayStation 4 and splashed out 60 fps gameplay. Note, though, that the remaster itself is also already seven years old. It was released in 2015.

The Nerdy Bits

Apart from visual upgrades or fixes, the most notable improvements are to the framerate and input lag. The original versions, especially Drake’s Fortune, were allegedly infamous for janky controller accuracy due to input latency and dead zone handling. I remember watching YouTube videos of part 1, and the player was close to frustrated because of it and the resulting difficulty. I was unaware of any of the remaster’s augmentations to the originals. I just wanted to play the games myself, and the collection was affordably priced.

To my surprise, all included games mostly played great, and I had a ton of fun. I’m not too fond of janky input handling and have voiced my anger in a separate blog post. Aiming is as good as it can be with a controller, and the 60 fps performance target has a huge impact too.

Visuals are as you can expect from a fifteen-year-old game. Comparing the 25-year-old me and the 40-year-old me, it is evident that the older me does not look as good anymore. It is serviceable, but even a remaster cannot help, unlike Uncharted part 1, which has received the most upgrades, being the oldest entry. Together, all three titles still hold up quite well today. Sure, they cannot compete with a modern triple-A title like Horizon Forbidden West, but it does not matter. The graphics are good enough, and the level and art design ensure the games are still immersive.

Only Uncharted 3 has a few issues that have to do with its resolution. The graphics are appealing, but the image resolution takes a hit. Compared to parts 1 and 2, it is more noticeable.

If you want all the details, here’s a list of the Digital Foundry coverage of The Nathan Drake Collection.

After watching the videos and having an idea about the performance, I am surprised that there are actually dips below the designated 60 fps target. I tend to notice such things, especially as activated V-Sync really drops the experience when the frame intervals are missed. Not here, though. It is fine.

While the visual presentation is not at 2022 levels anymore, the audio quality is, without question, incredible. You could easily mistake it for a movie if you only hear the voice acting without seeing the game. The complete cast is that outstanding. The actors I recognized are Claudia Black, who I adored as Morrigan in Dragon Age Origins, and Emily Rose, who I know from the TV show Haven, which is based on the Stephen King novel Colorado Kid.

Gameplay

Uncharted combines 3rd-person shooting mechanics, puzzle-solving, climbing, and simple parkour into an action-adventure game. Whereas Tomb Raider frequently drops you into larger hub areas you can explore freely, the Uncharted games follow a linear path. You can explore and find collectibles, but there is no reward to make it worthwhile apart from finding them. Tomb Raider gives you additional back-story to form a complete picture of the events. This aspect is missing in Uncharted, so I just ignored them. Yes, you receive achievements, but that is not incentive enough for me to meticulously scour the levels. I prefer to waste time differently, like playing even more games.

Nate finding his first collectible treasure next to a tree in the snow.

Although the controls have been improved as part of the remaster, the climbing and parkour elements sometimes feel unrefined. I missed jumps, dropped off ledges numerous times, and triggered unintended comedy more often than I liked as a result. I was never alone playing the games, so I had to endure a lot of laughter and “what the???” comments. I can promise you will experience unintentional deaths. It was like lousy slapstick, and yet it still had its own kind of charm. I think the accuracy improved from game 1 to game 2, though, and it is serviceable overall. For the most part, it never ruined the experience. Only part 3 stands out negatively a bit. I feel like the controller deadzone handling changed. Aiming appears to be less accurate because it takes longer for the game to register controller movement. Add to that the very jerky enemy movement. I felt like I was shooting at rabbits, only with ugly faces.

The only thing I was absolutely missing was a sprint option. I enjoy taking in the view in a location and chose a strolling pace instead of running. At the same time, crossing large rooms several times to solve puzzles gets drawn out occasionally at Nate’s rather casual jogging speed. Or, you know, trying to outrun a tank. That would be worthy of sprinting, don’t you think? Or maybe Nate is just too cool for that. Who knows 🤷.

Nate hiding behind a wall and defeating enemies with grenades below him on a snowy road.

Uncharted’s focus is on telling a story, developing characters, and shooting a ton of enemies. Where do they all come from? Who knows. Does it matter? No! Enemies swarm you in droves, and convincing them of their wrongdoing by utilizing opinion boosters in gun form is the core gameplay mechanic. It can be a bit tedious at times, as you often must hold off several waves before you can move on.

Nate shooting a group of enemies above him on a castle wall.

The gameplay is not the most elaborate, yet it is still delightful. Pick up a gun, pew pew, more pew pew, hide, wait for Nate to recover, even more pew pew, some additional pew pew, a fist fight, the last pew pew, and move on. It is simple and unpolluted. There are no RPG elements or upgrades that unnecessarily complicate the gameplay and distract from what is essential: the story and the characters.

Uncharted 3

I had a perfectly lined-up segue into the next section ready to go, but as it turns out, part three of this franchise is a bit of a standout and needs special treatment.

Unfortunately, this beautiful and innocent transition gave its life to a rant. It was ruined, as was basically every edifice you enter and explore in the game. The general premise of what I wrote in the previous section is still valid. Yet, several aspects of Uncharted 3’s design and controls have delivered so many waves of immense frustration as it did enemies. I often had to quit playing, or I might have smashed something.

So, what went wrong?

