Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series has now been around for over 12 years. During the intervening years, Nathan Drake, Elena Fisher and Victor Sullivan have become three of the most beloved and iconic characters in gaming.
The relationships between these characters made the original Uncharted trilogy a “must-own” for PlayStation 3 owners, but the series is not a walking simulator with a branching dialogue tree by any means.
While the first game was all about exploration, gunplay and spelunking, the following two games in the series upped the ante action-wise and produced some of the most staggering action set pieces in the history of gaming.
These dazzling feats of design pushed the boundaries of what sort of thrills games could produce, as some of the following action set pieces rival Hollywood blockbusters in terms of thrills, stakes, production values and pacing.
Read on to explore fifteen of the best action set pieces in the Uncharted series.
(Note: This list does not include spin-off games Uncharted: Golden Abyss or Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, as this writer has only played the four mainline games in the series.)
Honorable Mention: Toy Gun “Fight” – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
The final mainline entry in the series is, surprisingly, rather light on action set pieces, as the writers of the story opted to focus on the characters and the relationships between those characters over anything else.
Early on in the game, Nathan is at home with his now-wife Elena, and a wonderful sequence occurs in the attic in which Drake strolls down memory lane by looking at old trinkets from his previous three adventures. Just as he’s about to exit, he pulls out a toy gun from his holster and tense music plays as he shoots dangling targets with the visages of enemies from his prior escapades.
A humorous and heartfelt reminder that things are different for Drake, but his drive to explore still remains – however well-hidden it may be from Elena.
15. Finding the U-Boat – Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune began the spelunking character arc of the beloved Nathan Drake, but the gameplay itself was a ways off from the memorable escapades that would follow. The first Uncharted game follows in the footsteps of the Tomb Raider series, with a focus on exploration and gunplay rather than stunning scripted action sequences.
With that being the case, when Nate and Sully stumble upon a grounded German U-boat in the middle of the jungle in Uncharted 1 (and Nate inadvertently sets off an active torpedo), the epic elements of the series that would become almost commonplace in the next two entries were introduced with aplomb.
14. Stealing the Saint Dismas Cross – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
This set piece is quite different from the non-stop action of many others within the series, but this understated sequence serves as an excellent encapsulation of the different angle that Uncharted 4 takes.
As a much more stealth-oriented game, Nate and his brother Sam, along with the stalwart Sully, must infiltrate a high-rolling auction for wealthy criminals and pull off the heist of a cross of Saint Dismas, which is made much more difficult by it being a hot commodity for the treasure-hunting villain Rafe Adler.
In terms of gameplay, there’s not much to be said, as Nate clambers around the environment and shuts the lights off so Sam can snag the cross. This sequence simultaneously rivals and one-ups any great heist film, as Nate is actually put into the action as the player-character.
Throughout it all, we get updates from both Sam and Sully while the camera cross-cuts between the various scenes where action is taking place. Once again, the incredible pacing and exceptional writing lift the sequence, as the gang must escape Rafe and his goons after pulling off the daring theft.
13. Fire at The Château – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
While ostensibly about finding Ubar/Iram/Atlantis of the Sands, Uncharted 3 is more about the relationship and backstory of Drake and Sully’s relationship.
The fire in the French château serves as a brilliant, high-stakes set piece that sees the intrepid explorers barely escaping a centuries-old mansion as it burns to cinders around them.
Typical of many Uncharted set pieces, the duo’s flight to safety is dictated by cause-and-effect, as they must maneuver their way around falling beams and swiftly expanding flames. They barely escape, but the deadly nature of their dilemma and brilliant pacing makes this one quite memorable. Just don’t mention the spiders.
12. Jumping Out of the Cargo Plane – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
While this is a fairly bare-bones sequence in terms of gameplay and duration, the sheer scale of watching Drake plummet from an exploding cargo plane miles in the air is laudable. Sure, being able to grab onto a massive crate in mid-air seems a tad bit implausible, but this is a list of exciting action set pieces, not logically sound thought experiments.
Again, this brief sequence perfectly sums up the thrilling action found within the Uncharted series. Clearly Naughty Dog agreed, as the downed cargo plane with Drake posing majestically in front of it served as the game’s box art upon release.
