Friday, 22 March 2019

Review No. 147 Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection - PS4 (16+)

Strong Points:
Strong characters
Stunning graphics, detail and animation
Great set pieces
Intriguing story...
Great use of parkour, especially in the latter two games...
Nice gunplay
Throwing grenades back mechanic adds a touch more strategy... (Uncharted 3)
Brilliant voice acting
Great value for money (the collection)

Weak Points:
...That sometimes feels too quick or too long
Jet-ski levels (Uncharted 1)
...Although the objects used can be quite samey (Uncharted 1)
...Until you throw a grenade at a wall (Uncharted 3)
Sometimes feels like there's little point to any of this
Some large difficulty spikes
Detailed environments but lack of climbable objects (Uncharted 2/3)
Boss fights (Uncharted 1/2)
The villains don't get quite the attention of the heroes

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
Europe/Australia/New Zealand: October 7th, 2015
North America/UK: October 9th, 2015

Different for each game but detailed in-game

I managed to miss Uncharted when it was first released, way back in 2007, probably due to not owning a PS3 at the time. To be honest, I hadn't really heard of Naughty Dog until I'd played The Last of Us but then I was hooked, and after seeing the excellent reviews of Uncharted 4, decided it was time to dive in. However, I couldn't start on the fourth game, not as an avid KH fan, which drilled into me the importance of playing games in chronological order.

So, I had to wait until the Christmas of 2018 to finally start Uncharted. By February, all three games were complete. Due to the short timespan I completed the games in, I have decided to review all three together so as to not confuse parts of one with parts of the other.

It's not often that I start with graphics in a review, not even with film, however, there is something special about Uncharted's. It looks like a blockbuster basically, with incredibly detailed environments and animation, realistic damage effects and stunning vistas and environments. Given that the first game was released over 10 years ago, they are still great even by today's standard - the facial animation even surpasses most triple-A titles of last year (looking at you Just Cause 4). Of course, this is helped by the fact that I'm playing on a PS4, but even without the extra processing power and shine, these are some nice-looking games (especially the latter two, when the PS3's notoriously difficult systems were under control).

Drake? Drake!? Draaaake! Whoops, wrong series... Anyway...

Characters take a slightly higher position than story in the Uncharted games. This isn't really a problem, such is the strength of the characters, and you'll want to just spend time with them and their own personal character arcs. Take the eponymous Nathan Drake for example. You'll laugh with him, get frustrated by his actions, get saddened by his past, and slowly, over the course of the three games, feel a connection, much like you do with the heroes of films. The villains don't get quite the attention as the heroes do, however, with them coming off more like stereotypes.

This easy stereotyping and slight focus carry on into the story as well, with breezy narratives, plot conveniences and technical jargon to hide the simplicity of the story. Again, this is by no means a bad thing - we have complex RPGs and indie titles to deal with complex themes, but if you go into this series expecting a story full of twists and moral grey areas then you may be left disappointed. Leave that more to The Last of Us and just enjoy the ride.

The characters are helped immensely by some of the best voice-acting I've seen in gaming. None of the stilted tones of Horizon: Zero Dawn or one voice actor voicing 20 Skyrim characters (yes, I know they are both RPG's and as such have their own challenges). No, sir. Instead, we get voice and mo-cap work that could rival actors in live-action films (an in some cases, surpass them). Drake, Sully. Elena and Harry especially are almost real people by the end of the games.

Gunplay is pretty solid overall, taking inspiration from other third-person, cover-based shooters. Each game adds systems and ideas to the gunplay, with 3 even allowing you to throw grenades back and grab hold of enemies. The guns as a whole feel good to use, with my preferred types being a pistol and an assault rifle to allow for wide areas of attack but the game doesn't really punish you for using any weapon set-up. Just make sure to keep an eye on your ammo, especially in higher difficulties.

Parkour is a staple of the series as well, and much like gunplay, is developed with each iteration. You can perform incredible feats of acrobatics with Drake, throwing him pretty much anywhere and he'll stick, be it on the side of a moving train or hanging off a clock tower. One problem with it, which I felt odd in a linear game, was that I was often stuck as to what I could and couldn't jump at. Most of the time the game did a good job of pointing me in the right direction, but there were times, especially in the later games when the environments became more crowded and the parkour points more natural, where I happened to jump, thinking I was going the right way, only to be met with a greyed-out screen and Elena shouting 'Nate! No!'.

The puzzles as well were a mixed bag sometimes. A few I found quite rewarding, especially when you were met with a large room and parkour - you felt like the only one able to solve them. Other times though, I was either surprised at how easy the puzzle was and wondered why the previous explorers couldn't work them out or they were really difficult and obscure, and I had to spend a good deal of time before succumbing to the hint button.

Ah, boss battles. What an odd beast you are. Some games are made around you, cramming every new idea they have into the belly of said beast. Others use you as an afterthought when the enemy you are chasing has grown too powerful to allow for anything else. This is the case for the Uncharted series, with boss battles in the first two games serving as the climaxes of their respective stories, succeeding in one thing. Slowly the games down. A lot. This is especially the case with Uncharted 2, where the final battle took me a good 30-40 mins (in a 10-12-hour game, this is a long time). Yes, I was playing on hard mode, but still, it was such a change of pace, I thought I needed to mention it here.

Any of my misgivings about the games were quickly erased, however, when a set piece arrived. Be it the multiple trains in Uncharted 2 (running and hanging), the mansion on fire in 3 or the jet-ski levels in 1 (...), the set pieces in this series are some of the best. Naughty Dog really did some ingenious things with the environments and programming to make them as stellar as they are, and if you can play them without much knowledge going in, I think that's the best way.

Conclusion: a superb collection of titles that harken back to a time of fun and adventure, which has been sorely missed from games of this generation. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Indiana Jones, parkour or quick wit.

Rating: 90%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

P.S. yes, I didn't like the jet-ski levels that much either. The idea of using vehicles or animals in an Uncharted game was great (as shown by the horse-back riding in 3) but making it so you couldn't move or shoot at the same time? An... Odd design choice to say the least.

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