Hero in a half-tuck
The current generation of consoles is providing rich pickings for those of a nostalgic bent. Sony’s latest exercise in remaking its back-catalogue, The Nathan Drake Collection, crams the first three Uncharted games onto one disk, all lovingly upscaled to the PlayStation 4. Admittedly, it feels like something of a sop to PS4 owners, who are desperate to get their hands on Uncharted 4, but are going to wait until 2016 for that. But in the meantime, the Nathan Drake Collection acts as an ideal appetite-whetter.
Responsibility for tarting up three of the PS3’s best-loved games fell to Bluepoint Games, which is fast generating an enviable reputation for its skill at upscaling, and The Nathan Drake Collection might be its best effort yet. The original games were always praised for their graphical quality, but the ability to pump up resolutions and add extra visual effects that the PS4 affords is impressive: The Nathan Drake Collection’s cut-scenes, in particular, look amazing, and details that were previously slightly sub-par, such as dodgy-looking water, snow and ice, instantly become more convincing.
Bluepoint Games hasn’t just overhauled the visuals, though: it has, for example, retrofitted the vastly improved character models and animations from Uncharted 3 to the first two games, and for the earlier iterations has completely remade many of the in-game objects. The result is a consistency across the trilogy that it simply never possessed before.
And therein lies the bulk of The Nathan Drake Collection’s appeal: although all three games came out on the PS3, there were decent-sized gaps between them, so when you play them in order (and they were made in chronological order, which isn’t usually the case for game franchises), you get a real sense of them combining to form one giant narrative arc.
Admittedly, there’s an origins-sequence early on in Uncharted 3, but playing the three games in order brings it home to you how cleverly Naughty Dog managed to convey a sense that Nathan Drake was slowly maturing and becoming more hard-bitten. In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, he’s puppyish and brash, but by the time he gets to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, he and sidekick Sully are much more inclined to question why they’re still doing what they do, and are becoming thoroughly fed up with being shot at.
Playing all three games in order also feels like immersing yourself in a soap opera, as peripheral characters come and go, while the two women in Drake’s life, the journalist Elena and more gung-ho but less reliable Chloe go up and down in his affections at various points. It’s also fascinating to be reminded how Naughty Dog tweaked the gameplay for each game by, for example, upping the sophistication of the brawling engine, improving the enemy AI so that when you go back to Drake’s Fortune, it almost feels too easy, introducing a modicum of stealth in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and making the puzzles more challenging (and therefore more satisfying). Uncharted could never claim that its gameplay was particularly original – it essentially took the vertiginous climbing and archaeological exploration from Tomb Raider and added third-person cover-shooting and big set-piece chase-sequences – but playing the full trilogy shows how it altered the blend of those gameplay elements to great effect.
There’s every likelihood that the majority of PlayStation 4 owners played all three Uncharted games but, even for those that did, The Nathan Drake Collection has plenty to offer. It adds up to a very meaty – and impressively consistent -- gameplay experience indeed, with incredibly cinematic production values and all the intense drama and excitement of what would be the longest Hollywood blockbuster you’ll ever have seen. And with Uncharted 4 taking up Nate Drake’s story a while after the events chronicled in Uncharted 3, The Nathan Drake Collection is perfectly timed to give Sony’s next blockbuster the mother of all build-ups.