11. Crumbling Watchtower/Second Nadine Fight – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Nadine Ross was introduced in Uncharted 4 and while she is a striking badass, she actually has some depth as a character and plays a starring role in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.
While Uncharted 4 is fairly light on action set pieces, especially considering the abundance of such high-stakes moments in Uncharted 2 and 3, the falling watchtower in the lost pirate city of Libertalia is certainly a memorable one, with Nate and Sam performing death-defying leaps and acrobatics as a decrepit tower crumbles around them.
Surviving the falling tower is no small feat, but the action doesn’t end there, as a climactic fight with Nadine against both Nate and Sam sees the South African mercenary leader besting our boys until Rafe shows up, and it is revealed that all is not as it seems in the story.
10. Truck Jumping in Nepal – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
With Hank Schäfer taken prisoner after the enthralling tank chase (more on that later), Nate and Elena hop on a truck and follow in hot pursuit. Nate is tasked with taking out enemies from the backs of trucks, which involves him hopping from one truck to another as the vehicles begin to explode after taking many bullets from foes.
This kinetically charged scene serves as an excellent counterpoint to the more ground-bound tank chase that precedes it, as Drake tosses himself from truck to truck, finally leading to an RPG blasting his and Elena’s truck off a cliff. Of course they survive, but the stakes remain high throughout this set piece – as does the pacing and death-defying leaps that Drake performs from truck to truck.
9. Lost in the Rub’ al Khali – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
This is not your typical Uncharted action set piece. After barely surviving the crashing of the cargo plane in the Rub’ al Khali desert, Drake sets off alone in the bleak, sun-bleached desert to find the Atlantis of the Sands.
He wanders without water or food for what seems like a profoundly long time, experiencing mirages and apparently walking in circles. After collapsing multiple times due to exhaustion and dehydration, Drake finally finds a village where he must fight his way out against unbelievable odds.
Uncharted games feature exemplary action set pieces, but it’s the contrast of this completely solitary experience in the desert – as well as that wide shot of Drake shambling along the dunes – that helps to underscore the thrills found in other sections of the series.
8. Chasing Talbot in Yemen – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
The Uncharted series isn’t shy about chase scenes – either with Drake being chased or perpetrating the chasing. In Uncharted 3, Drake gets hit with a dart that’s been coated with some sort of hallucinogen, and he falls into enemy hands.
Before getting knocked out by Rameses (more on him later), Drake chases the insipid Talbot through streets, buildings, apartment windows and rooftops in order to get information on where Sully is after Talbot reveals they know his location. The variety of environments and incredible fluidity of this chase scene make it one of the best in the series.
7. Escaping the Ship – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Uncharted 3 doesn’t share the same non-stop thrill ride pace of its predecessor, but its set pieces are perhaps even more impressive in terms of sheer scope.
While the buildup to this set piece is overstuffed with dodgy combat and the villain (Rameses) is a straight-up cartoon character, escaping the topsy-turvy ship as it swiftly fills up with seawater is definitely a highlight.
The forced perspective of having the camera in front of Nate as he runs away from whatever peril is behind him (in this case, a torrent of water) almost always heightens the suspense and also harkens back to one of the series’ main forebears – the opening sequence of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
6. Final Fight with Rafe – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
One area of criticism throughout the entire Uncharted series has been that it suffers from subpar (and sometimes downright terrible) boss battles that seem shoehorned-in at best and abject disasters at worst.
Whether it’s the quick-time events in Uncharted 1 and 3 or the finicky run-and-gun in Uncharted 2, these elements of this beloved series are fairly uninspired – and take gamers out of the immersion they feel as they play it.
Naughty Dog actually doubled-down on the quick-time event format in Uncharted 4, but the stakes had never felt higher. As Drake and Rafe face off with the cutlasses that killed Henry Avery and Thomas Tew – the pirates whose treasure everyone had been looking for – the ship falls apart and burns to ash around them. During this sequence, Nate is faced with what seems to be the closest brush with death of his treasure-hunting career.
The production values in this boss battle are staggering as flames flicker and gold glints all around the combatants as they sword fight to the death. This is a fitting – and brilliant – climax for a now-classic series.
