There are very few video games that, with every entry in its main series, have been consistently masterful, delivering a playable experience that is hard to match. With the Uncharted franchise, nothing has come close to what game developer Naughty Dog has put out.
Every installment has brought something to the games industry that can be looked up to and can rarely be matched, whether it be its fun and exciting gameplay, especially during the series’ most insane set pieces, the awe-inspiring graphics that make real-life look bad, or the excellent story that, in one second, can give players a sense of adventure and an irresistible need to find that next gold treasure (or lost city) and in the next, shoot a dose of adrenaline into them, as players control Drake as he escapes a trainwreck, or a sinking ship.
All of these elements come together to make one of the best adventure franchises to ever grace a videogame system. With the release of Uncharted 4, the final installment of the series, it is time to look back at what the original Uncharted trilogy has brought to the table for both fans and developers alike, as well as how Naughty Dog changed the adventure game genre into what it is today.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (2007)
Nate’s first adventure (at least for players) introduced to the world a new kind of adventure game. Before release, Uncharted was largely compared to Tomb Raider, due to Tomb Raider’s visually similar style and substance. But when Drake’s Fortune was released to the public, those observations were quickly put to rest. Uncharted is all about an ambitious fortune hunter that seeks, well, fortune.
When players first meet Nathan Drake, he is after the fabled lost treasure of El Dorado that Sir Francis Drake was after many, many years ago. This leads Nathan, along with his friends, Sully and Elena, to an uncharted (eh?) island that bears both incredible vistas, as well as dangerous secrets. That may sound like a typical adventure story, but there is much more at work with Uncharted. Naughty Dog, after finishing the Jak and Daxter series, wanted to start on a new IP that took advantage of new system hardware that was fresh and interesting that they have never attempted before. They also wanted to introduce human characters, different from more animalistic ones from their previous titles. A lot of work was put into their new franchise, and it sure paid off. On Naughty Dog’s venture to make a new series, they had to create interesting characters, impressive graphics, and intuitive gameplay.
The already popular game developer wanted to create photo realistic characters for their new IP, so they created three main characters to accompany players on their journey through Uncharted.
“All of these elements come together to make one of the best adventure franchises to ever grace a videogame system…”
As previously mentioned, Nathan Drake is a cocky, happy-go-lucky treasure hunter that devotes his life to the hunt. Searching for treasure is all he’s ever known, and the thrill of adventure is what has him hooked. His backstory is greatly expanded upon in later games, but in the first Uncharted, players learn that he believes himself to be the ancestor of Sir Francis Drake, a famous explorer, much like Nathan himself. Nathan learns of the supposed fake death of Francis, and decides to pursue the mystery of his ancestor’s most secret journey.
Along the way, Nate is not only accompanied by the players, but also by both Elena Fisher and Victor Sullivan, the latter of which is both Nathan’s best friend/partner and father figure. Sully is a fan favorite with his witty humor and loving attitude being not only a mentor to Nathan, but also to the players. He’s an experienced treasure hunter, like Nate, who also wants a piece of what lies within the uncharted island. Sully is extremely loyal, and will go out of his way to save the ones he loves. His journey in Drake’s Fortune spells danger for him though, but he still perseveres through his toughness.
Elena Fisher is no different. She’s an American journalist who, like Drake, also pursues historical mysteries and artifacts. Future on-again, off-again girlfriend, Elena has the heart and soul to join Nate on his adventures around the world, whether they be extremely dangerous, or wonderfully amazing. These three relatable characters give players somebody to connect and bond to through their great personalities and goals, before Nate and the others even reach the island. Such incredibly deep and thoughtful characters give Uncharted it’s own identity apart from basic adventures games that have protagonists that are shallow and only have one basic goal, whereas Nate, Sully and Elena have branching characteristics that are greatly expanded upon in future games. In the first game though, these basic characteristics are more than enough to give players what they need to join the three adventurers on their journey and be emotionally invested in their story.
