With Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End arriving sooner rather than later (May 10th 2016, Worldwide) and The Nathan Drake Collection doing a roaring trade on PS4 for those who converted over from XBox or simply never played them on the PS3, it seemed like a good time to take a look at the games currently on offer. I’m not here to tell you whether Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves, Drake’s Deception, or Golden Abyss is the best; But I am going to argue the case for each title and see what you guys think. So here we go, from the beginning: (Oh! I should probably mention SPOILERS for all Uncharted titles)
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.”
– Sir Francis Drake 1587
The Uncharted series began pretty much a full year after the PS3 had gotten off to its, somewhat shaky, start but quickly found its audience and currently holds a Metacritic score of 88/100.
At the time, it felt like a refreshing re-focus for the action-adventure series. Several years of indifference towards the Tomb Raider series had left gamers feeling disengaged from the genre, before its widely well-received reboot in 2013.
Drake’s Fortune turned things around with a new, likeable, lead character and an engaging story which brought all the other excellent aspects of the series together. Uncharted is one of the finest examples of “greater than the sum of its parts”. If you break it down, everything about it is just fine, but when it’s all joined together, it flows into one fantastically enjoyable, superbly written, supremely acted and good-looking game.
It also introduced you to some of gaming’s best supporting characters. Sully, your surly mentor and seemingly best friend is more than just the comic relief. He gives as good as he gets when it comes to the repartee between the two of them. Not to mention Elena, the smart and equally quick-witted reporter who flips the “damsel in distress” stereotype by rescuing Drake from the hands of a competing treasure hunter.
The lush jungle was an awe-inspiring sight. The first time you boot up the game, you can’t help but admire the beautiful ocean spreading out all around your tiny fishing boat before your baptism of fire begins. Finally, a game which did away with the traditional lengthy tutorial level in favour of some instant, bombastic action as you are set upon by a horde of jet-ski jostling bad-guys with no respect for personal space, as the climb aboard your boat and begin shooting at and/or pummeling you.
Having survived this, Drake and Sully begin trekking through the jungle and pretty soon discover the staples of the Uncharted series: Betrayal, surprise, misdirection and huge set-pieces. All good things. Whether you were surviving a plane crash, discovering the wreck of a German U-Boat in the middle of the jungle or firing a rocket launcher from the back of a jet-ski, Drake’s Fortune had many memorable moments, though it was clearly set on a lower scale to its sequels with the only real example of their now famous block-busting, cinematic displays being Drake’s climb across the waterfall before destroying a Jeep and clambering across it as it slips from underneath him. It was thrilling and its legacy of train-climbing and plane-crashing action sequences is undeniable.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
“I did not tell half of what I saw for I knew I would not be believed”
– Marco Polo, on his deathbed, 1324
Many people’s favorite entry in the series and one that definitely subscribes to the “bigger is better” approach. Opening with one of gaming’s most famous opening scenes; an epic climb, up through, over and across a collapsing train carriage, dangling precariously off the side of a freaking mountain!
Among Thieves was the difficult second entry for Naughty Dog. They’d nailed it before with both of their other trilogies Crash Bandicoot 2: Wrath of Cortex and Jak 2 where each one managed to be both bigger and better than their predecessor. 96 Meta-score.
This time, the story takes us to Nepal on Drake’s hunt for Shambala. Double-crossed by his former partner-in-crime, Harry Flynn, Drake is arrested and thrown in prison for months, until good old Victor Sullivan and love-interest Chloe Fraser, break him out. What follows is a flurry of beautifully rendered action with silky smooth controls and a wide variety of game mechanics. At its heart, Uncharted is a cover-shooter but its regular breaks for climbing, adventuring and scenery-admiring mean that those sections never become boring.
Once the game really gets underway, Drake finds himself in the Himalayas being guided by Tenzin, a Tibetan villager. Tenzin helps Drake recover from his injuries, having discovered him laying unconscious after walking in the snow to escape the train we found him in.
One epic quest inside the icy caves of a nearby mountain later and the pair return to the village to find it under siege from heavily armed militants. Now you have to destroy a tank, having already dodged a gunship chasing you through the collapsing buildings of Nepal and narrowly avoiding a kiss from an out of control, armoured transport truck; which I think reiterates the point of this sequel being bigger in both scope and scale.
As the game goes on, the series’ tropes which I mentioned before become clearer and are certainly welcome as they take the story to a level far beyond that of many other games. The inclusion of these extra characters and the attention to detail like characters acknowledging things around them and passing comment gives a more immersive feeling than we had before and the time spent with these familiar faces is both enjoyable and entertaining.
Despite the fact that at one point, roughly 2/3 of the way through, I was happy for the game to end, it carried on for several more hours, which was much to my surprise and delight as from that point on, it all felt like a bonus which wrapped up with one of the most explosive and extreme endings I’ve ever taken part in as a gamer.