5. Tank Chase – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
After Drake nearly dies following his train excursion (more to come on that one), he wakes up in a remote Tibetan village where he meets Karl Schäfer, the beloved Tenzin and also reunites with Elena. After traipsing through an ice cave with Tenzin to discover the next steps in his journey to Shambhala, Drake returns to the village to find that the villainous Lazarevic and his goons have already begun tearing the place apart for clues.
Soon after, an enemy tank enters the scene with the intention of blasting Drake and his pals apart. The life-or-death stakes of this set piece are eminently apparent, as Drake clambers his way around the environment to try and escape the mechanical maw of this unbeatable tank.
This set piece ends satisfyingly as Drake finally finds some RPGs left behind by Lazarevic’s men and blows the tank to smithereens – but not before it does untold damage to the peaceful Tibetan village.
4. Opening Sequence – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The opening scene of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves begins in media res, with the intrepid Nate dangling out of a train carriage that is suspended precipitously over a massive ravine.
With a serious wound in his abdomen, gamers that fired up Uncharted 2 were immediately on edge and focused on saving their hero. This scene features excellent pacing as well as plenty of trademark cause-and-effect platforming.
Players aren’t keyed into how Drake got into this situation until about midway through the game, but it foreshadows the high-octane thrills that Uncharted 2 would deliver throughout at the very beginning of the experience.
3. Horseback Chase to Save Sully – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
During the course of Uncharted 3, Nate’s beloved best friend (and father figure as we come to learn early in the game) Victor Sullivan has been taken captive.
While the first quest to find him is only a red herring featuring a dull villain, Drake is in hot pursuit after the disastrous trek through the desert. With the help of a group of Bedouins led by the charismatic Salim, Drake ambushes a motorcade in which Sully is being kept.
During this sequence, Naughty Dog ups the ante from the truck-jumping sequence in the prior game, as Nate jumps from horses to truck beds and back to his horse, all the while taking out a variety of enemies and dodging copious gunfire. Finally, Sully is saved, and the two of them enter the Atlantis of the Sands for the final battle with villains Marlowe and Talbot.
2. Entire Train Sequence – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
This tremendous, fan-favorite sequence showcases the grand scale of the Uncharted series when it comes to action set pieces. As Nate traverses an entire train to help rescue his early love interest in Uncharted 2, Chloe Frazer, he deals with a variety of enemies – including one that memorably crashes through a train window and smashes into him.
Drake must weave his way in, out and atop the train in order to reach Chloe. Memorable platforming sections combined with some tense gunplay make this perhaps one of the best moments in the entire Uncharted series. At the end of this quest, Drake is shot by his former partner Harry Flynn, leading to a return to the opening scene of the game – with Drake clinging to a train car hanging off of a mountain.
1. Lengthy Madagascar Sequence and Chase – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Up until this point in Uncharted 4, the game had been all about setting the scene and exploring what each of the main characters had been through up to get where they are. The gameplay had been more exploration and stealth-focused, thanks to the sharpened stealth tactics introduced. As soon as Chapter 11: Hidden in Plain Sight begins, all of that changes.
This entire chapter is an absolute tour-de-force in pacing and atmosphere, from the build-up of puzzling and scampering around the face of a clocktower hundreds of feet in the air to that tower crumbling and Drake barely escaping with his life (as usual), this sequence has it all, and that’s just the first section.
Following this intro, Nate and Sully must escape from a particularly persistent truck with a mounted gun, which sees them careen through streets, backyards and side roads. Then Drake gets dragged behind another enemy’s truck (taking out foes as he goes) and latches on to a crane on another truck going across a bridge (requiring some rope-swinging shenanigans). Finally, our hero jumps from truck to truck (in a flashback to classic action set pieces in both Uncharted 2 and 3), escapes death after a truck he’s in crashes and finally hops on Sam’s motorcycle to finish out this climax by shooting backwards at that same armored truck that’s been chasing them the whole time. Whew.
This set piece has it all, and it’s especially powerful considering that, up until this moment, Uncharted 4 had been fairly light on traditional Uncharted-style action sequences. While some fans might have wanted more of this style of action, this sequence alone gives the more characterful sequences all the more weight, as the action is not overdone in Uncharted 4.
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