“You have to play this”, they said. “It’s monumental”, they said. Finally, I was getting to play one of the most talked about games series’ in the history of entertainment. So why do I feel so unfulfilled by Sony’s flagship franchise?
I’m not saying all three games are bad, because they certainly aren’t. You can clearly see the level of improvement that Naughty Dog implicated from game to game, and the whole Nathan Drake Collection is a great example of how a product can evolve over time with each entry in the series.
Take for example the gun play. In Drake’s Fortune, the gun play definitely isn’t the selling point of the game, often being unfocused and unreliable, as well as the player taking the occasional damage spike out of nowhere. However by the second entry, Among Thieves, the gun mechanics have significantly changes to represent something closer to The Last of Us, being much more tighter and more controlled.
The mechanics of the series isn’t the only that evolves over time: the characters of the Uncharted series are absolutely fantastic. Yes, the villains are something you’d see out of corny 80’s adventure movies, and are incredibly shallow and underwritten, but Nate, Sully and Elena make an amazing motley crew, even if the games sometimes forget how to use their main assets.
Nate himself begins as a likeable rogue in Drake’s Fortune, but by the time Drake’s Deception rolls around, he’s a fully fledged character, struggling to cope with his inner demons of pride and revenge. Sully makes a fantastic mentor both within the game and for our protagonist, and is someone that you can genuinely root for within the series. Elena, meanwhile… Is a difficult story.
I’d honestly argue Elena is one of, if not the, single best character in the Uncharted series. I instantly took a liking to her grounded attitude within the series, and she definitely makes the series better as a whole when her and Nate get to interact. However, Naughty Dog often sees fit to sideline their only well developed female character, for reasons entirely unknown to me.
While her and Nate have a clear romance by the end of Drake’s Fortune, both Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception see fit to ditch Elena at the beginning of each game, only to have her casually reappear either by chance or when the plot needs her. There’s a truly torturous romantic story to be told between Elena and Nate, but Naughty Dog constantly separates them between games, and instead of giving me the intended intriguing mystery affect, it just left me frustrated that this great character was constantly being sidelined for stupid reasons.
Characters aside, the story of the Uncharted series begins as fairly straightforward, only to evolve into an entirely different beast. The first game, and arguably most of the second game, are a global treasure hunt with some supernatural aspects. I’ll say no more of those supernatural elements, only that they are used to varying degrees throughout the three games, sometimes giving the plot an intriguing edge, and other times threatening to upset the balance of the story entirely.
Drake’s Deception really is the pinnacle of storytelling in the series, another nice memento of how Naughty Dog has evolved throughout the development cycle. By the time the final game gets going, Nate has to openly question his crusade, and whether he’s being selfish in pursuing treasure and putting other people’s lives at risk around him, such as Sully and Elena. This is a good, driving plot theme, and as nice as it is in the third game, it would’ve been better to perhaps bring it up earlier in the Uncharted series.
Perhaps it’s that I made the mistake of playing The Last of Us before delving into the Uncharted series, but the mechanics of the game feel incredibly dated, and there are certain parts of the series that really haven’t aged well. The climbing mechanisms of the series really feel incredibly dated, with Nate often missing clear jumps that he could, and should be making. If the most recent Tomb Raider reboot really is based on this series, I can’t help feeling as though Crystal Dynamics have improved on what Uncharted had, making climbing in Tomb Raider feel so much smoother than it is in the first two games in the Uncharted series.
Perhaps I’m unfairly criticising a series that’s last release was over four years ago now. Of course there are always going to be some areas with remasters that feel dated, especially when one has first experienced the more recent offerings of the same studio. Then again, I can’t help feeling frustrated by some shallow and underdeveloped characters and plot points in the Uncharted series, and I’m left eager to see if Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End can improve upon these.