The original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released early in the PlayStation 3’s lifetime and the developer, Naughty Dog, were still getting to grips with the new and unusual hardware. I remember picking it up in 2010 along with its sequel Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and back then I enjoyed my playthrough despite its technical flaws; such as constant screen-tearing and janky controls resulting in some quite unfair deaths. However, once I got onto the second (and eventually third) games in the series, it was quite apparent in retrospect how unpolished and rough-around-the edges that first game was. Flash forward to 2015 and I’ve played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune again but thoroughly remastered, almost to the point of a ‘remake’, on the PlayStation 4 in full 1080p high definition and running at a flawless 60fps. I’ll discuss the technical merits of this new release later, but first I’d like to touch upon the experience of playing this game again, and compare it to more modern games.
It all opens on a boat with the protagonists Nathan Drake, wisecracking intrepid treasure hunter, and Elena Fisher, journalist and documentary filmmaker, hauling up the remains of Sir Francis Drake from the bottom of the ocean. This is a bit of a MacGuffin though because the plot quickly turns to the classic “search for El Dorado” the city of gold (which reminds me of the ‘Mysterious Cities of Gold’ cartoon from my childhood) in a race against an ‘Evil British Rich Guy©’ and his hordes of armed mercenaries. Nathan Drake is an immediately likable protagonist, as is Elena and the other supporting character Victor Sullivan, and together the three of them seem like they’ve walked straight out of a pulpy adventure movie; like Indiana Jones but obviously set in the present day. In fact, the pace and structure of the game is designed to imitate a cheesy action movie, with lots of action set-pieces and chase sequences in fast cars, etc.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is different from its successors in that it mostly takes place in South America, and has none of the country-hopping and varied set of locations seen in the sequels, but in some ways this works in its favour. The first Uncharted is like a short-story introducing the characters and themes for the novels to come, which is also reflected in its length, I completed this playthrough in roughly seven hours. There is a good mix of tomb-raiding, jungle exploring, car and jet-ski chases, and shooting… lots and lots of shooting. In fact, the main negative of the gameplay in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is that there are probably too many firefights. This wouldn’t be a problem if the combat sequences took place in different and exciting locations and featured explosive action-packed set-pieces (like the sequels), but the gunplay here can become quite formulaic. Enter an area filled with waist-high broken walls and pillars, wait for enemies to spawn, kill them and rob their weapons, move forward, more enemies spawn, etc. This is shaken up a bit near the end of the game by the addition of enemies that require a run-and-gun approach, and this is a welcome change of pace.
It might not be apparent taken on its own, but placed side-by-side with the original game on the PS3 and you can see the staggering amount of work gone into the remastered version of this game; as I pointed out earlier it’s almost verging on a remake. Firstly, the aesthetics of the game has obviously been bumped up considerably, not just in terms of raw resolution and v-synced buttery smooth framerate. Texture have been not only increased in quality but often completely replaced, as has the geometry of objects and even the levels themselves, such as additional details on stonework, foliage, etc. The lighting engine has also been changed from a fake “baked-on” method to dynamic and modern lighting engine with heavy use of shaders. Character models have also been replaced with higher detail ones usually reserved for cutscenes, which have also all been re-rendered so that they match the improvements to the in-engine stuff. In short, this is a *COLOSSAL* undertaking by BluePoint Games, and they should be commended for the way they have treated Naughty Dog’s work.
But, they didn’t stop there!! The graphics boost is one thing, but BluePoint have also gone back and revisited the gameplay of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, reworking the gunplay using much of the feel and finesse of its sequels (mostly Uncharted 2). Now not only is the aiming more responsive and the combat controls like grenade tossing and fist fighting improved, but the damage model has also been tweaked to make enemies less like bullet-sponges and headshots actually count! Recently, in comment threads here on Destructoid, I’ve witnessed people say things like “Uncharted 2 was great but Uncharted 1 and 3 controlled like junk” and these people are obviously unaware of the fact that this simply isn’t true anymore. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune now controls like the sequels and feels much more like a modern third-person-shooter should feel.
BluePoint games have perhaps turned in the best remaster-job ever performed on a videogame, taking the great-but-badly-aged Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and making it excellent again. While the controls are impeccable, the graphics sharp, and the general story is still great there are several things holding the game back from true greatness. There are still pacing issues and the focus on never-ending formulaic firefights feels like padding in what is still a very short game. Nevertheless, you should *definitely* still play through the first Uncharted game, as it’s still a lot of fun and does a grand job of setting up the characters and themes of the series. (NOTE: I'd give the PS3 original a 7/10, maybe a 6.5/10 but the PS4 remaster...)
This review has been posted under the 'Band of Bloggers' topic for October, which is "remasters and remakes". Remember, it's still not too late to get an entry in before it's all collated at the end of the month - the best blog will be prominently featured. Just write any blog connected with the current theme and tag it with the 'Band of Bloggers' tag to join in. There's about one week left!