Last month, with an unusual amount of disposable cash in hand, I bought a Wii U and a PS4. As soon as I got them, I started playing Bloodborne—a game that has since been replaced by Xenoblade Chronicles X as my main title—and died over and over as you tend to do in Souls games. But last week I decided to take a little break from it and give the other games that came bundled in with my PS4 a chance. As a long-time fan of Tomb Raider, and from hearing many people call Drake, “Dude-Croft,” I decided it was time to play the Uncharted Collection.
I love Uncharted…but I hate Uncharted too.
There are a few things to love about the series, but for me it’s the chemistry between the characters and their personalities. Scenes with Drake, Elena and Sully are a pleasure. I like Sully’s dirty jokes, Drake’s bumbling attempts at sounding cool—a struggle I can relate to—and Elena’s calm reason that ends up ignored every time by the maniacs she hangs out with.
I love Drake’s personality. The smartass, wiseass cocksure Tomb Raider is a front for deep issues, resentments and personal doubts and I have to give props to the animation team and Nolan North. Between the voice acting and the animation, you can see these things in Drake’s face and feel them in his voice. Here’s a guy who’s taken beatings from life, he’s stood up and fought back every time, but still carries the scars from all those moments. I love the sleazy tenderness in Sully’s voice, how you know he’d do anything for Drake, go to any length to protect his protégé. Chloe is Claudia Black, and I don’t need to say anything else, because it’s Claudia Black. Any character she voices is going to be awesome.
Cutter in Uncharted 3 was a pleasant surprise. What I thought on first glance was just a thug—and with every thuggish Englishman in Uncharted 3 being bald I’m starting to wonder if my friends are all wearing wigs—turned out to be a scholar and intellectual. By the time he exits the stage I wanted to supplant Drake for him, I found him fascinating. Here was a guy that looks, walks and talks like every other thug you beat in the game, but he’s smarter than most of his friends and knows a lot more than they do. Big kudos to actor Graham McTavish for the performance on the scenes where Cutter is, let’s say, “under the influence.”
But I dislike that Drake follows the typical trend of American fictional characters incapable of telling their loved ones, particularly female partners, that they love them. How the “L” word sticks in their throat and doesn’t come out. It’s a cliché and it’s there just so you can be sure the relationship with the leading lady will fail until they reignite it in the next game.
I love the amazing locales, the strange tombs and wild cities you come to. I love exploring them, to find puzzles to solve and mysteries to uncover. By the time you get to Uncharted 3, the puzzles get interesting, even good. They’re clever and match up with the game’s lore. I love exploring the ruins, letting them tell me the story before Nathan explains it in the inevitable cutscene.
I wish the game had more moments like those, but the sad truth is that exploration is limited. You don’t really have much wiggle-room as they designed them so you only have one path to where you need to go. Platforming keeps it interesting when it takes risks, when it forces you to jump, swing from a rope, land of a platform and the jump to another one. But most of the time you’re climbing up the only path available, full of ledges and handles with no risks whatsoever. That is unless Drake’s now patented Reverse Midas’ Touch—he wrecks everything he touches—destroys the platform or ledge or whatever the moment he touches them, sending him tumbling down for a dramatic fall that is meant to create tension but its repetitive nature and predictability just make it annoying. It’s the same issue with the big set pieces. You know things are going to break, you know when it’s going to happen and since it always does, there’s really no emotional response. And that’s without mentioning that you really don’t do much in those: you run and occasionally jump. And because I like to test my theories I invite you to try this one: when you’re on some collapsing structures, there’s ample time for you to move. But when you do, the platform you’re standing on will collapse as soon as you step on the next one, no matter how long it took you to step off it. It’s ridiculous.
There was one moment in Uncharted 3 that actually made me react: the damn spiders. I’m not arachnophobic or anything like that, but the swarm of spiders reminded me too much of the scarabs in The Mummy. Also, while playing, a couple jumped on me and my screen went gray, meaning those two itsy-bitsy spiders almost killed me. When I started running, I kept frantically mashing the button to take off any spider that actually managed to cling onto me.
I like the shooty parts of the game as well, even though watching me play Uncharted is like watching me play any cover-based shooter: boring as hell. I have a thing for always using handguns and always going for headshots. It’s not exactly spectator sport. But what really makes my blood boil is the seemingly endless number of minions the bad guys have. I have seen a dozen guards spawn from a room I’d already visited. The room was empty when I was there and it had only one way out and no windows. So unless this clone army can teleport, I call shenanigans. I called shenanigans for most of Uncharted 1 and 2. And they keep stacking the deck against you, making the new waves pop up from seemingly random places, even from a dilapidated building behind you while you’re trying to deal with a truck-mounted machinegun nest. Speaking of, where do they get so many of these things? Every villain in Uncharted has access to any level of military weaponry, particularly RPGs and those shielded machinegun-nests.
