Adventuring through my backlog of games, one game at a time.
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: October 2015 (Originally Nov 2007 on PS3)
Played On: PlayStation 4
And so begins my grand backlog adventure into the Uncharted series.
I’ve never held any dedication or fandom toward Sony or Microsoft. I dabbled in the PS1, loved my PS2, and then skipped the entire PS3 generation in favor of the Xbox 360.
With this console generation I’ve returned to Sony with noticeable gaps in my gaming history. Thus much of my current backlog gaming will be dedicated to playing catch up some of the biggest PlayStation games of the last and current generation.
You already read my Final Thoughts on The Last of Us: Remastered. Now it’s time for Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, beginning with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.
More than anything else, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune feels like a transition; a shift from the previous PS2/GCN generation of third-person action and into modern game design. It leaves the decade-old original Uncharted feeling a bit clunky and jarring in places, while a few brilliant ideas and concepts shine through.
The aspect least touched by age is the writing, characters, and story. Naughty Dog’s goal was to develop a game with the same excitement and action-caliber of a summer blockbuster, and they mostly succeed. It specifically draws from the Indiana Jones films with a plucky, wise-cracking adventurer exploring ancient ruins while battling heavily armed enemy forces.
It’s impossible not to like series protagonist Nathan Drake. Drake is brave, curious, intelligent, and resourceful. His buddy Sully is the perfect sidekick, equally wise-cracking as he chomps on a cigar and lusts for treasure, but never to a villainous degree.
The opening introduces us to Elena Fisher, a carefree TV journalist and reporter who may be even more headstrong and brave than Drake. She eventually falls into the trope of getting captured and needing rescue, but that’s fairly late in the story. Until then she’s an enjoyably welcome on-gain, off-again adventuring partner.
The story follows Drake and company’s search for El Dorado, which turns out to be an ancient, and cursed, golden statue. It was brought to a lost island by the explorer Sir Francis Drake (Nathan claims to be a descendant).
Nathan and Elena are shot down over the island as a villainous treasure-thieving organization has already set up shop, and they have to fight their way through hordes of bad guys throughout the jungles and ruins.
Combat is a rudimentary third-person cover shooter. Pressing the Circle button sticks Drake to the nearest cover, where he can poke out and shoot back, turning most encounters into arcade gallery shoot ’em ups. Enemies are all equipped with grenades, preventing me from sticking in any one location for too long, and they’ll frequently use their numbers advantage to flank me.
My main beef with the combat is that it consistently lasts too long. Nearly every big encounter featured multiple waves of bad guys streaming in, forcing me to repeat the duck and shoot process until it becomes tedious.
Ammo is limited and Drake can only ever carry one sidearm and one rifle or shotgun. Enemies all drop guns and ammo, so many encounters turn into a hilariously chaotic exercise of running around snatching up guns and emptying clips.
I loved the shotgun but it was useless for long-range encounters, while the assault rifles tended to do the same amount of work as the standard pistol. Uncharted almost falls into the Halo trap, where the starting pistol ends up being one of the most reliable and powerful weapons in the game.
Despite the huge focus on combat, Drake doesn’t have a health bar. Taking damage instead drains the color from the screen and and adds a heartbeat sound effect to up the tension. Not being able to monitor my health was annoying. I frequently got killed having to grab ammo from fallen enemies, or becoming flanked by a wave that suddenly appeared behind me.
Thankfully the game autosaves all the time with frequent checkpoints, and I never lost much progress. I think the finale alone took me at least a dozen retries, a particularly frustrating series of gallery shoot-outs with a one-hit kill boss. You really lose all of the dramatic tension in a sequence when you fail it over and over again.
Uncharted also features lots of little platforming segments. It wasn’t the first third-person action game to include platforming but it definitely feels like the prototype (along with Assassins Creed, which also first released in 2007) to the more open-world, ledge-jumping design of later third-person action games like Horizon Zero Dawn.
Make no mistake, these levels are very much linear (and the outdoor areas look especially poorly disguised), but the way too frequent and not terribly intuitive ledge-crawling and cliff-jumping feels like proto-modern game design.
There was only a single extended platforming sequence that really frustrated me, to where I admittedly had to stop playing and come back the next day. It’s when you have to scale the upper end of a monastery, jumping from ledges to wooden railings to hanging chandeliers in order to activate two key stones to open a door.
One false move at any time was an instant death, and I had to start it completely over. A midway checkpoint would’ve made a world of difference. Every other time I was very satisfied (and occasionally shocked) about how frequent the checkpoints were. After I finished the game I went back and noted that I had died nearly 100 times in my less than eight hour playthrough.
Despite my all-too frequent failures in both combat and platforming, I still enjoyed playing Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The roughest aspects – like the linear, almost tunneled level designs and the hilarious way enemies jump up backwards when shot, are jarring at first, but quickly forgiven. Naughty Dog successfully delivered an action game that feels both cinematic and very video game-y. As the first Uncharted is considered the weakest and roughest of the bunch, I have high hopes for this series.
- Drake, Sully, and Elena are all fun, well-voiced, three-dimensional characters who feel like real people.
- The story and pacing work the modern day Indiana Jones angle very well, tropes and all.
- Decent and unobtrusive Hint system points you in the right direction if you get stuck.
- Save for one egregiously frustrating platforming sequence toward the end, the checkpoints and autosaves were very quick, frequent, and forgiving.
- Rudimentary but legit adventure game-style puzzles!
- Almost every single gunfight goes on too long, with way too many enemies who take too many bullets to kill.
- Late-game enemies feature full body armor, becoming even more frustrating bullet sponges.
- Aside from the late game inclusion of god damn feral ghouls, enemy variety is limited to basic dudes who shoot you.
- Levels are exceedingly linear, and outdoor areas feel especially small and confined.
I remember the end-game boss in this one or Uncharted 2 being really annoying, and I was so glad when later games actually didn’t have that (or at least not as much).
One of the later ones actually had an escape finale rather than a boss fight, which I greatly appreciated!
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So I just finished Uncharted 2 and can confirm that that’s the one with the super awful final boss fight.
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Cool. So it’s Uncharted 3 that had the chase/race. And I think 4 did as well?
No spoilers – still making my way through them! 😀
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No spoilers. Just know that if you got past the annoyance of the end of Uncharted 2, you won’t have anything like that in the next two games (at least as far as end-game boss battles go) 🙂
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