TL;DR(eviews): Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - meh. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Yes! Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - Hell Yes!!! Halo: Combat Evolved - No. Halo 2 - Hell No!
In the October run-up to Fallout 4, I figured I would play through the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection and the Halo: Master Chief Collection. I already put together a little something about how I ran through the Uncharted games chasing the Platinums. However, I wasn't able to make it through all of the Halo games in time so this will only touch on the Uncharted ones and Halo: Combat Evolved and Halo 2.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune - The initial foray into the adventures of Nathan Drake feels a bit rough nearly 8 years after it's original release. The cover mechanics don't work consistently (I lost count of how many times I died because I rolled into combat instead of sticking to cover like I intended). Combat sections are almost always a few enemies or an extra wave too long to feel fun and wind up feeling a bit chore-ish. A lot of people hate on the jet skiing sections of the game but I'm not quite sure why that animosity is so vehement. The only minor squabble I have with it is that it would be nice if the jet ski had a little more power behind in when you're going upstream. But that gripe pales in comparison to the excessive combat woes.
The first game also isn't as focused on grandiose set pieces. Instead, most of the game takes place in El (Goddamn) Dorado and you revisit a couple areas multiple times throughout the course of the 22 chapters, which makes it feel like the most concise story of the series. The writing and performances for Nate, Sully, and Elena serve as a great introduction to the characters and the tone of the series that will be. The villains are a little flat. Eddie gets the most time to shine in the game's middle act and is probably the most memorable baddie from this tale as a result but even he has a much more interesting history with Drake that is only alluded to in the game.
All in all, still worth playing but nowhere near the heights of the subsequent games.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - The second game in the series improves upon its predecessor in every way. The story is bigger and more interestingly told, starting in media res dangling from a train car hanging off a snowy cliff. The gunplay and cover mechanics are tighter and more responsive. The characters, dialogue, and performances veer more into the pulp action that inspired it. The settings are far more varied than the first game, taking you through jungles, an urban warzone, and the snowy Himalayan mountains.
The biggest issue I (and others) have with the game is that while the story is certainly bigger and bolder, the story beats themselves are largely a repeat of the previous game: start the adventure, find a long-lost clue to a forgotten treasure, a friend betrays you, shoot lots of guys, climb lots of buildings, discover a mysterious lost civilization of seemingly inhuman creatures guarding the treasure you're searching for, fight the final boss.
That said, because everything else in this game is an improvement over the first, it deserves all of the praise it gets.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception - Up front, let me say that I think the Uncharted 2 versus Uncharted 3 debate is silly. Everyone has different tastes so if you like one of them over the other, that's your perogative and I'm eager to hear the rationale behind your preferences. Here's why I like 3 the best.
Uncharted, unlike another series I love, has grown up with me. I was in college at the beginning of the series and out in the "real world" with my first salaried position by the time the third game came out. I changed a lot in those years and appreciated the games that changed with me. Uncharted went from being a very straight-forward adventure story in the first game, to a blockbuster action-adventure in second game. And then the third game kept the blockbuster mentality with it's incredible set pieces (the Poseidon Adventure-esque cruise ship remains one of my all-time favorite gaming sequences, even if the whole ship graveyard narrative is clearly thrown into the story just to serve that action), but also managed to tell a thoughtful story highlighting Drake, his relationships, and the strain his obsession puts on those relationships.
This wasn't a copy/paste of the previous entry. It was more ambitious in every way and was one of the best games of last generation. As part of this collection, the graphical facelift received makes it all the more enjoyable to experience.
Halo: Combat Evolved - Caveat: the Halo: Master Chief Collection has pretty much been my introduction to the Halo games. Apart from one night of Halo 2 multiplayer circa 2008, I've never touched the series. So I'm not coming to this game with any sense of nostalgic love. If you love the Halo games, I totally respect that opinion. But here's some brief points on why I don't.
