Since 2007, one franchise in particular has been at the forefront of high-quality, action packed single player adventure. The Uncharted series has been a defining game of this generation, showcasing an immense technical prowess for the PlayStation 3, as well as bringing singleplayer gaming closer to film than any other franchise out there. The third instalment to the series was released back in 2011, and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was met with some criticism in regards to a potentially aging formula. Are we ready for an Uncharted 4?
When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune hit back in 2007, it was a breath of fresh air for the PlayStation 3. Sony’s next-generation console was slow coming out of the gate, and Naughty Dog’s first project for the new system represented a light at the end of the tunnel. However, it wasn’t until 2009 that the Indiana Jones inspired, third person shooter was ready to make its mark. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a showstopper, and demonstrated the potential of the PS3 better than any other Sony exclusive. Possessing some of the best graphics we’d ever seen on consoles, accompanied by real-time cinematic set pieces and smooth animation, Uncharted 2 had raised the bar for the action adventure genre. The story was tight, the acting was spot on, the characters were likeable, and the singleplayer delivered. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves went on to win numerous Game of the Year awards, and anticipation for a sequel was mounting.
The Spike VGA’s brought us the first trailer of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, and no doubt the pressure was on. Naughty Dog had a hefty game to follow, and fans wanted bigger and better. A Naughty Dog team member promised that the famous train sequence and collapsing building of Uncharted 2 would be “child’s play” compared to what they had in store for the sequel. It was hard to believe that the Santa Monica team could outdo themselves. However, when fans were able to get their hands on the third entry to the series, it was met with a mixed response. Uncharted 3 was no doubt a critical success, but one thing kept ringing true across forums and press: “It’s not quite as good as Uncharted 2.”
Uncharted 3 offered bigger set pieces, an intense pace, and a more personal story between Nathan Drake and his best friend, Sully. The game was certainly a bigger project in terms of its ambition, and Naughty Dog were correct in their assessment of the train level looking like “child’s play”—certainly compared to a sinking cruise ship or a crashing plane. But were gamers expecting more than just bigger? If the Uncharted series is going to continue, Naughty Dog needs to take a good look at what the series can expand upon. The answer doesn’t lie in its setting, its graphics, or its action set-pieces. The problem lies at the very core of what Uncharted represents, and it’s for these reasons that the formula was inevitably going to grow stale.
The current design of Uncharted limits itself to a popcorn blockbuster that can be enjoyed for a first playthrough, but isn’t something that will resonate on any meaningful level. It plays like an explosive action adventure movie, and it excels in this regard, but gaming as an art form offers more. Singleplayer gaming has the ability to exceed the storytelling prowess found in movies. We have choice, potentially deeper and richer worlds, and the video game industry is easily one of the most creative out there. Games such as Bioshock and Deus Ex: Human Revolution are excellent examples of how the video game medium can be harnessed by storytellers. And with all this choice and scope found in video games, Uncharted prides itself on playing out like a movie—something that a singleplayer game should be surpassing, not matching.
Even games such as Heavy Rain—which are labelled as interactive movies more often than not—actually provide a very personal experience that belongs to each individual. This unique element demonstrates exactly what video games offer that movies cannot, and this is why Heavy Rain will be remembered. But let’s get serious – we’re not asking Uncharted to become an open world, or even give you moral choices and interactive dialogue. Uncharted’s gameplay needs a gimmick; something that would separate itself from the competition, an element that would keep the experience fresh and distinct for the player to get lost in.
We see this in games such as Vanquish, Max Payne 3, Binary Domain, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Hitman. These games’ singleplayer experiences contain concepts that allow the gamer to explore and experiment with different approaches from their friends or next-door neighbor. Vanquish and Max Payne 3 offer an incredible amount of mobility and gameplay choice on the battlefield. Binary Domain, Transformers: Fall of Cybertron and Hitman are all home to unique abilities, such as transformation in the case of Fall of Cybertron, dismemberment for Binary Domain, and the wealth of multiple pathways and tactical solutions found in Hitman. These ensure that each player’s time with the game will be unique.
As much as I’d like to see Nathan Drake turn into a jet (we’ve had Drake on a plane…), that’s not what my examples are trying to illustrate. All these games showcase something creative within their core mechanic that delivers more personal gameplay from player to player. Whether it’s multiple pathways, an inventory system, customizable weapons, or upgradeable melee attacks, Uncharted needs something to add fresh, new and invigorating energy to an already superb franchise.
With a separate team from Naughty Dog working on survival shooter, The Last Of Us, we can’t help but wonder what is left of the Uncharted 3 team. The success of their latest work has surely not gone unnoticed, and there have been whispers that Naughty Dog are working on a next-generation game. Were this to happen, I believe we’d see a repeat. The leap in technology might be enough to sustain the aging formula, but for just how long? One thing we can be sure of is this – Naughty Dog will deliver an impeccable, highly polished and action packed production, and I do not mean to diminish that accomplishment. However, in order for Uncharted to become a true classic that will stand the test of time, a personal experience that takes advantage of the video game art form should be the primary goal. Still, Drake turning into a jet would be classy. Desperate times, right?
Let us know what you think about Uncharted, its formula and where the series could head! Feel free to leave a comment below.