The first time Nathan Drake graced my screen was during an advertising campaign for the third instalment of the series. I’ll admit, I was a little late to the party, but witnessing a guy free-falling out of a burning cargo plane while still taking down enemies was absolutely captivating: I had to buy it.
From the vertigo-inducing action sequences to its mesmerizing renditions of fictional realms across the globe, Uncharted is unrivalled in its innovation. Pioneered by its creators Naughty Dog and Sony Computer Entertainment, the game has grown and evolved alongside Sony PlayStation technology, ultimately presenting a game franchise that is quite unlike any other.
Looking back at the series, every single game has offered a narrative with a tangible historical grounding – realising legendary worlds and myths in a way that Hollywood can only dream of. From humble beginnings in a jungle, remote temples in the Himalayas and the endless Rub’al-Khali desert, Uncharted has provided an ambitious adventure across its five instalments (including a brief foray into handheld).
In 2016, the series came to a dignified end with its final instalment Uncharted: A Thief’s End. To commemorate the conclusion of the franchise, I’ve attempted to rank the series… wish me luck!
5TH: GOLDEN ABYSS
PLATFORM: PS VITA; RELEASE DATE: 2011
LOCATIONS: CENTRAL AMERICA, SETE CIDADES, QUIVIRA (THE SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD)
HISTORICAL FIGURE: FRANCISCO VÁSQUEZ DE CORONADO, FRIAR MARCOS DE NIZA, ESTEBAN THE MOOR
Uncharted: Golden Abyss was one of the few games I managed to play on the short-lived PlayStation Vita, Sony’s pocket-rocket handheld. Serving as a ‘standalone story’, rather than a prequel to Drake’s adventures, Golden Abyss presents a decidedly lacking Uncharted adventure, in comparison to its predecessors. I’ll admit, I had low expectations before playing it.
The game looks great on the Vita, Sony Bend clearly spent a lot of time crafting the vistas surrounding the jungle that the game traverses. Unfortunately, handheld games often have a stigma of being severely lacking in comparison to the ‘mighty’ console. Nonetheless, Golden Abyss was a pleasant surprise. Despite the smaller screen, the graphics are loyal, using the Vita to its full potential, yet the gameplay is clunky and an absolute nightmare to aim during gun-fights.
The innovative use of the Vita’s rear touch panel made collecting diary entries fun and unique to the system; that’s not to mention the camera mode that adds a certain realism to Drake’s adventures in exotic lands – who wouldn’t whip their camera out and start snapping photographs?
The voice acting is brilliant, as always, but the narrative is lacking. While it does not come close to the console renditions of Uncharted, it’s a strong handheld game in its own right. If you still have access to a Vita, I implore you to give this a go. It’s one of those games where you’ll be playing long into the early hours of the morning to finish the story… for 7-8 hours, at least. While not an essential part of the Uncharted series, Golden Abyss is a pleasant titbit that passes the time.
It’s a slice of Uncharted at your fingertips, nothing more, nothing less.
4TH: DRAKE’S DECEPTION
PLATFORM: PS3; PS4 VIA UNCHARTED: THE NATHAN DRAKE COLLECTION; RELEASE DATE: 2011
LOCATIONS: UK, COLOMBIA, FRANCE, SYRIA, YEMEN, RUB’ AL-KHALI, UBAR (ATLANTIS OF THE SANDS)
HISTORICAL FIGURE: T.E. LAWRENCE (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA), SIR. FRANCIS DRAKE.
The third instalment of Uncharted has, arguably, some of the most memorable moments in the series. The set-pieces in Drake’s Deception are just phenomenal. Those alone are enough to make you want to dip in and out of the game just to relive the experience. For example, the sinking cruise ship sequence… the hallucinogens… the escape from a burning château… a gun fight in a sandstorm?! Unreal.
Unfortunately, I think that the game presents this multitude of set-pieces without as much pay-off. It’s primary focus, finding the lost city of Ubar seems like an afterthought, eclipsed by amazing moments of action. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a brilliant game but in comparison to the others, it’s conclusion – typically the apex of the events in the game comes across as rather lacklustre.
Even if it’s not as satisfying an ending, even if it’s missing a certain something, it’s still an enjoyable adventure across London, Colombia, Syria, Yemen and the Rub’ al-Khali desert, to name a few.
The following video highlights just a few of the best moments in the game:
3RD: DRAKE’S FORTUNE
PLATFORM: PS3; PS4 VIA UNCHARTED: TNDC; RELEASE DATE: 2007
LOCATIONS: AMAZON RAINFOREST, COMPLETE WITH GERMAN U-BOAT; SOUTH PACIFIC ISLAND, FEATURING A GERMAN BUNKER.
