Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Naughty Dog
Review Date: 1/25/22
Nathan Drake is a treasure hunter, which also means that he's a thief, tomb raider, pirate, and murderer. A charming scoundrel at best, and generally not a very nice person. When he finds Sir Francis Drake's diary, he and his partner Sully go searching for the fabled treasure of El Dorado. A headstrong TV reporter named Elena Fisher also ends up tagging along, which adds some great character dynamics as well as some romantic tension. Of course, there are other parties interested in El Dorado who are even more violent and unscrupulous than Drake, which complicates things considerably. As the stakes increase, Drake abandons the treasure in favor of his life, and then risks it all to ensure that the treasure doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
More than anything, "Uncharted" feels like an attempt to revitalize the waning "Tomb Raider" series, which would later look to "Uncharted" for inspiration. Since I prefer playing games with female protagonists, I knew right away that Nathan Drake would present a barrier to my engagement and enjoyment of the game. He's definitely an unsavory cad at the beginning of the game, but I finally started to warm up to him towards the end as his character develops and his relationships with Sully and Elena are expanded on. Drake and Lara Croft are essentially the same character, although Lara tends to hunt treasure for sport and personal reasons, whereas Nathan's primary motivation seems to be wealth. But both characters are thieves and murderers, which makes it challenging to present them as endearing and morally elevated "good guys." Regardless, I tried not to let those intrusive thoughts interfere with my adventure, despite the fact that I killed over 500 pirates, mercenaries, and thugs.
It took me fifteen years to get around to playing this game, which was originally released on the PlayStation 3 in 2007 and is widely considered to be one of the best games available on that system. The PS4 remastered version is quite good, but the material hasn't aged very well. I was initially disappointed by the graphics, which look garish, overly saturated, and somewhat cartoony, but they improve considerably as you get further into the game and the environments become darker and more menacing. The writing is excellent and the voice acting is superb, which really adds life and depth to all of the characters. Elena is a wonderful sidekick who can hold her own in a fight, although her complete fearlessness and naïveté in the face of danger occasionally makes her come across as a bit psychotic. She looks fantastic, although her cropped cargo pants are a bit of an eyesore. Were those popular at the time? I can't remember.
The production values are top-notch, the music is wonderful, and the overall presentation is very cinematic, which makes the game a lot of fun to watch. Of course, this becomes a problem when you're presented with quick-timer events, which are difficult to react to when you're busy watching the action. The gameplay is a mix of exploration and combat, although it seems to lean more towards combat. The enemies are smart and present a decent challenge, and your partner AI is fantastic. While you can't rely on your partner to take out every enemy, they do help out and alert you to environmental situations that you might otherwise miss. This also strengthens the bonds between the characters because you know that they're looking out for you. The game offers a wide range of difficulty options from "explorer" to "crushing" which allows you to tune the experience to your liking. I managed to complete the game on "easy," which was right about my speed, and that still caused me a lot of stress and anxiety. That said, the jet ski segments are a pain in the ass on ANY difficulty. The game also offers some replay value with hidden treasures to find and unlockable features. When I unlocked the Elena skin for Nate, I tried it out to see if it would give the game more of a "Tomb Raider" feel. It didn't. It was just a skin, meaning that Nate's frame, posture, movements, and mannerisms were still there, and it looked like he was just wearing Elena's clothes and face. It was good for a laugh, if nothing else. Overall, if you can put yourself into Nate's shoes and get into the right mental state, "Uncharted" is a shear delight for action/adventure fans who want to experience a fun and exciting Indiana Jones styled outing.