Uncharted: Drake’s Deception
The dreamers of the day are dangerous men for they may act their
dream with open eyes to make it possible. This I did.”
– T.E.Lawrence “Lawrence of Arabia”
To follow Uncharted 2 seemed a tough enough challenge, even for Naughty Dog, who once again, had arguably achieved the pinnacle of their earlier trilogies with Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped and Jak 3. Surely the stakes could not be raised from what we had seen before. How much more trouble could Drake & Co get themselves into?! Fortunately for us, it would seem far more than we could have imagined.
Uncharted 3 begins with a classic bar fight in a British pub “The Pelican Inn” named after The Pelican which was the original name of Sir Francis Drake’s vessel The Golden Hind, a key plot point of this story. From this brawl (and another double cross) we’re whisked back in time to find Drake as a teenager. Having spent 4 years following the exploits of the charismatic king-of-the-quip, it was a great opportunity to find out why, in the trailer for the upcoming 4th entry in the series, he describes himself as “Nathan Drake. That two-bit thief, risking it all for some piece of treasure. I guess that’s how they know me. How they’ll remember me. But that’s not who I am.” Thanks to Uncharted 3, we know that’s not true of our Nate. He’s a reluctant hero. He wants the treasure, but only if his conscience will let him have it. While he may have no issue with stealing, he’d never let one of his friends take the fall to get it.
The story of Drake’s Deception added so many layers to each character; we found out how Drake met Sully and why they’re such good friends to the extent that Elena, at one point, says “He’d go to the ends of the earth for you, Nate. Just don’t ask him to.”. We also learn what becomes of Drake & Elena after their strained marriage and now apparent separation. The Uncharted series has always suffered from fairly forgettable villains. I’m going to list them and you can see which ones you remember: Rameses, Talbot, Eddy Raja, Harry Flynn, Atoq Navarro, Gabriel Roman, Katherin Marlowe, Lieutenant Draza, Zoran Lazarevich. Remember any of those, perhaps recognise the names but can’t put a face to them? Talbot & Marlowe, maybe but possibly not? Either way, they’re hardly Revolver Ocelot, Bowser or Vaas Montenegro. Well no worry; these games use villains mostly as plot devices to take us on these globe-trotting adventures, the real stars of this series, as I keep saying, are the action sequences.
Drake’s Deception really upped the ante with these, from the pub fight to the burning mansion, the sinking cruise ship, the horseback chase to that plane sequence followed by that other plane sequence and finally to an entire city being reclaimed by the sand; Uncharted 3 is studded with these epic moments which keep you enthralled from beginning to end. The Meta-score is settled at 92 (just 4 points lower than UC2) which is incredible if you consider how bad the third games or films in series usually turn out (minus a few exceptions).
Uncharted: Golden Abyss
“I can assure you that in reality, Friar Marcos has
not told the truth about a single thing he has said.”
– Francisco Vásquez de Coronado To Viceroy Mendoza, 1540
As a prequel, of sorts (the events of this game take place before Drake’s Fortune, but after the time we spend with Drake as a child), Golden Abyss was released to skepticism from both critics and fans. It holds a solid 80 on Metacritic but when people think BIG action, they don’t think about the Vita’s 5″ OLED screen. The trouble is, they really should. That OLED screen makes Uncharted’s vistas really pop. The lush greens of the forest, the water rushing by in the streams and waterfalls and even the character models look great with rich colours and crisp outlines defining the various elements.
The story is just as compelling as the home-console versions, too. We begin by learning that a rival explorer, Jason Dante, has ordered his team of mercenaries to kill Drake and as they attempt to, Drake is knocked by an RPG shot, taking us back to a couple of weeks before and in what must now be pretty familiar, things are not as they seem, as it turns out Dante and Drake are old acquaintances. Throughout the game, they are forced to team-up to achieve their mutual goals, as well as to survive.
How well does the action translate to the handheld console? Pretty well actually; controls have been tweaked to give Vita owners a different set of control options including tilting the device to swing on ropes, swiping your finger along ledges to plot a course for Drake to climb up or along and using the touch-screen as a brass-rubbing kit to uncover some of the mysteries that you find.
Golden Abyss was the first Uncharted title not developed by Naughty Dog (who were busy working on Uncharted 3 and, unknown to consumers, The Last Of Us) but it was overseen by them. Instead, it was developed by Sony Bend, whose history contains all 6, mostly popular, Syphon Filter entries, the decent PSP title Resistance: Retribution and Busby 3D for the Playstation 1. I think it’s a testament to the series quality that a completely new developer could take the reins and create such a quality entry, especially on a new system with a much smaller install base.
Personally, I can never decide if 2 or 3 is the best but as I said, that’s not why I’m here.
What do you think? Do you love or hate the Uncharted series? Or do you just want to complain that I didn’t give Fight For Fortune its fair chance? Whichever, we want to know! Shout about it in the comments.