I'm going to talk about the Uncharted games, all four of them! Why? Because I love them so much! And since this is the domain of the Kyerannosaur, I can talk about whatever I'd like!
Before Uncharted 4 was released this past spring I revisited the first three installments on PlayStation 3 (the original releases, not the remastered ones) and took a few notes, comparing the experiences. I find it fascinating and fun to track the evolution of a franchise or company, so this wasn't much of a chore. That being said, here are some brief observations I made about the intrepid adventures of one of my favorite fictional personalities.
The Frustrating One—Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
I have a quick confession to make: this year was my first time to finish Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I had played it before, briefly, before Uncharted 2 was released, but I lost interest about halfway through. Man, this game did not age well. First off, the pace is horrible. Every beat in the story is followed by gunfire. It feels like every room has a gun fight in it, and the gun play is mediocre at best and frustrating the rest of the time. The camera is clunky half the time, button prompts don't come up when needed, and close combat is awkward. The writing isn't bad: Drake, Sully, and Elena are all fun, and the quest for the treasure of El Dorado is enjoyable. Too often, though, the player is running blindly into an assault by too many enemies with too little weapon power. Also, the jet ski section did not work well. I won't even mention the motion controls that Sony required by included. Fortunately, Naughty Dog aptly identified what went right and what went wrong, and improved both for the sequel.
Favorite moment: Drake's banter
Biggest complaint: Too many enemies
The Bombastic One—Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Drake's motto is "greatness from small beginnings"—or something like that. That idea applies for the series as well. After a less-than-astounding ambitious beginning, the Uncharted defined themselves with the first sequel. The pace was vastly improved. The graphics are some of the best on the PlayStation 3. The writing was even better. Gun play was fixed. The camera was pulled back and smoothed out, allowing both for more cinematic moments and better visibility for the player. The frustrating jet ski chapter was replaced by an astounding train scene—one of my favorite action sequences in a video game. That's not to say Among Thieves is without its faults. There's still a large amount of action sequences, some of which feel forced, particularly in Shambala when facing the Evil Blue Man Group (my name for them). The final showdown with Lazarevic was awkward. But Among Thieves still has the highest highs of the series and still left the greatest impression on me, and arguably on the game industry.
Favorite moment: Facing off against a helicopter on a train
Biggest complaint: Awkward final fight
The Ambitious One—Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
How do you follow up a game that won seemingly every award imaginable? By trying to go bigger, I suppose. While I feel like Drake's Deception may be technically better than Among Thieves, it doesn't leave the same impression. Revisiting the game after a few years, I found the pacing to be better than Uncharted 2's: it handles flowing between story beats, exploration, and action better. The stakes seem higher in Drake's Deception as well. The game has more set pieces, more impressive technology (that boat! that plane!) and plenty of exciting moments. Gun play is improved, button layouts are improved, and the camera is improved. The climax is better, too. But the highs just aren't as high, and I think that's why Uncharted 2 gets remembered more. The game also tries some things that just don't work as well, such as the scene where Nate gets drugged and stumbles through a distorted market. It feels strange.
Favorite moment: The opening scene
Biggest complaint: Some story beats and location changes feel forced
The Thoughtful One—Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
I smiled all the way through Nathan Drake's final adventure. Yes, there are fewer big moments like Uncharted 2 and 3 had. There's much less gun fighting as well. Yet limiting the gun fighting makes more sense, it's a bit more believable, as opposed to Drake blasting his way through an entire army. The writing is fantastic and the pacing is engaging. The set pieces are wide and beautiful and cut together less jarringly. There are no supernatural surprises this time, either. It's fun to explore. It's exciting to dodge death as plans go south. But more than all of that, it's meaningful to follow a man who is weary, has made mistakes, and is trying to do the right thing. The climax is the best in the series, final fight included. Button commands, controls, camera work—all better, as you'd expect. No gimmicks this time around, just a solid, polished, intentional experience from start to finish.
Favorite moment: The final fight against Rafe
Biggest complaint: No mind-blowing explosive get away