Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection released on Friday. I reviewed it last week and it is, in every sense, exactly what we want from a collection. The Nathan Drake Collection is how I remember Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune being, not how it actually is. Better textures and gunplay pulled from the much better later titles made it a lot more fun to play than it might’ve been otherwise. It preserves our strong memories of the series – the set pieces, the writing, the scenery – without letting the dated stuff get in the way. It’s not an exact preservation of history, but it is one that both welcomes in new fans and gives old ones something to chew on.
What I didn’t go into in my review is what hasn’t changed, and that’s a big part of what makes Uncharted stand up as well as it has over the last generation of consoles and into this one.
There are a lot of characters that are sort of place-holder characters. James Bond is a suit and a gun. There have been many James Bonds through the years, and I’ve liked a fair number of them. There’s only one Nathan Drake, though, and while I think Uncharted could have another central character at some point, I can’t see a different voice actor or different character model working in Drake’s place. It’s why I’m kind of dreading the idea of an Uncharted movie.
Without Drake holding things together, I don’t think the other elements, as good as so many of them are, would’ve held together. Drake is at the same time a superhuman athlete and an everyman. He’s cool under fire, but wildly flawed. He attracts interesting, memorable allies.
In the footage we saw of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Drake comes back to his motel to find his wife, Elena, looking at his desk full of maps, knowing he’s lied to her. Naughty Dog brought the two characters together across the first three Uncharted games, and gave them one of the more believable (but not necessarily realistic) romances in video games. The look of disappointment in her eyes in that trailer is real in that moment. I felt the broken trust between the two, the pain at Elena having to watch someone she cares about put himself in the kinds of situations he gets into over and over. This is all stuff Naughty Dog has earned though solid animation and camera work combined with great writing and acting. If Drake was any more flawed, he’d be unlikable. He’s a jerk, but he’s charming, and it’s easy to see why Elena’s attracted to him and why his equally troubled father-figure, Victor “Sully” Sullivan keeps bailing him out time and time again.
Keeping a character like that interesting can be a tough balancing act. If they’re too flawed, you end up with someone divisive like Assassin’s Creed III‘s Connor Kenway or one of the piles of bland, brown-haired dudes we’ve seen in a million games. That balancing act is what sets Drake apart, and collection of games is a perfect display of that. It reaches its apex in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, but the other two games are excellent as well. All three are full of memorable fights and set-pieces, but Amy Hennig’s take on the character in the second game is still the best of Drake yet.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is on shelves now and is a great way to catch up on the series. No need to slog through dated gameplay, just jump in and get a fresh, fun product right from the start.