Playing a game that originally came out 14 years and two console generations ago is going to be rough. That's almost half of my lifetime. Games have changed drastically since the original Xbox, the shooter genre in particular. So going back to a game like Halo: Combat Evolved with no sense of nostalgia tugging at my heartstrings felt slow and heavy, compared to the modern-day shooters I play like Destiny and Borderlands, let alone the more acclaimed Call of Duty or Battlefield games. It definitely felt like a relic of the past; more reminiscent of Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 than anything else.
Being restricted to a two gun loadout, I was often frustrated because I'd find myself favoring a gun, then running out of ammo for it, and getting stuck with the guns I didn't like because they were the only ones I could find. Additionally, the old mechanic of having to regularly find health packs is almost completely removed from the modern FPS genre. Combined with overly long levels and a sporadic checkpoint system, these limiting factors caused me on more than one occasion to just restart a level from the beginning because I passed a checkpoint with too little health and/or ammo to progress.
The level design was frustratingly repetitive as I went through the same corridors and rooms over and over, often getting turned around after a firefight and not realizing I was heading the wrong way because there was never anything concrete to indicate where I was supposed to be going. And then the latter half of the game basically has you retrace your footsteps back through these areas. The first-person shooters I grew up with like Doom, Duke Nukem 3D, and Quake had some solid level design because the levels were kept mostly concise and manageable. Treading and retreading through this game felt like a padded chore.
All that said, the story shows glimmers of hope and a larger interesting world to explore. And the graphical and auditory overhaul from the original (which can still be enjoyed for the nostalgic with a quick tap of the View button) definitely makes the game look and sound like it belongs on the current generation of consoles, even if it doesn't feel like it. But if you subscribe to the idea that gameplay is king, this game, much like the original Uncharted feels woefully out of place in 2015.
Oh, also, if your vehicle controls sucks, don't make the last mission of your game a crappy race against time with them.
Halo 2 - As I touched on above, my only interaction with Halo 2 was a night of multiplayer with some friends from high school in a mini-reunion a few years after we'd graduated. I was a PlayStation guy and they crushed me. So fast forward to last week when I started the campaign.
First, I was glad that the health pickup mechanic from the original game was abandoned here in favor of just the rechargeable shield. But that quickly turned to frustration as I realized, "oh, without the shield, I'm just dead if I get shot. Crap." And the two-weapon loadout is the same as the last game. "Double crap." And now I'm playing as this Arbiter guy, which means I'm A) mostly stuck with those crappy Covenant weapons and B) constantly shooting my own teammates because the first game and first couple levels of this game have trained me to shoot anything Covenant. Triple crap. AND now on top of fighting through a lot of repetitive corridors, I can't see because the game is too dark to know where I'm going or what I'm shooting at and I can't adjust the brightness. Fuck you.
As before, this is a game that looks and sounds beautiful and I've give special recognition to the gorgeous cut scenes animated by Blur Studios. But I pretty much hated everything else about this game. Except the fact that I could just bypass a lot of battles by running or driving past them to the next checkpoint. Thank god for that. I did that a lot just to get through the damn game because, again, the levels are way too big and lost any sense of fun for me.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection Final Thoughts
- Three good to great games.
- Light on extras unless you're into the Brutal difficulty and Speed Runs.
- Given that the Halo: Master Chief Collection was crippled at launch (and for a long time thereafter) with horrible multiplayer and the Uncharted games are primarily known for their campaigns, leaving the Uncharted 2 and 3 multiplayer off this game was the right call.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection Final Thoughts
- The streamlined User Interface connecting all four games is great and easy to navigate.
- I hear the multiplayer works now, but I'm pretty sure it was fixed long after anybody had the patience to play it. I certainly didn't bother.
- Halo: Nightfall felt like it belongs in the 2A.M. programming block on Syfy.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is available on the PlayStation 4. Head here for more information.
Halo: The Master Chief Collection is available on the Xbox One. Head here for more information.