The very first game I played on my brand new PlayStation 4 isn't really even a PS4 game; it's a remastered version of the PlayStation 3 hit “Uncharted: Drake's Fortune,” one of the games that's been sitting in my backlog for far too long.
If I'm being honest, it's a mystery how the series got as popular as it did considering how bland the initial entry was—at least by today's standards.
Now, to its credit, “Uncharted” is nearly a decade old. A lot of technical advances can happen in 10 years, especially in the gaming industry.
But if “Uncharted” launched today, gamers would hardly notice. There's hardly anything special about it. Ten years ago, it might have been groundbreaking, but compared to modern games, I quickly grew bored with it. I guess that's a testament to how much video games have matured since 2007.
I'll start with the combat. “Uncharted” is a third-person shooter, but the actual shooting mechanics are pretty mediocre.
A typical shootout involves ducking behind some sort of cover and occasionally peeking out to shoot a baddie. Sometimes you might throw a grenade, use a rocket launcher or sniper or engage in clumsy hand-to-hand combat, but mostly, you'll be shooting a pistol or automatic rifle with moderate accuracy.
Enemies, which are all basically the same, sometimes take an unrealistic amount of shots to go down, and hits that do land don't feel like they have much impact. The shooting isn't bad, but it's certainly not good, either.
Action sequences are hit or miss. There's a chase scene where, while your friend drives you away from danger, you man a vehicle's gun and blow up pursing trucks and ATVs. That was pretty fun. But not long after, you're driving a clunky personal watercraft through waters filled with explosive barrels while enemies rain grenades down on you. In order to shoot back, you have to stop driving—making you a sitting duck while you try to pick off hostiles. It's a recipe for annoyance.
“Uncharted” has a fair share of irritating platforming challenges, too. Protagonist Nathan Drake has to run, jump and climb his way through jungles and ancient ruins. The game usually does a good job of making it easy to see where you have to jump and which way to aim Drake's body to clear gaps, but the forced camera angles sometimes put you at a disadvantage and lead to more than a few untimely and frustrating falls to your death.
“Uncharted” does a better job with its story, though it didn't exactly compel me. Basically, Drake is searching for a long-lost treasure while hordes of bad guys try to stop him and take it for themselves. It's nothing stellar, but the mystery of one character's fate and the surprise supernatural twist near the end were at least engaging. The entire thing took less than five hours to beat, which is a pretty short experience for a video game.
The best part of “Uncharted,” though, is the characters. Drake is a wise-cracking, happy-go-lucky treasure hunter akin to a young Indiana Jones. He takes friendly jabs at his mentor, Sully, a charismatic businessman. Drake is tracked through his adventure by a nosy reporter, Elena, for whom Drake ends up having feelings. It's a nice cast of characters “Uncharted” introduces us to, and their development is fun to watch.
All this isn't to say “Uncharted” is a bad game. It's not even mediocre. It has a solid 88-percent rating on Metacritic.
But seeing where games as a medium are today, it's surprising how beloved “Uncharted” was when it launched. The first game was successful enough to spawn three sequels and a spin-off, each at least as or more successful than the last.
I don't regret playing “Uncharted.” It's an important game in PlayStation's history, and it's an example of how much video games have grown overall. Nowadays, games naturally have better graphics and more gripping action thanks to technological advances and bigger budgets, but games have matured in their pacing, characterization and storytelling, too.
And “Uncharted” wasn't lackluster enough to turn me off to the series. I hear “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” is arguably the best game in the series, and “Uncharted 4: A Thief's End” is apparently a thrilling and emotional conclusion to the franchise.
That's good enough for me to see what's in store for the rest of Drake, Sully and Elena's adventures.