“It’s like Tomb Raider, except with a guy, and Nathan Drake is SO like Nathan Fillion” my friend said. That was enough to get me interested in playing Uncharted but it took me many months, and an upgrade to a PS4 Pro, that made me actually get off my butt and purchase the games. Enter the PlayStation Network Holiday Sale and I scored the Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection for a ridiculously cheap price.
I’m a huge Tomb Raider fan. I love that Lara Croft is a strong woman who explores ancient ruins and strange locations, all the while kicking butt and uncovering treasures through solving puzzles. She’s high on my pedestal of characters I adore. Learning about history as a kid was great, but when Lara came along she fuelled my dreams of being an archaeologist (I know, a very different thing and an archaeologist she is not). For my friend to say that Nathan Drake was similar, it meant the bar was set pretty high before I even picked up the controller.
[I will say – however – that Lara’s outfits throughout the original games have typically pissed me off. A real human being would be covered in all kinds of bruises, cuts and scrapes if they wore shorts as tiny as that while scaling deep caverns and running through jungles. The latter games have been a welcome improvement, but still…]
As an actor, writer and filmmaker the kinds of games I like to play are typically those with good stories. This review should be considered with this in mind – I’m playing these games to be entertained, have fun and go on a journey.
Let’s get into these games, but don’t worry, no big spoilers to worry about. But there are still spoilers, you have been warned.
PART 1 – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Release: Originally released in 2007, played here remastered in The Nathan Drake Collection (2015)
Consol: PS4 Pro
Difficulty Level: Normal
When I loaded Drake’s Fortune I wondered if Drake would be given the same tiny shorts consideration as Lara Croft (spoiler alert – he doesn’t, he’s got full length pants). He does look a little like Nathan Fillion and is very handy with a gun and hand-to-hand combat.
The story starts with Nathan (Nate) and Elena, a journalist, who are excavating the coffin of English explorer Sir Francis Drake. Also- they’re on a boat.
She’s filming a TV special about the whole thing, excited about scoring footage of untold treasures. She’s all about “the scoop” and is clearly passionate about her job, which I love. They are both interrupted by pirates, which is where the player gets to learn how to use Nate’s gun and fists in combat.
I really enjoyed the element of hand-to-hand combat in this game, something that until recently has been missing from the Tomb Raider series (and even then, mostly a heavy feature of the interactive cut/movie scenes). It makes things more interesting in terms of gameplay, especially as the features of hand-to-hand develop in the later games.
The excavation of the coffin takes Nathan and Elena to the Amazon in search of El Dorado, where we meet another of Drake’s colleagues named Sully.
I really like the “companion” element of Uncharted, but I wasn’t really sure about Sully at first. He’s much older than Nathan and (initially) seems to have a different motivation, which kind of made me question why he’d be out bustin’ his balls for treasure rather than doing something different. In short, it got me suspicious. Don’t get me wrong – fitness comes in all ages and sizes – it was the character as a package that made me question why he was following Nathan around, when he seemed better suited to a different style of treasure seeking pursuit…
It turns out Sully is effectively the same as Nate in terms of interests and adventure, which is why they are well suited to each other. Sully might complain about some of the physical elements of their explorations, but I don’t think he really means it, and ultimately they make great companions that like to pick on each other. Again, the sense of humour in this game is lots of fun.
Back to the Amazon – Nate and Sully confront what will become the game’s “baddie.” The game then progresses with Elena and Nate flying to an old island, where they discover the truth about El Dorado.
The different locations and landscape are really pretty. Graphics and play are fantastic, although Drake can be a little clunky to manoeuvre at times. There were moments where I wished the controls were a little more sensitive like in Tomb Raider but not quite to that extent. It was really cool to explore ruined buildings from the outside – if you’re afraid of heights, don’t look down. Seriously.
The game has a fantastic horror-style element to it that’s revealed on the island (the answer to so many dead bodies…) which totally made me scream and freak out in certain spots. At this point of the review I’d like to apologise to my puppies and my partner for piercing shrieks and terrified gasps that happened during that part of the game. The game got me good, but it made them all rather concerned about my welfare.
Combat is similar in style to the classic Nintendo 64: Goldeneye. Instead of a health bar, the colour on the screen dulls and becomes black and white if Drake gets severely injured. You also hear his heart beat louder, the PS4 controller vibrates, and the screen starts to get red edging (blood!) If he is close to death, the image starts to get a little fuzzy. So don’t get injured too much when you’re playing m’kay?
The end of the game promises something might be brewing between Elena and Nate (queue sitcom “ooooooooooooohs!”) and the mysteries of the island and El Dorado are satisfactorily explained.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is a great adventure game, whether you’re already familiar with puzzle solving, archaeological-ruin investigating, bad-guy-shootin’ and death defying stunt style gameplay – OR whether you’re completely new to it. Even though the controls were a little clunky it was still easy to learn, normal gameplay was still a reasonable challenge, and most importantly – it was great fun to play. The story has great depth, and definitely made me excited to play the next game to see where Nate’s adventures would take him next.
