Just months before the release of Naughty Dog’s last entry into the Uncharted universe with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Bluepoint Games brought the entire trilogy in a remastered collection at a smooth 60FPS on PS4. Do the games still hold up? In the first part of my review of the collection, I take a look at an Uncharted title I never bothered to play: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is an action-adventure title that follows Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher on their quest to find Sir Francis Drake and what he was searching for on an unnamed island. The story is pretty interesting and believable to a degree thanks to the performances by Nolan North as Drake and Emily Rose as Elena. Despite this being the first game in the series, I never really felt like the two characters were awkward or didn’t meld well together. They’ve clearly known each other since before the cameras started rolling and Nolan and Emily make you believe this.
As an avid Uncharted fan who specifically bought a PS3 to play Uncharted 2, I’ve grown accustomed to the series’ loving relationship with its movie inspirations. That is to say, I love how cinematic the game can be and how at times it feels like you’re playing a movie. However, Uncharted 1 is slightly different in the way it tackles (or establishes in this case), this trope, because, ironically enough, Uncharted 1 is the most movie-like of the series. That’s a bad thing.
The main problem with Uncharted 1 is the fact that this feels like Naughty Dog prioritized making a movie over making a game, something that wasn’t a problem in the follow-ups. Uncharted 1 holds all of the trappings of a movie but forgets the most important trapping of a game: interaction. Never did I truly feel like I was a part of this world. I was always a passenger who was merely along for the ride. The presence of too many encounters and poorly executed and frankly awkward quicktime events makes the push for a movie too hard, drowning out the fun of playing this game.
Being an Uncharted game, the core gameplay is rather formulaic: fight enemies, solve puzzles, marvel at the pretty graphics. However, Naughty Dog’s first shot at the Uncharted series doesn’t necessarily get any of these elements right. Uncharted 1’s gameplay is sort of a mixed bag with melee being its weakest point while the gunplay feels off and unbalanced.
Let’s address the gunplay first: Aiming feels a bit off unless you’re using the AK-47. Oddly enough, this weapon doesn’t have recoil like the others so it’s easy to mow down the seemingly endless hordes of enemies you’ll encounter, provided you have the ammo to do so. Playing on the normal difficulty, I rarely had a moment where I was starving for ammo, so keeping my sights trained on enemies with a half or full clip of for my AK-47 wasn’t difficult. Coming from Metal Gear Solid V where each gun has their own recoil and generally require you to either burst fire or fire with some semblance of restraint it took me a while to adjust to the shooting mechanics in Uncharted 1. However, when I finally did get a hang of things, I realized just how easy it is to get headshots in this game, at least on normal. I can’t say the same for Uncharted 2, but we’ll get to that later.
In Uncharted 1, Naughty Dog decided to go with a combo system for melee encounters. By pressing a combination of square and triangle, players can make Drake do a variety of punches, ending with a flashy kick or uppercut. The problem here is that it just doesn’t work well. While the button prompts might say to press square twice and then triangle (or something to that effect), doing so makes Drake stop mid-combo, allowing the enemy to get a hit in. When you’re trying to melee one enemy and others are around you, pumping hot lead into your back, this is cumbersome. Melee in a game where you’re fighting hordes should be a fast and efficient alternative to engaging in firefights with the enemy. If anything, it should offer a rather safe and smart way to pop out of cover and acquire more ammo when the situation calls for it. In Uncharted 1, I found it to be far easier and more responsive to just mash the square button without paying attention to triangle. When I wasn’t mashing the square button, I weakened them with some blindfire from my weapon before finishing them off with a punch or kick.
Uncharted 1’s combat isn’t all bad, though. If there’s one thing I liked, it was how intelligent the AI system was, even for a 2007 game. When I was carelessly shooting enemies and they heard the clink of my empty gun, they would shout to each other, letting the others know that I was out of ammo. Even when I had ammo, the AI forced me to stay alert and ready. If I stayed in cover for too long, they would flank me, forcing me out into the open. Moments like these really ramp up the tension because you realize in those instances where you’re faced with a lot of enemies and you haven’t been minding your ammo count, you might die because these enemies aren’t exactly brain-dead.
Uncharted 1 is one of the many games from the previous generation to feature a cover system and it’s really bad. Cover systems typically allow the player to snap into cover, be it a pillar, box, or something that player can get behind, to shield themselves from oncoming enemy fire. Uncharted 1 does this….sometimes. Other times, Drake will roll into cover instead of snapping into it, either missing the cover entirely or letting the enemy get a hit in while he’s rolling. I can’t tell you the amount of times I would try to get into cover only to be shot at while Drake rolls on the ground like he’s not in a life-or-death situation.
When you’re not shooting at enemies (that’s pretty rare), you’ll be solving puzzles. With the aid of Sir Francis Drake’s journals (which can be pulled up with a tap of the touchpad), Drake can get through these puzzles with relative ease. There might have been a few times where I was stumped, but a few seconds of trial and error led me to the correct solution. In short, the puzzles are quick and easy.
The story builds a tense narrative that, unfortunately translates into the gameplay. After the game introduces the basic mechanics, it quickly becomes apparent that there are far too many enemy encounters so close to each other. By the time I got to the end of the game, I was tired of it all. Games like these always have that big encounter near the end of the game, where you know you’re at the end because they’re throwing everything and the kitchen sink at you. Moments like this are supposed to feel exciting, they’re supposed to make you feel powerful and get a sense of your progression. ..Uncharted 1 has such a moment, but the frequent encounters completely rob you of these great feelings. There’s nothing special about this big encounter because you’ve been doing this throughout the whole entire game.
