EXPeriencing ‘Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection’

Cover image via NaughtyDog.

There weren’t a ton of games I felt I was missing out on by having an Xbox 360 instead of a PS3, but the Uncharted series was one of them. I knew they had Assassin’s Creed-like puzzles and an Indiana Jones-like story line. What’s not to like about that?

When Terry and I got a PS4 for Christmas this year, Terry also bought me Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, a remastered version of the first three games. I dove right in.

Was it worth the wait?

The Gameplay

This part was not worth the wait. The only word to describe the gameplay in the first three Uncharted games is “linear.” The first game was particularly bad: kneel behind a crate, shoot at a bad guy, kneel, reload, dive to another crate, repeat. There was no strategy to how to take down enemies. They would rush you and you would shoot them. Sometimes you would shoot them with an AK-47, sometimes with a 9mm, sometimes you’d throw a grenade. Once you cleared the area, on you went. It was more mindless than anything.

As the games progressed, the combat got a little better each time – more stealthy takedowns, more weapons, more vantage points. It was still very linear overall, but it felt less like being led down a tunnel, and more an open-air hallway.

I also found the instructions could be a little vague. In the first game, for instance, I had just gone through a section where you were speeding along in a jeep and would shoot the bad guys if you had a chance. The following area saw you on a jet ski, and I was trying to book it through enemies shooting at me. Well, turns out, this particular section was the opposite of the jeep section: take cover and shoot down the bad guys before they can shoot you. Didn’t realize that ’til I’d been blown out of the water about three times.

It’s very jarring when you die in Uncharted. The screen goes black and white, a discordant brrring plays, and one of your allies yells, “Nate!” Whereas in some other games when you drop down too far, they just force you to climb up again. But when Drake falls too far, he falls outside of the playable area and it’s game over, back to the last checkpoint.

And you will die a bunch. There are a lot of times where you only really know which way to go next by dying. Either you’re running as fast as you can along a crumbling walkway and you jump in the wrong direction, or there’s a guy hiding behind a wall with an RPG that you just didn’t see until he blew you up. These types of deaths can be especially frustrating. The few sections I had to attempt over and over and over again were where these games definitely weren’t my favorite.

The gameplay aspect I liked most was the puzzles. I had been looking forward to these the most, but they weren’t as amazing as I was expecting. They really fell on two ends of the spectrum: trivial and obscure. A lot of the puzzles I was able to figure out before the NPC bantered hints. But there were some where I fumbled through by guessing and was about 5 minutes from Googling it before I got it right. There wasn’t really much middle ground. Frankly, I think some of the memory-type puzzles in Skyrim and the skill-based jumping puzzles in Assassin’s Creed were more deftly crafted.

The Story

Before you think I despised the games because I wasn’t a fan of the gameplay, I actually did really enjoy them overall. While every time I died was super frustrating, the story was incredibly compelling, well acted, and entertaining. I liked Drake and his roguish Indiana Jones-style treasure hunting a lot, especially through his excellent portrayal by voiceover extraordinaire Nolan North. Sully, his BFF, and Elena, his on-and-off again flame, are equally entertaining; the three of them make a great team. The other allies and villains were fairly well-rounded, too, although the cast was pretty whitewashed throughout the games. I could have done with more main characters of color, though I do believe there are more in the subsequent games.

I also like the Indiana Jones/X-Files mystical/alien-meets-real-life aspects of the story. They’re hunting for historical treasures, but there’s always some magical element that defies logic on top of it. It provided a good framework for the shooter-meets-crumbling-puzzle mix of gameplay.

Ultimately, like any good entertainment, you don’t play Uncharted for the mechanics, but for the story. The mechanics improved with each game, but I often found myself lamenting that I wasn’t playing Assassin’s Creed every time Drake made some physics-defying leap – or fell two feet and died. The story, however, was compelling enough to drive me forward to finish each game and relish in the cut scenes rather than scowl at the quicktime events.

I’m glad I played the games, but I’m also glad it was only $20 to do so. If you haven’t played the first three Uncharted games, now is a great time to pick them up – just know that playing through the first game might be really rough if you’re coming from Assassin’s Creed: Origins or Overwatch. If you’re a diehard Uncharted fan, I absolutely see why, and I’m glad I got to experience this story.

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Traversing “Monument Valley”

I almost never spend money on apps. Case in point, I’ve owned an iPhone since 2011, and I’ve only spent money on two apps: a Couch to 5K running trainer app and “Monument Valley.”

I had never heard of “Monument Valley” until my sister texted me a screen cap of the intro screen (above) saying, “YOU NEED TO BUY THIS GAME RIGHT NOW!!! It’s the most beautiful game I have ever played.” Considering my sister hasn’t played many video games, I took that with a grain of salt. Also considering the app was $3.99, I was hesitant. Is $3.99 really worth it for a puzzle game? But when my sister texted me the next day saying, “Did you get it!?!” I figured I might as well check it out since 1.) my sister isn’t this adamant about anything that we have in common, e.g. video games, and 2.) it would make her stop bugging me.

MV 4

So I downloaded it this morning, and it’s a fun little puzzle game! It’s like ustwo, the studio who created “Monument Valley,” decided an M.C. Escher painting needed to be interactive and filled with pretty colors. And not only are the levels filled with creative puzzles, there’s an interesting little story line to go along with them.

I keep saying “little” because for $3.99, the game was awfully short. Ten levels that I was done with in less than two hours. Granted that’s less than a movie ticket for the same amount of time in which I’d be entertained, but still, spending money on an iPhone game feels like it should be more of an investment than a quick Sunday afternoon play-through.

I wondered where my sister would have heard of this game, so I Googled it to see if it had recently gotten some publicity or if there was a compelling story behind it. Well, “recent publicity” is probably a pretty gross understatement. The game was featured in House of Cards Season 3. I’m way behind on HoC (I haven’t even watched Season 2 yet… oops), so clearly I had missed its mention there, but no one else did. According to IGN, since the game’s appearance on the show, “the game has soared into the top 10 top paid apps on iTunes, and is currently number three in the paid games category on the Google Play store. The game did not rank in the top 25 on either app store before appearing on the show.” Nothing like some political drama to get your indie puzzle game on the map! (P.S., Although my sister does watch HoC, she isn’t to that particular episode yet. She found out about the game on a blog.)

MV 2

If you’ve seen the game on House of Cards and are thinking about checking it out, or if you’re just looking for something to kill some time with on your phone, I would suggest “Monument Valley.” It’s a pretty game, it’s got great music and sound effects, and it won’t steal all your free time for days on end like “Candy Crush.” One word of caution: if you’re prone to motion sickness, pace yourself. Rotating Escher stairs for two hours maybe isn’t the best for one’s tummy.

I’m always an advocate for games with a story, though. Doing puzzle after puzzle can be entertaining, but when there’s a story–especially one with a princess, and especially one with a princess whose name is the same as one of my sorority’s founders–I feel compelled to reach the end. Although I reached the end of “Monument Valley” more quickly than I had hoped, traversing it was a treat.