I never owned a Playstation 3. I was firmly in the Xbox camp during the last generation. But I always felt like Uncharted was a series that I would enjoy. The exciting Indiana Jones-esque adventures of Nathan Drake always appealed to me. Even then, I knew they weren’t exactly the greatest or most original things out there, but they looked like a fun romp to play over the course of a few days. So now that I have a PS4, I bought the Nathan Drake Collection to finally take a crack at this franchise that has gotten so much love from its fans. Upon playing it, I was surprised to discover just how fresh it felt to play.
It’s weird to call Uncharted “fresh”, but I guess that’s where we’ve gotten. Perhaps one of the most common recent trends is crafting and light RPG elements. It’s shown up in sandbox games like Watch_Dogs, shooters like Shadow Warrior, and even horror games like The Evil Within. And it’s not like I don’t understand why. It’s a nice and simple way of giving an additional way of extending playtime and giving a minor but frequent instances of progression to keep people playing. But it’s become so prevalent in the gaming space that a major release that doesn’t have this suddenly feels very different.
The story of Uncharted never slows down. In theory, it would like you to keep playing it in one sitting to get the full experience of its various ups, downs, and setpieces. It’s not concerned with trying to hold the player’s attention with tiny upgrades and rewards. Sure, there are the small collectables, but they don’t really give much impetus for progress.
What makes Uncharted so effective is its writing and its level design. The writing may not be all that original, sure. White dude travels to a foreign country to find an ancient treasure and ends up having to fight off a bunch of bad people who inevitably want to use it. Nothing about it is particularly groundbreaking, but the villains are evil enough to stay invested and continue the journey. There’s almost never a dull moment in an Uncharted game. There’s always a twist or an event to keep you going.
The reason that it feels so different is that there’s no messing around in Uncharted. There are reasons to criticize linear game design, but it feels like there’s almost too much of a push away from it. Common industry wisdom seems to state that there has to be oodles of player choice and plenty of side missions and upgrade trees for some kind of immersion. But a linear design can be very advantageous for story structure and area design. It allows for purposeful enemy placement, platforming challenges, and carefully planned encounters.
Don’t get me wrong. I like having options in my video games. I recently played through inFAMOUS: Second Son and found myself enjoying decently well. But it’s been so long since I’ve played a game that has such a singular design focus as Uncharted. There’s no minor stat upgrades, fiddling around with inventories and crafting small distraction items. It’s a simple game at heart. Action, adventure, the occasional puzzle. That’s all there is to it. It’s a simplicity that I’ve sincerely been missing in AAA gaming lately. I only hope Uncharted 4 can keep in mind what makes it so good. The multiplayer was recently confirmed to have microtransactions. AAA gaming marches on.