Uncharted 1 needed moments where you could breathe. Throwing in some of these moments where you’re not busy trying to solve a puzzle and you can just appreciate what’s going on around you and really play with the world would have made Uncharted 1 a much better game. However, as is, Uncharted 1’s focus on movie first and game second harms the experience.
On your quest for treasure, Uncharted 1 will take you to some beautiful locations made even more stunning by the upgrades Bluepoint squeezed into the remastered collection. Playing this game, I was floored by just how much detail Naughty Dog originally managed to sink into Uncharted 1. Blades of grass move out of your way as you pass through them. When Drake goes into thigh-high water, he switches from a trot to a wade as he attempts to move quickly through the current. Hell, sometimes the camera even pans when you enter new areas as if to get you to look around the environment. The frustrating part is that while the game is beautiful, it doesn’t really give you much of an opportunity to appreciate that beauty before it throws you into another firefight.
The beginning environments do well to reflect the light-hearted tone and by the end you’re trudging through dank sewers and dimly lit places, reminiscent of a horror movie.
A New Way to Play
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection isn’t just a remastering of some of Nathan Drake’s greatest adventures (sorry Vita owners). Bluepoint Games used this opportunity to add a few new bells and whistles to Drake’s story. The biggest and probably most desired feature added to the game is a photo mode. Previously, Naughty Dog had a cinema mode in Uncharted 2 and 3’s multiplayer mode that allowed you to re-watch matches, create your own machinimas and do a lot of other things, however no such mode existed for the single player portion of the game. While you can’t make machinimas with the collection’s photo mode, Bluepoint has allowed players to pan the camera around Nate, tweak the lighting and visual effects to get that perfect shot. I personally didn’t find myself using this mode except to test it out, but the fact that it’s there for people who love setting up amazing shots is a plus.
As I briefly mentioned earlier, Bluepoint has taken advantage of the DualShock 4’s touchpad. A quick tap of the controller’s touch pad will bring up Sir Francis Drake’s journal, enabling players to solve the game’s puzzles with relative ease. While it’s not revolutionary, it certainly doesn’t feel odd.
There are also a bit of social features in the game. As you go through the game, you’ll undoubtedly get a number of headshots, steel fist kills, and complete some impressive feats. The game tracks all of this. Think of these like arcade high scores that are triggered depending on when you pass up friends on your shared leaderboard. When you pass up a friend on the leaderboard, a message pops up on the screen showing you where you stand compared to the rest of your social circle. It adds a bit of a competitive edge to the game, and encourages you to play differently. However, if you don’t want to use this and would rather play the game normally, you can do that by disabling the feature in the options menu.
Like other games this generation, due to the way the DualShock 4 was constructed, developers have shifted from using the controller’s R1 and L1 buttons to aim and shoot to using the triggers. The Uncharted collection does the same. For me, using the triggers for Uncharted was initially a hit or miss affair. It took me a while to get used to them, but fortunately I was able to adjust accordingly and resume killing bad guys without issue. However, Bluepoint has included the option to switch back to the classic control scheme if you feel so inclined. With that said, I wouldn’t exactly recommend doing that for a few reasons.
First off the controller itself wasn’t made with that in mind so adjusting to that setup isn’t going to be as easy as using it on a DualShock 3. Furthermore, we don’t know if Uncharted 4 will include the same option so you might be able to avoid the change now but if it’s unavoidable with Uncharted 4 and you get that, it’s back to square one. Of course, you could always use the console’s native button mapping function, but that might require you to mess with a whole lot more than the trigger and shoulder button functions to get a good feeling for the controls.
Of course, when given the chance to remaster a game, that allows developers to remove elements that might not have worked quite as they envisioned it the first time around. In bringing the Uncharted series to the PS4, Bluepoint removed the pesky motion control aiming that haunted the dreams of many who played Uncharted 1 when it came out on the PS3. If you’re part of the crowd who actually enjoyed this feature, you’ll be disappointed to hear that there isn’t an option to enable it in the collection.
At the end of my 7 hours and 30 minutes with Uncharted 1, I left informed and relieved. I was informed because I had finally filled in that missing piece in my (excuse the pun) Uncharted collection. I can finally say I’ve played the game and I now understand just how far the series has some. I’m appreciative of that. But, I was relieved not because I was done with the game, but because I didn’t have to play it anymore. As good as the Uncharted series and this remaster are, I’m not all that fond of this game. The awful cover system, dreadful melee, frequent enemy encounters, and focus on movie first, game later, keep this from being a great game. In my book, Uncharted 1 will go down as the Uncharted game that helped Naughty Dog map out what to do with the series, what needed to be improved upon or dropped completely, and what characters needed more attention. All of these elements and more are addressed further in the series, which is where I’ll be going in my next review for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
+ Puzzles are simple
+ New features are unobtrusive
+ Character interactions feel natural
+ Intelligent AI forces you to stay on your toes
+ Remastered environments are beautiful
+ Game runs at a solid 60 FPS.
– Too many enemy encounters
– Prioritizes being a movie over a game
– Gunplay is off
– Melee combo system is clunky