I’d never played Uncharted. No, I wasn’t an Xbox fan-boy, in fact I’d always preferred Sony’s home consoles, despite not having a true dedication to either side as far as I remember. The series just never caught my eye, so when they announced the Uncharted Collection, it was about time I took the plunge, and I’m glad that I did so I can bring you our Uncharted Drake’s Fortune HD Review here on MGL.
What should be noted is that I’ll be looking at this from a modern-day perspective. This game has been re-released, and it will be judged by today’s standards. This is not the Playstation 3 title, it’s the Remastered version for Playstation 4, meaning that Naughty Dog believes it can stand with the best of today’s offerings, so if a criticism bothers you because “that’s not how it worked in 2007”, this review won’t be to your liking.
Also, this isn’t a comparison piece. I can’t do that as I’ve never played the original version, so if you’ve come seeking what’s new to the game, these aren’t the words you’re looking for.
Now that we’ve addressed the inevitable “you’ve never played Uncharted!?” exclamations, let’s talk about the first installment, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The game’s good. Really good. Not great though, and perhaps it’s simply that it hasn’t aged well, or that its sequels took all of what made it great and did it better, but if you’d handed me Uncharted and told me this would one day be a main-stay for Sony’s first-party line-up, I probably wouldn’t have paid you any mind.
Look and Feel
Uncharted is still beautiful. It really is. It’s no next-generation title, though there is a next-gen filter available that dedicated fans could unlock from the Bonuses. Nevertheless, it owes its timeless beauty to Naughty Dog’s clean, vibrant art-style. It somehow combines the convincing visuals ordinarily associated with a realistic art-style with the charm and personality of a cel-shaded style. It’s the best of both worlds, and it shines throughout. From character models, water effects, forest environments and crumbling ruins, everything seems to fit perfectly in place. I never once experienced any glitches, frame-rate drops or problems related to the visuals in any way. The quality control on this title is as close to perfect as I’ve ever seen.
It also feels great to play for the most part. It’s not obvious or obnoxious in its guidance of the player, but I had a moment of real annoyance when attempting to dive out of gunfire. Having the cover mechanic mapped to the same button by default caused issues when near cover-enabled structures. So, imagine you’re trying to dive away from a shotgun wielder, but you end up hugging the wall next to him, leading to a gut full of bullets. That aside, it feels great to be a part of that world whilst you’re in it.
The story is Uncharted’s greatest treasure, but not necessarily in regards to the plot. The plot itself is very reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. Not to the point of being a copy, but more of an obvious inspiration, and that’s fine, because the real stars here are the main characters, and now I choose to issue a possible spoiler warning for those of you yet to play Uncharted as I had until now. If you’re sensitive to spoilers, please skip ahead to the “Gameplay” portion of the review.
Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher are likable, real people. The conversations they have with each other, despite the extra-ordinary circumstances they find themselves in, resonated with me in a way that transcended the script itself. You never feel like you are Nathan Drake, and I’m glad, because he’s not Shepard. He’s his own person with his own story that you want to know more about, and his sarcastic charm serves to bring levity to the dangers the two face throughout the course of the game.
I’d say what makes Drake a great character are his flaws. He’s by no means a perfect hero, in fact, he’s lucky beyond belief and almost sails through scenarios via this luck more-so than his skill, though skilled he indeed is. Elena is also portrayed fantastically as a female character that actually seems like a true-to-life female. Not like she’s trying to be either a girly-girl or a tom-boy, or conform to a stereotype in any way, but just a person trying to do their job.
She’s no damsel in distress.
She can shoot a gun the way that Nathan Drake can. She’s no parkour expert, but she can traverse an area to get to where she needs to be to survive, and more importantly, she can go toe-to-toe with Drake in the banter department. There’s an equality to their characters that brought me a great deal of joy to see.
Then there’s Victor “Sully” Sullivan. The level-headed mentor and long time friend to Nathan Drake. He’s a quick-witted individual and proves to be the catalyst of the conflict that follows. Sully is a father figure to Drake and provides a clarity to the otherwise idealistic Nathan we often see. He’s the grounded one of the pair, and that’s all I’ll say. I like Sully’s character a great deal, and as with the others, the voice acting is superb.
Then there’s the villains. The names of whom I’m having to physically look up as we speak because they simply don’t leave a lasting impression. If Uncharted disappoints in any way, it’s that the “bad guys” are just that: bad guys. They have no particular attachment to or motive against Nathan himself, and the worst transgression of all in my opinion is that they – remember, spoilers – killed off Eddy Raja.
Eddy intrigued me, stupid as he was, due to his apparent history with Drake, and I thought that maybe he could prove to be a rival-like character that’d appear throughout the series. Instead, he’s mauled and dragged away by cursed demon people. I know, right? Then the actual villain of the piece, Gabriel Roman, is as flat as they come. The voice acting remains fantastic throughout, but Gabriel Roman felt especially two-dimensional when up against the three protagonists. At least there was an interesting enough twist, but given how well the main cast of Uncharted were treated, I’d have thought the antagonists would be a little more interesting.
My villain issues aside, they’re a means to an end, and the journey itself is a fun adventure that shines a spotlight on the people that mean the most to the story. Uncharted makes some mistakes that are forgivable only because what they get right is pure gold.
My feelings for the gameplay of Uncharted are divided by the styles involved. On the one hand, the platforming is a great deal of fun. Scaling cliff-sides and leaping from ledges is enjoyable even by today’s standards. The ability to be stealthy in combat was fun too, but it was difficult to pull off as it happens somewhat organically as opposed to going in to “Crouch” mode or anything akin to it.
The issues come through when it becomes a third-person shooter. It’s not that the mechanics are bad, but that they aren’t great either. They’re just kind of “meh”. They break up the platforming-based adventure portions, I understand that, but after a while they just began to frustrate me with a bunch of guns that didn’t really differ from each other and some bizarre issues with button options.
As mentioned above, trying to dive away with a button meant for “evasion” also being mapped as the button for taking “cover” becomes a problem when surrounded by cover but a close-range combatant comes by for a visit. Even with a shotgun of your own, the targeting can be way off at close-range and it seems the game really doesn’t like it when they try to play it in such a way. As I said, it’s not that it’s bad, but that it’s just kind of there, and it needs a bit of re-mapping to make use of the entire controller. So, as is apparent, I had the most fun during the exploration and platforming segments.
For those of you looking for more to do, you can do a “Continuous Speed Run” version of the game, play on higher difficulties for trophies and to unlock Bonuses, and there are hidden treasures to find throughout the campaign. There’s plenty to keep you busy and the main campaign is the perfect length to me without becoming a chore.
Uncharted isn’t a perfect game, but it clearly had potential. Potential that became realised in its future incarnations. Greatness from small beginnings is a common theme throughout the game, and the same can be applied to the game itself. Its story and characters are the real selling point but it’s also a great deal of fun to play and won’t consume your time the way a lot of games do these days. It’ll let you run through it and be done, but it’ll also entice you to return to it as and when you wish.
Uncharted Drake’s Fortune HD
Review Format: PS4