[For those who care/are curious, Tomb Raider similarities – puzzle solving, character movement, finding “treasures” during gameplay, adventure style/storyline.]
[For those who care/are curious, Tomb Raider differences – hand to hand combat (generally), swimming – Lara does more and can dive under, Nate driving/shooting from a car (it’s a lot easier than the few instances that it takes place in the Tomb Raider series), ammo – Nate doesn’t have an unlimited supply on one of his guns.]
PART 2 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Release: Originally released in 2009, played here remastered in The Nathan Drake Collection (2015)
Consol: PS4 Pro
Difficulty Level: Normal
Among Thieves starts off with a HUGE bang. Nate is seriously wounded and there’s a train that’s falling off the edge of a cliff… and you’re in it. Nate has to hurry to get off the train before the carriages – him included – slide off the snowy mountain.
It’s an edgy, urgent, tense start to the game… and I bloody loved it.
How did he get in this position? What happened? Why is he so severely injured? What on earth is the dagger looking thing on his belt? So many questions, which put me in game story heaven from the get-go.
The game cuts to a flash back where we meet Chloe (voiced by Claudia Black, an extremely awesome Aussie known for Farscape amongst many other things) and Flynn (voiced by Steve Valentine). Gamers, your ears do not deceive you, for Steve is indeed the actor that played Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins and Dragon Age II. I may or may not have exclaimed “ALISTAIR MY LOVE” when I heard his voice, and I’m not ashamed to admit that. I don’t have to justify my in-game character decisions to you #AlistairandtheGreyWarden4LYFE
Chloe and Flynn want Nate’s help stealing an artefact from a Turkish museum. It’s a plain looking oil lamp once owned by Marco Polo that contains clues to where Polo’s doomed voyage wrecked. You guessed it – they want his missing treasure.
It’s a risky venture, but Nate agrees to it. What follows is one of the nicest game introductions I’ve played, where the player learns the gameplay mechanics while Nate and Flynn stealthily make their way into the museum. It’s also one of the most gorgeous 3D environments I’ve seen in a game.
Upon finding the artefact we learn that things aren’t what they seem, and of course things escalate. The artefact is a clue to the legendary city Shambhala, aka Shangri-La. We also meet one of the “baddies” of Among Thieves.
Nate ends up in jail, but is eventually freed by Chloe and his old pal Sully. The game then takes you on an adventure to Borneo, Nepal, Tibet and the Himalayas, and eventually Shambhala with the return of our girl Elena. You’ll find out there’s more than one baddie to concern yourself with, as well as the fate of the ancient city & human race itself.
Elena is just as tough, capable and impressive as she was the first time. She’s a great strong woman, and to have her in this game with Chloe was incredibly welcome. The two women have very different personalities, but they’re no wilting flowers. Their characters hold their own just fine, without being the “we’re here just because we’re fighting over the same guy” stereotypes we’ve come to see in films. I’d totally play a game based on those two.
Among Thieves took everything I enjoyed about the first game and made it better. Combat was more fun – stealth mode killing is THE BEST and I often found myself doing it even when there was no need. Because dammit I love a challenge and being sneaky was so much fun! A new weapon pops up when you’re in Nepal to add to your stealth-kill enjoyment: the crossbow!
This game also includes a horror element that, although different from the first game, is tougher to overcome. Some shrieks occurred, but it was more about swearing and grumpiness for me as I tried to beat this part of the game.
Visually it’s gorgeous; each location is beautifully detailed, which really enriches the storytelling and gameplay. When you’re in the Tibetan village it is so colourful and atmospheric, there’s a vibrancy about it that makes it a really refreshing place to find yourself. Make sure you look at the buildings, and the kids playing ball by the footpath (or the ones playing hide and seek).
The character relationships are more complex and dynamic than the first game, which the title of the game alludes to. Among Thieves comes from the proverb “honour among thieves,” which means “dishonest people may have certain standards of behaviour which they will respect,” or that there’s “trustworthiness within a group that is not considered trustworthy to outsiders.” This proverb has so much meaning when it comes to the relationships, and again there were times where I questioned the trust that was placed in certain characters. Is there honour among these thieves? You have to play to find out.
I also got way too much fun out of looking through Drake’s notebook, especially at the page with “The Many Faces of Victor ‘Goddamn’ Sullivan”
The final battle is a tough one, featuring an epic escape and high odds. It does not disappoint.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a tweaked and slightly better version of its predecessor. It maintains the same characteristics, style and humour of the first game – allowing players of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune to feel comfortable straight away. However, the incredible opening and how-to-play guidance in the Turkish Museum makes the game accessible for any newbie, without making them feel like they’ve missed out by not playing Drake’s Fortune. Fresh elements (a train battle!) and well-written moments of tension make the storyline a joy to play, and as the game unfolds you get an even greater sense of how cool this could be as a movie. While the controls at times retained a little bit of that original clunkiness, I still thoroughly enjoyed playing this game.