When both the three treasure hunters reach the island, players are treated to a visually stunning island full of stone structures and luscious jungles. Back then, the graphics for Uncharted were unmatched. They amazed players and developers alike, with graphically layered characters and beautifully detailed environments. These details immersed players into the world and caused many to stop and stare at just how breathtaking the views were. Naughty Dog had many troubles getting Uncharted to work on new Playstation hardware, as the team was working with tech that they have not worked with before. They were worried of running out of room on the disc, as many of the textures were much larger than what they worked on. But in the end, it all worked out for the better, as other developers later on were inspired to follow in their footsteps.
Uncharted’s gameplay is the least impressive thing about the game, but it is still far from disappointing. Gameplay is varied between both three-dimensional platforming, third person shooter action mechanics and featured puzzles throughout. All of these gameplay styles blend masterfully into the core package and injects variety into the game, complimenting the rest of the experience, which focuses more on story and scenery.
The way the platforming element and the adventure aspect play into each other are truly masterful, as they both combine to give players a sense of progression as they make their way towards their goal in unique and different ways. The shooter aspect of Uncharted is quite basic, as the point and shoot mechanic is at the core of the gameplay. Players can use different kinds of weapons, such as an AK-47 or RPG, to take out enemies also trying to get a hold of the treasure. There are also puzzles in the game that test players skills for problem solving in the form of moving objects, shifting stones, and many more puzzles that can only be solved with Sir Francis Drake’s journal Nate has with him. These three gameplay mechanics stayed the same throughout the series, without having much changed to them, seeing as how simple and easy they are for players to understand them. Hidden treasures are also implemented in the game as collectibles to give more incentive to players to explore the area around them and discover things that they would have otherwise never found.
While later Uncharted games have improved the basic formula, it is important to know the roots of where such a beloved series has sprouted from. The original Uncharted has won many awards when it was released, along with game of the year awards from other popular gaming news sites. Selling a whole 2.6 million copies since release, it has been praised as a great game on every front, ranging from presentation to graphics to gameplay. It also received a few criticisms, such as screen tears, pop in textures, and a rather short campaign, lasting only around 6 hours. Yet, through all of these criticisms, Uncharted has become one of the best early Playstation 3 exclusives and charted the way for better sequels in the future, along with inspiring some of the largest developers in the industry at the time.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)
The sequel to the successful first game, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves improved on almost every single aspect from the first installment. Its story was much larger, as were the environments. The presentation improved significantly, with players being able to control Drake during cutscene-like shots, as well as the music being some of the best in the series. A multiplayer mode was also added to the sequel, giving yet another reason to play the game.
Naughty Dog wanted to get even more power out of the PS3 with Uncharted 2, so they designed the sequel to be a globe-trotting adventure, rather than being constricted to a single island. The story of Uncharted 2 was also greatly expanded on, focusing on a different historical figure, Marco Polo, and why and how the majority of his ships went missing when sailing between Kublai Khan and Persia. The main treasure of the game, the Cintamani Stone, is also involved, as Nathan sets out to find it and also to find out what happened to Marco Polo’s fleet.
With a larger game that had a more robust story, it also brought with it a larger cast of characters. Not only are Nate, Sully and Elena along for the ride this time (during different points in the game), but new characters such as Chloe Frazer, Harry Flynn and Lazarevic are introduced.
Chloe is Nathan’s new love interest, who is morally flexible, but is loyal enough to Nate to be one of his partners. She’s after treasures like Drake, but the techniques she uses are far different from anyone else’s.She is introduced along with Harry Flynn as yet another treasure hunter, and he also wants to know what happened to the fleet and where the Cintamani Stone is. He appears as a good spirited person with acceptable morals, until he betrays Drake early on in the game. Flynn then works alongside Lazarevic, the main villain and a crazed war criminal who wants nothing more than power, to retrieve the Cintamani stone before Drake and the others can. These new characters give Uncharted 2 more depth to the original character’s backstories and added to their personalities, being able to play off more characters this time around. New villians also introduced more interesting rivalries between characters, as well as more obstacles to overcome for the protagonists, giving the story and players more interesting scenarios to deal with.
The environments for Among Thieves are far more varied and detailed than Drake’s Fortune, as Drake and the player witness new locations such as war-torn cities and freezing mountains, along with classic jungle settings. With Naughty Dog having a better understanding of the hardware of the PS3, they were able to greatly expand the scope of the game, along with the details of the environments, and dynamic weather effects, such as splashing rain, clumps of snow falling to the ground; even Drake’s clothes getting partially wet when he enters the water, among many other new effects that weren’t present in Drake’s Fortune. With less repetitive environments, players were given more incentive to explore the world around them, and to discover hidden treasures.