The convoy sequences and the train in Uncharted 2 are particularly bad because of this, because of the endless minions that really come out of nowhere.
One thing I will say for its shooty bits, is that I will kiss whoever decided to bring in the throwback mechanic for grenades. I love you, I really do. I truly love you. You made my life in Uncharted 3 so much easier. I didn’t have to—necessarily—jump out of cover and in the middle of fire to get out of the blast radius.
Speaking of villains, these dudes are ineffective as hell. They’re movie villains, the ones that threaten and boast and then threaten some more, but never actually do anything to the main characters. The way the game portrays some of them, they shouldn’t let Drake walk away at any point, and yet they still let him go. Ok, if the character gets shot it’s game over, true, but don’t make me believe the villain is this cold-hearted monster that just suddenly decided letting you go—or conveniently leaving so a minion can try to kill you but aid in your escape—is good policy. As much as I love Simon Templeman—voices Kain in Legacy of Kain and the Uncharted 1 villain—his character could’ve shot Drake and company a few times over and never does. But the prizewinners are the Uncharted 3 villains, the type of mysterious overpowered bad guys from kid’s TV series that only hamper the characters’ progress but never actually do anything about it. If you’ve played Uncharted 3, you’ll agree there were a few dozen chances for them to take Drake and company out. If you haven’t played Uncharted 3, and are playing through the series, then what the hell are you doing here risking spoilers?
I love how Nathan’s cinematic tumbles actually have an effect on him. Unlike Cyborg Lara Croft from her recent reboot, Nathan doesn’t pick himself up immediately after falling down a ravine and walks it off. No, he loses consciousness, time passes by and he struggles to his feet…but then he’s climbing and jumping and tumbling like a ninja. I’m all for not forcing players to walk if they can run, or take out character abilities, but some consistency in your storytelling is a good thing. And yes, the gameplay is as part of telling the story as the cutscenes. The worst offenders in this are Uncharted 2’s trek through the winter wonderland of the Himalayas with a gut-shot and Uncharted 3’s trip through the desert without water for days, only to climb, jump and shoot your way through a town like it’s nothing. If you’re so severely dehydrated, even walking is painful, let alone climbing over a wall.
While Tomb Raider embraced the weirdness and went for magical and mystical treasures, I loved how Uncharted led you to believe there was a curse, only to make it something scientific, or at least pseudo-scientific. Be it spores, a strange and volatile chemical that gives regenerative abilities or nightmare in a bottle. The greatest strength though is that they don’t bother to explain exactly what’s going on. There’s no science-babble to go along with the thing. It just works. I like that, saves up the problem of trying to explain it and failing.
The plot is cool in Uncharted 1, even if it follows the numbers set by Raiders of the Lost Ark and other Indiana Jones films, but when the sequels do the same, the entire thing ends up predictable. You know what’s going to happen before it actually does. The details, such as what the treasure really is, are still surprises and quite interesting in fact, but the journey there is one you’ll know very well.
As I said, I love Uncharted, but I also hate parts of it.
Will I play Uncharted 4? Most definitely. As I said, I love the characters and I’m invested in Drake’s fortune (see what I did there?) and future. I want to meet his brother and see if he’s a scumbag or someone we can trust. I know the usual annoyances will be present but I also know that the cool things will also be there so I just have to look forward to those.
You may have noticed that this isn’t a review, but just a simple rant. If I had to review the games in the series, it would be 4/5 for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, 3.5/5 for Unchared 2: Among Thieves and again 4/5 for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. As for the collection, I give it a higher score of 4.5/5. For the value, it’s an amazing collection and it gave me the chance to play these games.
Before I go though (or you go for that matter), if there’s one thing I’d like to put to rest right now and it’s the notion that Uncharted is a Tomb Raider clone. It’s not. It’s a game featuring a tomb-raiding hero, true, but he’s more Indiana Jones than Lara Croft. The games have their own style and are vastly different from the original Tomb Raider series. Now, having said so, the new Tomb Raider games, the reboot series? Those are Uncharted clones, with the same pacing and tropes, down to the Reverse Midas’ Touch.
The original Tomb Raider games were exploration and puzzling games with the occasional shooty part to break it up, while Uncharted is the other way around. It’s mostly shooting and explosions with some platforming and puzzling to break up the monotony. Thankfully those little breaks are pretty damn good.
But it’s not Drake who’s “Dude Croft.” It’s Nu-Lara who’s “Lady Drake.”