Late to the Party: Uncharted (series)

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written by Justin Prince (@prince_justin)

Sup g33ks! This is a post I was intending to launch the site with, this was back before PIXEL RATED and when we were originally intending to keep this segment (titled Late to the Party) as its own section. In moving forward, we are integrating this into PIXEL RATED but I didn’t want to discard this piece, it should be noted that while I really love this series, it took me a while to jump on the bandwagon.

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First, I’m sure a good amount of you folks are wondering how I let such a prime example of gaming excellence never be a part of my gaming library. I honestly don’t have a credible excuse why. I never played it and now I feel a tick sad that it took me damn near 5 years to finally get on the Nathan Drake bandwagon.

 
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Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

When I first loaded Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (2007), I was instantly taken back to that nostalgic feeling I felt when I loaded the first Tomb Raider during PlayStation’s early years. The premier entry in this series has you assuming the role of Nathan Drake (ancestor to the explorer Sir Francis Drake) as he searches for the lost city of El Dorado.  Joining him is his long time companion and mentor, Victor “Sully” Sullivan and the just-as-much-tenacious-as-she-is-beautiful journalist, Elena Fisher. Drake’s Fortune was an absolute treat for the eyes and ears. Lush and expansive environments that made the platforming a delight, coupled with an epic soundtrack, that rounds out the visual and aural buffet of this game.

What I thought: Gameplay wise, it was the perfect mix between gunplay (generally third person cover based), platforming, and puzzle solving. While very few challenges sat among the realm of truly difficult, the gameplay provided just enough challenge to really feel like you’ve earned the end result.  My one complaint is their implementation of Close Quarters Combat (Snake would scoff at Drake’s CQC). While emptying a clip into a wave of baddies is a satisfying gameplay mechanic, I often like to recreate fight scenes from action flicks and mix it up with a good blend of daring gunplay served up with a double order of knuckle sandwich. Though I must stress that the melee mechanic is not a gripe that affects my enjoyment of the game. Overall, let’s just say the moment the final credits ran, I was ready to pop Drake’s next adventure into my console.

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 Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

So now I venture into the world of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009). When the story starts, it employs a textbook example of in media res (a narrative technique for starting a story “in the middle”). You find our hero, Nathan Drake, waking up wounded (with a bleeding stomach) and to add insult to injury, he’s in a train hanging halfway off a cliff. Of course that isn’t enough, throw in a dose of “impending death” by being seated on the “most likely to fall to your doom” end of the wreckage, and we have ourselves a kerfuffle. The platforming and overall set piece of this particular scene (which you get the esteemed pleasure to play through twice) is lauded as one of the most white-knuckle-edge-of-your-seat moments in modern gaming. Even I’ve heard of and seen videos of this scene (and why this never made me play it back in 2009 I can never really understand… shame on me…). Anyway, when the story jumps back to where it all begins, Drake is searching for the truth behind Marco Polo’s journey from China in 1292.

What I thought: Visually, this game is so pretty I want to make babies with it. I thought Drake’s Fortune was a visual treat, and Among Thieves is a bloody smorgasbord of graphical ice cream. The Havok physics engine was truly put to the test. While graphics should never be the sole deciding factor of purchasing a game, I would never fault someone for picking up this entry on pretty visuals alone. The biggest improvement was the narrative; improved set pieces and unforgettable action sequences set this experience among the masterpieces of modern gaming. I honestly don’t feel comfortable just calling this a game. It was an experience, and an unforgettable one at that. Among Thieves introduced several new characters. Notably is the dark and mysterious Chloe Frazer (voiced by the incomparable Claudia Black). Chloe acts as a love interest for our hero while also being the “darker B-side” of Elena Fisher from the first installment. A sultry and capable mercenary for hire with a great ass and sexy British accent, she acts as the darker counterpart to the (for the most part) heroic nature of Nathan Drake. She’ll have you by the heart and by the balls on several occasions. Many laude this game as a pinnacle of gaming excellence, like a sort of appetizer for what we can expect in the future. Kind of makes you wonder how they can follow up such a picture perfect gameplay experience.

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Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Okay g33ks, if you’ve stayed with me this long, I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride. The final part of this trilogy series, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011), marks the most recent story in the adventures of Nathan Drake. If you thought Among Thieves was perfect, this is damn near angelic! One of the first things you’ll notice is Drake will tout a larger number of animation sets to better (and more realistically) have him interact with his surroundings. It also seems that some of my wishes from the first installment were answered. The sloppy gunplay that the first game was known for was addressed, as well as the introduction of a more advanced close quarters combat system. Together these two revamped systems make it far easier to orchestrate some fairly epic looking combat sequences. The narrative of this entry is wrought with twists and turns, so I’d hate to spoil anything for folks who haven’t played it… I’ll just stick to general notes.

What I thought: Much like the last game, Drake’s Deception does a fantastic job of thrusting our hero into some very memorable set pieces. Whether it is running through a busy bazaar hopped up on God knows what, or chasing down an enemy convoy on horseback, I never felt like I was sitting still for too long. What instantly drew me in is how awesome our antagonist was. Katherine Marlow reminded me of Dame Judy Dench with a serious mean streak. She was the crazy granny you wanted to unload a clip or two into.

While it was never an issue to me in the previous installments, the inevitable “final boss” our hero faces at the end of both previous games felt very “video game” like. Health bars and a gameplay mechanic that (at its core) boiled down to whittling your enemies health down to nil, while very common in gaming, such a mechanic can detract from making games a true narrative experience. Drake’s Deception felt less like I was gaming and more like I was experiencing a story. I guess over two decades of playing has conditioned me to never notice that issue. To put it simply, the final boss of Drake’s Deception felt less like a “pump-ya-full-of-lead-till-ya-drop” and more like experiencing part of the story’s narrative, closing out the story in a very satisfying way. While some of the gunplay sequences were not as good as those from Among Thieves, this third foray into the adventures of our hero was a largely unforgettable experience.

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My Two Cents

I loved it. The entire series was like a love letter to gamers. This is what gaming is and this is where gaming is headed. I still shake my damn head at myself from 2009-2011! How could I call myself a gamer and not experience this epic trilogy? While playing multiplayer satiates my every-now-and-again-itch to step back into the shoes of these characters, playing these three games was an unforgettable part of my year and a great way to round out my 2012. I look forward to hopefully another epic tale in Nathan Drake’s adventures. Next on my Uncharted list? Possibly playing Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

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