More gameplay was implemented into Uncharted 2 to give the players more freedom. A new mechanic introduced to the Uncharted series, which would become a mainstay for following games in the series, stealth, was included, and even necessary in the early parts of the game. During these sections, Drake would crouch as he walked to stay out of enemy sight.
“Uncharted 2 is still called one of the best Playstation games ever, and that opinion will probably never change…”
As for the platforming, it was vastly improved, adding more fluidity to moving up and over buildings and other structures and environments. This gave climbing more of a realistic and natural feel, giving players more freedom in regards to where they wanted to climb. The set-pieces this time around were raised to 11. What makes the set-pieces so impressive is the fact that players can control Drake for the majority of them without any interruption. Gunplay has been improved too, with tighter controls while aiming down the sights, and easier running and gunning. There were many new weapons included that had their own feel and look, along with easier to aim grenades as well. Among Thieves also introduced Drake’s journal, which players can view whenever they want and view their notes on their adventure, or look for clues to solve one of the many new and challenging puzzles in the game. The journal also included some humor within it that made many laugh and hidden treasures made a welcome return too. The new ways players can engage with the Uncharted universe, plus improvements on existing mechanics were a welcome addition to the already incredible second installment, and added yet another layer to the gameplay that was not present in Drake’s Fortune.
Multiplayer was first introduced in Uncharted 2 as an additional mode that added even more replayability to the game. It has both competitive and cooperative modes that are highly enjoyable. Players can select from a cast of heroes and villains from the Uncharted universe, and with the DLC, play as characters from different Playstation games, on various maps from the Uncharted 2 campaign such as Village or The Plaza. Cooperative wise, player can team up and take on missions separate from the main campaign to try to reach an objective, whether it be a location or physical object. Recently though, the multiplayer has suffered from lack of support with the game code being outdated, leading to more lag and glitches throughout.
Uncharted 2 is one of the most critically acclaimed games not only in the Uncharted franchise, but also considered one of the best games of all time (It raised the bar HIGH), and for good reason. It ups the ante in every possible way, through story, gameplay and additional modes. The game has received countless perfect score reviews and Game of the Year awards from not only gaming news sites, but sites that do not focus mainly on video games. Additionally, it is voted as the best Uncharted game in the series by many fans and reviewers alike, with praise towards the greatly improved campaign time, to immensely improved environments, to it being called “…the best game of the genre has seen in a very long time.” Even today, Uncharted 2 is still called one of the best Playstation games ever, and that opinion will probably never change. It’s also my personal favorite out of the trilogy.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011)
Drake’s Deception, the third entry of the Uncharted series, didn’t shoot as far as Among Thieves did, but it still delivered a great experience worthy of a must own game. In Uncharted 3, Nathan is on the quest to discover the lost city of Ubar, hidden deep in the Rub’ al Khali desert, and along the way, visit never before seen locations.
Nothing in the core formula was changed much, aside from a few new environments and mechanics. Developer Naughty Dog did not want to repeat themselves with Drake’s Deception, so they decided to delve more into Nate and Sully’s dynamic, even to an extent to center the themes of the game around their friendship. Before the game was announced, fans tried to figure out whether the Drake in Drake’s Deception is referring to Nathan or Sir Francis, and this debate lasted all the way until the game’s launch, and is still debated to this day, spawning pages-long essays about it. The story is much more focused around characters in the third installment, unlike the two previous games, but that core adventure feel is still present all the way through.
The game introduced even more characters to the Uncharted series with Charlie Cutter, another British fortune hunter, yet this one does not betray Drake, but instead helps greatly with Nate’s journey in the first half of the game, and is the comic relief character of Uncharted 3. Then there are the main antagonists, one of which is one of the most characterized villains in the entire series, Katherine Marlowe.
She’s an old associate of Victor Sullivan, and knew Nate when he was young. Throughout the game, she is not only trying to reach the lost city of Ubar, but to reacquire Sir Francis Drake’s ring, even it means ripping it from the neck of Nathan. She is stone cold, and will stop at nothing to succeed over her enemies.
