I was always told to start with Uncharted 2 for this series, as the first installment had been deemed completely skippable by almost everyone I spoke to. I loved the two sequels though, the beautifully flawed masterpieces that they are. So now that I have a brand new shiny PlayStation 4 that came with a digital copy of The Nathan Drake Collection, I thought it was time to finally mark this one off my list. I’m worried though that even with the remaster the cracks might show in the 2007 title a bit more. Naughty Dog was not only trying to launch a new IP, but were pushing an engine and having some trouble getting the game to perform and look like they wanted. Either way, it’s time to see how Drake’s adventures all began.
For new fans to the franchise, this is an action adventure title that follows the exploits of hero Nathan Drake, who has an unhealthy obsession with his proposed ancestor and a knack for finding trouble while looking for treasure. In this adventure they start off looking for El Dorado, the city of gold, with the help of an ambitious reporter named Elena and his surrogate father figure Victor Sullivan. The game is often heavily compared to the Tomb Raider series, and much like that successful franchise, there will be platforming, puzzles, gunplay, and a tad bit of the mystical. If it sounds like a movie, that’s because it wants to be. There are so many cinematic sequences and story driven cuts that it takes away from the gameplay to a degree, some portions reminding me of old FMV games. The latter two are worse at this, but I have the same problem here, just less often. The visuals look stunning at times—especially on this version, amazing shading—and the music is superb, but the story is where it falters in a lot of way for something that wants to be remembered based off of a movie-esque qualities. The early cutscenes made me want more, but by the end I was lost on the plot and didn’t care for the direction of the characters.
“I thought this kind of thing only happened in the movies.” –Nathan Drake
Nate is an extremely likable and sometimes klutzy, wrong place, wrong time, kind of character who is brought to life beautifully by Nolan North. Each of the main characters and voice actors is cool, but it is really all about Sully in my book. The bad guys do not work however, as I kept forgetting who they were or what their purpose was, other than being foreign, mean, and cliché, so it wasn’t surprising that the last boss fight was one of the worst parts, being brief and reassuring me that the series has so far not figured out how to do a proper boss encounter. No, really, after some cheap feeling shooting sections that lead up to it, the final boss encounter is simply hiding behind crates, moving up twice when the boss stops firing, and then doing a QTE that is four buttons long, two of the same buttons twice over. What? No, really, I’ll show you.
It’s just sad because this left such a sour taste in my mouth upon finishing a game that I otherwise wanted to jump right back into. Uncharted has enough collectables, costumes, and codes that I should be itching to play it again, but why would I bother giving this end portion another go?
Other than some cheap sections and random jarring QTE bits that feel thrown in unexpectedly, I honestly like the gameplay. The gunplay is simple and smooth, with just enough variation to make it not feel too hollow until after the halfway point of the game. This version helped by fixing some of the aiming issues that were corrected later in the series, helping me feel like a badass. The headshots and explosions remain satisfying though, and I found myself mainly using the pistols for precision. The cover system is fine, but the melee attacks are stiff and annoying, making me never want to use them. Stealth is the only thing that is worse, being almost non-existent, in a game that gives opportunity but makes every enemy notice you at the slightest sound or step forward—it’s ridiculous.
The game isn’t hard. In fact, I may up the difficulty on my next time through. What does present a challenge is not knowing what to do in certain areas, especially with the platforming, which leads to a few unwarranted deaths and can make simple movements complex. It is less the player’s skill or problem solving and more spotting exactly what the game wants you to do. In the case of the jumping puzzles it’s misjudging a ledge or just not jumping exactly how the program wanted. The mechanics are a little clunky in that regard, and something that is hard to simply get used to.
The game is about eight hours long, but can be done quicker, as I spent a lot of time figuring out where it to go. I like the pacing a lot because it flows well, but not if the focus is on individual sections, that can fall apart under close inspection. Uncharted is better as a whole package, assuming the lackluster ending didn’t ruin it. I played the remastered version, which doesn’t have multiplayer, so I can’t speak on that, but it won’t lend to the replay value on this version anyway. Naughty Dog put a ton of work into this new IP and had a lot of problems, but they had fun as well, dropping several references to Jak and Daxter and putting in extras like Doughnut Drake. At the time they were incredibly confident with the new game, and it has paid off for them, but now I have to say it is kind of skippable. Go back and revisit this one now, before more of the luster wears off and to get ready for Uncharted 4 like I did. That doesn’t mean it isn’t collection worthy, just that as better stuff comes out, new fans to the series may not understand how impressive it was, but some of the fun will still be there and it can be praised for the later games it set the way for.