Perhaps ‘great’ doesn’t really do them justice in fact: the adventuring tales of explorer Nathan Drake regularly score in the high 90s on review aggregators like Metacritic, and the titles are considered some of the finest out there.
Everyone and their grandma has played them, and the Uncharted series is one of the most lucrative exclusives for Sony’s PlayStation brand.
Well, I say ‘everyone’ has played them. I actually hadn’t up until recently, when I decided to see what all the fuss was about by running through them in order.
Here’s some key things I soon learned.
It’s actually pretty challenging
Granted, I was playing through on the hardest difficulty (because that’s how games are meant to be played), but the Uncharted games are actually tough little cookies to crack.
Many a skirmish was replayed as I got swamped and outnumbered by armed goons. And that PlayStation controller is just so throw-able, isn’t it?
Drake is a morally ambiguous hero
I’d always assumed Drake to be your cookie cutter, action-hero-good-guy sort, reclaiming stolen artefacts from pirates and returning them to the museums from which they were initially stolen.
But no. The first game ends with an associate picking Drake up in a boat, and the look on his face when said friend reveals a stash of stolen Mayan gold just screams “straight on eBay when I get home”.
The second game begins with an outright plot to steal a precious relic from a Turkish museum. He literally just plans to thieve it.
Nate might want you to think he’s in it for the love of the historical artefact, but we think his wallet is getting the real satisfaction.
He also has no remorse
Wince as Drake nonchalantly celebrates a head shot by quipping “that’s gonna hurt in the morning”. Cringe as he exclaims “yes!” as grey matter spurts from a scalped enemy.
That man has a family, you just blew his brains out mere feet from where you were standing, and your instant response is to fire off one-liners?
Drake’s a literal one man army, taking on hundreds of foot-soldiers and living to tell the tale. We don’t know about you, but we’d have PTSD from that opening sequence in which you have to fight off pirates.
It’s not as polished as they’d like you to think
At least, not in the earlier games.
Running through the first title, even the tiniest flaws became obviously apparent within the context of the super-slick, blockbuster style production the series has become known for in later iterations.
Awkward animations, clipping through scenery and ropey handling; nothing game breaking (and Drake’s Fortune is still a silky smooth experience), but when you’re consistently told the Uncharted games are something of a high water mark in gaming, the rough edges stand out more than ever.
It’s not all explosions
I’d been under the impression that Uncharted was something of a cinematic experience; almost an ‘interactive movie’ if you will, as you transition seamlessly from set-piece to set-piece, taking in ever more bombastic action sequences.
But that’s not the case.
For the most part, the games’ pacing is pitch perfect, but it’s not all handholding. There’s a good deal of exploring to do at times.
It’s not always obvious what you have to do
Whether you think Uncharted’s level design is genius or confusing is another question entirely, but the point is it could be considered both things.
Most platforming games guide you through their worlds with obvious sign posts: think colour coded ledges and the like.
For the most part, Uncharted stays away from this handholding, and the next path through the level is often discovered by the player through genuine exploration.
It gives everything a more realistic feeling, and while that realism is often shattered by an onscreen hint popping up after you’ve tried to vault every wall you can find, it all works towards making Uncharted feel even less like a typical video game.
It ain’t for kids
Of course, with the game boxes being peppered with 15 age ratings, I knew that Uncharted wasn’t exactly going to be family-friendly fare, but I didn’t quite expect the level of gruesomeness since encountered upon playing the game.
The graphical style of the game had always appeared almost cartoony, so the amount of swears and incidental gore was something of a shock when I fired up my PlayStation.
It’s more grown-up than it’s often perceived.
The shooting is possibly the weakest part
Graphics? Great. Voice acting? Superb. Action packed platforming? Absolutely.
It gets better from Among Thieves onwards, but the shooting in the first game especially isn’t quite up to the standards of the other elements.
Weak-feeling weapons, and repetitive shooting sections; it certainly doesn’t detract too much from the overall fun, but it’s certainly an area in which improvements could be made.
Fortunately at least, it’s a rare chink in Uncharted’s enjoyable armour.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is out now for PS4