[For those who care/are curious, Tomb Raider similarities & differences to this game are like those discussed above in the review above of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune]
PART 3 – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Release: Originally released in 2011, played here remastered in The Nathan Drake Collection (2015)
Consol: PS4 Pro
Difficulty Level: Normal
By the third game, Naughty Dog knows their title so well that they can afford to have a little bit of swagger. And that’s exactly how Drake’s Deception starts.
Sully and Nate are back and walking down the streets of good old London town, looking to sell Drake’s ring… wait, WHAT?! The sale doesn’t go according to plan, and an epic bar brawl breaks out. At this point, the game helpfully demonstrates how the new hand-to-hand combat works, and it’s a doozy. It feels straight out of a film, so much so that when one bad guy grabs Nate from behind and another one comes rushing towards him, the poor bad guy gets a swift kick to the stomach.
As the story develops we are treated to a flash-back of a young Nathan Drake and his first encounter with the game’s baddie, and a younger Victor “Sully” Sullivan. We learn a little about how Drake came to be the treasure/mystery obsessed adventurer we know today, and the role that Sully played in his life that shaped what Drake has become. It’s a fun little flash-back, and young Nate is quite adorkable.
Back to the present, we learn that Nate and Sully have teamed up with Chloe and a character we haven’t yet met in the series called Cutter, a scrappy Irishman (voiced by the wonderful Graham McTavish whose body of work is enormous, recently playing Dwalin in The Hobbit). The team are investigating an English group who have interest in Francis Drake’s past and his artefacts, with ties to the reign of Queen Elizabeth (the first) herself. They discover clues that lead Nate to an old French Chateau, a Syrian citadel, Yemen, the Arabian Desert and the lost city of Ubar.
In Yemen, Nate teams up with Elena and we learn a little about the state of their relationship. There’s some wonderful character work that goes on here as we discover what happened in the time between Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception. Again, it’s no wonder that there has been talk about how good these games would make as movies. The story telling is really solid.
Puzzle solving goes up a notch in this game as entire locations form part of Drake’s mysterious quest itself. The architecture gets more impressive, and the geographic locations are lots of fun. I didn’t think I’d enjoy being out in the desert, it’s not much more than sand and ruins, but I truly did.
A great element of this game is the use of hallucinogenic substances the bad guys use to mess with the heroes. It certainly makes the gameplay interesting when you’re trying desperately to control an uncontrollable situation – if you’ve got a sensitive stomach and feel easily nauseated, be careful when playing those parts.
There’s a wicked plane fight (which totally one-ups the train fight from Among Thieves) and plenty of opportunities to be a stealthy mother**ker. It also feels as though the developers upped the difficulty of the group battles, there seemed to be even more bad guys to get past in certain stages, and I found myself repeating sections with great frustration because I’d get SO close to getting through only to have one or two guys screw me over before the next checkpoint. While it was super frustrating, you get over it. In those levels, use one of the awesome explode-y guns (they have names I’m sure but I liked to call it the explode-y gun).
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a great adventure, with a lot of intrigue and mystery to solve. The character dynamics add an extra element to the story arc based off the in-game revealed backstories. I found myself chuckling at a lot of moments, as well as getting caught up in the serious parts of the game. Drake’s Deception retains the characteristic humour of the Uncharted series, while adding grandeur to the locations and puzzle solving elements gamers have come to know and love. The addition of Cutter to our merry band of thieves was a wonderful choice, and I can see myself coming back to this game in years to come.
[For those who care/are curious, Tomb Raider similarities & differences to this game are like those discussed above in our review of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune]
Summary – Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
This is a great bundle for those of you looking for games with solid story telling and adventure. It’s hard to go wrong when purchasing three titles for less than the price of one, so value-for-money-wise it is totally worth it. The characters are enjoyable, and it’s nice that they don’t take themselves too seriously (the humour certainly made me laugh out loud quite a number of times). While I prefer the bad-assery and heroics of Lara Croft, Nathan Drake reminded me a little of Indiana Jones and Star-Lord. It was great to be able to play a similar style of game to Tomb Raider but with a very different character. It kinda makes me wish there could be a cross-over to see how the two would (or wouldn’t) get along with each other.
The titles have been remastered from their original release “look”, so you won’t have to worry about clunky appearances or aesthetics. On my PS4 Pro I caught myself appreciating the 3D environments and crispness of the game, and while it doesn’t have the same level of detail you would find in recently released titles, you won’t feel like it detracts from the gameplay. Like with any good story, you’ll find yourself getting caught up in the adventure – and that’s the point. The stories feature Myths and fantasy, which are translated very quickly into logical explanations and reasoning. I found this oddly satisfying, especially as someone who is totally OK with things “not of this world”. The horror elements of Drake’s Fortune and Among Thieves kept me on my toes, lending freshness to the plot (nothing like a good twist) and making play adrenaline fueled. Try to escape some serious scary nastiness? You bet I’m going to be on the edge of my seat.
Replay value? Sure – adventure games are my jam, but if they aren’t the kinds of games you like to seek out then you might go through it once or twice.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – 8/10
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – 8.5/10
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – 7/10
Overall, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection – 8/10