HISTORICAL FIGURE: SIR. FRANCIS DRAKE
Looking back on this game, you’d be forgiven for laughing at its shiny appearance. Drake and Co. manage to look more like toys in the cut scenes but, that said, it won’t take long for you to become immersed in its story. For the first instalment of the Uncharted series, its format was like a breath of fresh air in the market. Besides the likes of Tomb Raider: Anniversary, there was precious little in the action/adventure genre that offered a good ol’ treasure hunt, back in 2007.
I’ve chosen this as third place because of its unanticipated brilliance. Having just upgraded onto PS3, there was relatively neutral expectations from Naughty Dog’s divergence into action/adventure. It starts off as a regular adventure in the Pacific – the first half of the game is creative in its own right. Then Naughty Dog throw a curveball, the game takes a turn for the horrific and the tonal shift smacks you in the face. When the power goes out in an abandoned German Bunker and the zombie-like Descendants swarm after you… it’s not unlike Outlast.
As someone who does not do well with horror, I could barely look at the screen during the later chapters of Drake’s Fortune. It was, however, a nice deviation from the norm. (Not that I’ll be replaying those chapters anytime soon!)
The structure of the game rarely leaves you bored and, for a 2007 game, it still packs a punch today.
2ND: A THIEF’S END
PLATFORM: PS4; RELEASE DATE: 2016
LOCATIONS: ST. FRANCIS’ ORPHANAGE, PANAMA, NEW ORLEANS, ITALY, SCOTLAND, MADAGASCAR, LIBERTALIA
HISTORICAL FIGURES: HENRY AVERY, THOMAS TEW, VARIOUS OTHER LEGITIMATE PIRATES.
With the best game mechanics and graphics the series has seen, A Thief’s End is quite the emotional rollercoaster.
This game definitely showcases Naughty Dog’s artistic prowess. The cut scenes are visceral and impossibly realistic, the gameplay is responsive and organic; that’s not to mention the exploration of different periods of Drake’s life. What sets this game apart from the rest is its sentimentality; its action is equal to the emotion.
In the other games Drake racks up quite the kill count. I mean, it’s a action/adventure with a tonne of bad guys, I won’t judge him.
Something about A Thief’s End, however, adds weight to your actions. I don’t know whether it’s because we experienced Drake living a normal life, playing video games with his wife and working a normal job, but. in that moment, he’s just a normal guy. Once he’s coerced by his brother to dabble in a final treasure hunt, his metal conflict is tangible. That level of emotion is something relatively new to video games. In the majority of other titles, you pick up the controller and can kill NPC’s mercilessly without remorse – that’s what they’re there for, right? A Thief’s End seems to encourage you to empathise with Drake, rather than seeing him as a passive character through which you can progress the story, you’re encouraged to act as he would within the game space.
Ultimately, kudos to Naughty Dog, I didn’t think I’d get to philosophical talking about Uncharted. A Thief’s End is a culmination of the Uncharted franchise: an opportunity for Naughty Dog to take pride in a series and conclude it on high note.
The video below explores the evolution of the series. There was one line from it that struck me, from game director Bruce Straley:
“That’s the thing that drives us, we want to make something that we can look at and be proud of and say: ‘Man, this is… how cool? We made this. Every pixel on that screen, somebody here… there was energy that went into every single pixel on that screen. That’s awesome.”Bruce Straley
For me, A Thief’s End comes in at a close second.
1ST: AMONG THIEVES
PLATFORM: PS3, PS4 VIA UNCHARTED: TNDC; RELEASE DATE: 2009
LOCATIONS: NEPAL, TURKEY, BORNEO, SHAMBHALA (SHANGRI-LA)
HISTORICAL FIGURES: MARCO POLO, KUBLAI KHAN, AHNENERBE BRANCH OF SS EXPEDITIONARIES
From the very first scene, Among Thieves brutally throws you into the action. You barely have time to comprehend what is happening before Drake almost plummets down a Himalayan mountainside to meet his untimely end. But who are we kidding here? It’s Drake. The man has the luck of the Irish.
I chose this game to be number one because it’s practically a film. It’s the one Uncharted game that I’ll always go back to. While A Thief’s End is superior in terms of its visuals, Among Thieves, for me, was the better gaming experience. It’s not perfect, the fight sequences are predictable and often irritating, but the overarching narrative makes the effort worthwhile – it’s one of those games where you’re rewarded for your effort. The dialogue is witty and injects humour into all the right places; Greg Edmondson’s soundtrack challenges that of Hans Zimmer; most of all, however, it is the fluidity of the game that makes it a winner, for me at least.
Furthermore, the diversity of the environments you explore are dense and packed with little nuances and ‘easter eggs’. For example, have you noticed that Drake’s gun holster is embroidered with ND1? That three-letter acronym pops up everywhere if you’re looking out for it.
Gaming, like all activities, requires you to take a back seat and log out from time to time. Quitting this game is very much like leaving the cinema mid-way through a movie. It just goes to show that the best games don’t have to be the latest releases, they don’t have to have the best graphics or the latest technology. The best games are experiences that stay with you long after you’ve put your controller down and the credits have rolled.