Katherine is also accompanied by secondary villain Talbot. While Marlowe is one of the deepest villains of the series, Talbot is not. Not much character is given to him aside from his hate for Nathan, and even that is largely unexplained. While the new characters of Drake’s Deception are welcome additions, the story is mainly focused around Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan. Early in the game, players witness Nathan at the age of fifteen, when he meets Sully for the first time, as well as learning where their respect for each other sprouted from. From this one flashback, players learn all about Nate and Sully’s past, adding a tremendous amount of depth between their characters. Throughout the rest of the game, their friendship is given more light, as well as put to the test in some cases, but I won’t spoil that here.
The leap between Uncharted 2 and 3 was not nearly as expansive as the leap between the original and Among Thieves in the graphical and environmental departments. Instead, Drake’s Deception introduced new environments to players such as deserts and subway stations. Graphically, Uncharted 3 didn’t raise the bar that much, either. Textures and character models stand out as improvements, though. The game has proved, however, how much Naughty Dog has learned over the years of working with the PS3 system when compared to the original Uncharted game.
Multiplayer mode returned in Uncharted 3, which was similar to Uncharted 2 multiplayer, but featured new maps, new characters, custom classes (as opposed to gun pick-ups in Among Thieves multiplayer), and the ability to sprint. Cooperative mode returned as well, featuring even larger missions and unique characters only seen in the multiplayer such as Flynn and Lazarevic from Uncharted 2.
“This thrill is what has kept the Uncharted series going, not only for Nathan Drake, but for the player too…
Gameplay in Drake’s Deception remained largely the same as Among Thieves. New aiming reticules replaced old ones, with a larger radius to shoot and hit enemies. A new mechanic with grenades was also added where, if timed right, Nate could throw grenades thrown at him back at enemies. While this new grenade mechanic was welcomed at first, it greatly reduced the threat of grenades, dissolving any danger if they were thrown at the player. The melee system was also greatly overhauled, as Nate can fight multiple people at once, and even use objects around him to his advantage, like bottles or bricks. This new system is taken advantage of during multiple points in the game, where Nate has to fend off multiple enemies at once in a bazaar, or an abandoned ship. Additionally, brute enemies are introduced to give players more challenge during melee portions, where the player will have to land multiple consecutive punches to take the brutes down. Stealth has been improved too, by players being able to take out enemies in multiple new ways, such as falling onto them, or even leaping at them from a distance.
While Drake’s Deception didn’t blow fans away like Among Thieves did, the third installment in the beloved adventure franchise still delivered another solid story in the Uncharted universe. Much was learnt about Nate and Sully, and at the same time, Nate’s backstory was expanded upon.
When the game was released, it performed just as well as Uncharted 2 did, with near perfect scores. It received praise for its high production value and thrilling story that was more fleshed out than previous games. Drake’s Deception had multiple editions released with various goodies such as a desert Nathan Drake statue and a replica of the ring Nate wears around his neck throughout the series. Considered the least impactful game in the franchise, Uncharted 3 still proved that Naughty Dog was still the best of the best, and would continue to deliver masterful games in the future.
Throughout the years, Uncharted has evolved into something more than a video game; It has become an experience. The release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End had fans and new players alike craving another, final adventure with Nate on PS4, excited to see what his final treasure hunt has in store for them.
The original trilogy of games have told the incredible story of compelling main characters, Nathan Drake, Victor Sullivan, and Elena Fisher, on their journey to find secret treasures and cities, even if the path to those treasures and cities are riddled with terrible dangers, challenging puzzles, and worthy foes. But even from the start, players have embraced Nathan Drake’s world with open arms, daring to join him on his next great adventure through a jungle, a war torn landscape, or a harsh desert.
Naughty Dog has since proven that they are one of the best game developers of all time, presenting unique and exciting stories to tell about the fortune hunter, along with masterful gameplay that keeps players roped in for the whole ride. Varied environments and top notch models for characters keep the eyes stimulated and attentive, as the same environments might even collapse, creating a sense of dread and fear, but also creating a rare thrill for players, something that they have rarely, if ever, experienced in an adventure based video game before. This thrill is what has kept the Uncharted series going, not only for Nathan Drake, but for the player too.