If I recall correctly, this is the first game that tries to implement some recognizable form of a tutorial to familiarize you with some of the gameplay mechanics. It starts with a bar fight, and who does not love a good bar fight in a video game? Well, it’s not good, sadly. Rather than letting you roam freely, Uncharted 3 takes you by the hand and slows down time while it prompts you to press buttons. I constantly felt restricted, confined even. I wanted to run around and beautify the faces of Nate’s adversaries. Instead, I was trapped in “quick”-time hell. But that is not the only time I felt imprisoned.

After that, the game continues teaching you how to hide behind cover and move from one concealment to the next. Immediately after the tutorial, however, there is no need for your new-learned moves to practice. What’s the point, then?

But then, where was the introduction to the parkour elements? Uncharted 3 never taught me that I could jump at random ropes. I had to discover that myself while escaping a horde of Agent Smith clones.

Nate and his friends are often forced to escape a dire situation, like a crumbling chateau or running from spiders (disgusting) in a crypt. Either the game destroys the way in front of you every five steps, or you are forced to run towards the camera, not seeing where the path leads and fighting the imprecise controls. Nate must grab onto crumbling ledges during his getaways so often that it stops the flow of the escape to a grinding halt – as a breakdown does in Metal music. The game forces a stop onto you in a dire situation. You want to climb, you want to run. You smash the buttons, but scripted events prohibit progress. This happened so often that it became an annoying running gag. “Oh, look, a big structure that I’ll have to escape from while it crumbles and burns, but the game won’t let me. Here we go again”.

Nate shooting a a couple of enemies in a heavily burning building.

I am convinced this type of gameplay is enjoyable to watch on YouTube since it is very cinematic. It was not fun to play, though.

Add to that the overall inaccurate controls. I think they are worse in this game compared to parts one and two. What once was endearing slapstick quickly turned into a death-fest. Often, I didn’t even know why Nate died. I must’ve gotten stuck on an invisible wall or stumbled over a flat texture. I don’t know. And don’t get me started on the shooting. Enemy hitboxes were all over the place. While gunfights felt reasonably well in the prequels, part three is a guessing game. You can fire several well-placed rounds into an enemy’s head. If he just looks funny, you’ll miss him. And yes, it’s always a dude you are cheese grading.

By the way, I played on Easy and had a hard time. No thanks to bullet sponges and bullet-avoiding clowns.

(🤡s are creepy)

How do I turn this around, so I can move on to the story and the characters? I guess I’ll just copy the last line of the previous section as a reminder 😁.

There are no RPG elements or upgrades that unnecessarily complicate the gameplay and distract from what is essential: the story and the characters.

Story and Characters

And this is why I like the Uncharted franchise so much. As I mentioned in the technical section, the voice acting already makes this feel like a movie. It might as well be an Indiana Jones flick. Uncharted focuses on a small set of characters with Nate at the center. You will witness friendship, loyalty, and also mistrust and betrayal. Most of the time, Nate is accompanied by one of his companions, and throughout the adventure, there are conversations, bickering, and witty back and forth. You will never be bored because of silence

(*cough* Weird West *cough*)

and this in-game commentary is what puts the experience over the top. It is entertaining, and it gives everybody a personality. You will come to like and loathe characters because of it. In contrast, the big-boss enemy is a stereotypical lousy dude and never really a deep character – which is fine. I do not have to feel anything for the enemy, and Uncharted is not the type of game to provoke emotional conflict. It is an amusing action adventure – nothing more, nothing less.

Elena, Nate, and Chloe discover a tree-like relic in a large room.

Nate is always after an ancient and precious treasure, and the way to get there is more or less a scavenger hunt – your typical archeologist adventure story. Throughout this journey, you will visit numerous locations, from dense jungles, old castle ruins, dark caverns, or a besieged city. The games provide a lot of variety, and no area overstays its welcome. Most levels are heavy on combat and action; the rest offers the much-needed relief from all the intensity by tasking you with a puzzle or a climbing and parkour interlude. Remember, this gameplay aspect comes with its own unintended comedy and, therefore, fun. Not to mention the wild vehicle chases. What’s better than running from a giant boulder coming at you, rushing for some crushing? Driving away in a jeep with a gun mounted on its back and shooting at an endless supply of driving fireworks – by which I mean bad guys on wheels.

And to ensure armed opponents do not get boring either, Naughty Dog also added some supernatural elements. Just like Tomb Raider.

Famous Last Words

Modern games can be overwhelming with all the bolted-on gameplay mechanics. Uncharted appears simple in comparison. However, I would call it focused instead. The games tell a story of a bunch of friends searching for a treasure and, in the process of doing so, preventing a genuinely evil bloke from misusing the prize for madman purposes. As it turns out, the object of desire cannot only be weighed in gold. There are more genocidal traits to it. Under these circumstances, the story develops a sense of urgency and legitimizes virtually delivering headshots, sending enemies flying using grenades

(so satisfying)

and letting bodies hit the floor. It is popcorn cinema in game form.

Nate defeating enemies with a grenade in a crumbling desert village ruin.

All three titles can each be completed somewhere between eight to ten hours. I like this a lot because it is a good distraction from all the heavy hitters that take 50 or more hours of your time.

Uncharted is a good amount of fun, and I cannot recommend it enough. It is not without flaws (looking at you, Uncharted 3), but all the positive elements far outweigh these. I am very keen on experiencing the Uncharted Legacy of Thieves Collection on PC. The gameplay is supposedly much better in Uncharted 4 and later, and the power of a PC, although only entry-level in my case, far outweighs my PS4 and its graphical prowess.

Thank you for reading a review of what, by today’s standards, is a relic.

See what I did there?

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