In 2007 Uncharted Drake’s Fortune gave us one of the most accomplished adventure games ever, perfectly balancing it’s visuals with fun and rewarding gameplay, and above all else a solid plot. After the success of the first, each sequel has refined the Uncharted formula, perfecting the process of treasure hunting, bad guy shooting, wall climbing, cruse defying, and stunning set pieces, totalling to a truly great franchise.
The first game gives us Nathan Drake, treasure hunter extraordinaire, and descendant from Sir Francis Drake himself. We meet Drake as he is hot on the heels of his ancestors secrets, which of course involve missing treasure, supernatural curses, and villainous treasure hunters out to stop Drake at all costs. Along for the ride is Sully, Drake’s father figure, mentor, and accomplice, and Elena, a scrappy reporter who is more than a match for Drake’s charm and wit.
On top of some great main characters and showing off places such as El Dorado, Shangri-La, the Lost City of Ubar, and a secret Pirate City (Libertallia) part of the series’ core appeal is the depth in which it tells its’ stories. As Drake you aren’t just seeing generic characters, void of personality, go through the motions of shooting bad guys and collecting treasures, instead we see the characters grow and develop throughout the series totalling to some solid development for pretty much everyone in the series.
Part of what makes the story and character development so good, is the voice acting and motion capture performances which were innovative right from the start, proving Naughty Dog were serious about creating a quality story driven, and primarily cinematic game. The voice actors did all of the motion capture for the cut scenes and much of the gameplay on blue screen with interactive sets and props. This allowed an extra level of depth to much of the performances, which really comes through in the end product.
Although each new character we meet truly added to the story, and there are few bland or forgettable characters, none compare to Nolan North’s award winning portrayal of Nathan Drake, who is characterised by his quick wit and charm as much as he is his super human upper body strength and extensive historical knowledge, he defines everything Uncharted is and is one of the biggest (if not ‘the’ biggest) part of the series’ success.
In terms of gameplay, the first game set the foundation of a great shooter, with some fun (althoug arguably a little too easy) puzzle solving, lots of treasure hunting, and phenomenal looking set pieces (that involved scaling ancient ruins and climbing through lavish landscapes), each new entry built on that foundation in subtle and clever ways.
As you’d expect (for a series that spans nearly a decade) the AI becomes a little more intelligent (with the companion AI already on top form) in each game, the fight sequences become more dynamic, and the puzzles get tricker and yet more entertaining. All of this while keeping the franchises near perfect pacing consistent throughout. As the series goes on it really feels like Naughty Dog were paying attention to how people are playing the games, and were adapting future entries to both respond to that style, as well as challenge it.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is undeniably story and nostalgia heavy, but still manages to be the realisation of everything Uncharted was supposed to be (and by extension so is Uncharted: Lost Legacy). Aside from some of the best graphics we’ve seen on Playstation 4 (amazing graphics always being something that Uncharted has made look easy) there was no longer one clear path you had to follow or climb through, instead you could run through each chapter making a variety of small choices that can provide slight alterations each time.
Obviously this level of variation and choice based gameplay isn’t on the level of a game like Mass Effect, where the decisions and conversations can fully alter the story outcomes, but this small addition feels like a natural fit for the long lasting franchise, and in the case of the extra dialogue it felt almost like a small easter egg, or reward, for players who at this point had given years to the franchise.
Perhaps the best way to explain Uncharted is that it delivers on the experience of being a modern day Indiana Jones perfectly, placing the player in the shoes of a cocky treasure hunter who is bound to get the girl, is surprisingly efficient at mass murder, and of course always manages to save the day from some mystical threat. Uncharted’s formula is something special, and it only improved with each outing.
Uncharted is a franchise like no other, it has continually adapted and improved, all while keeping the same tone, immersion and charm it delivered during it’s debut. From the story and performances to the gameplay and graphics the Uncharted franchise has consistently delivered outstanding games, and is most definitely one of the greatest franchises of all time.