Previously On… Uncharted

With the dawn of the last weekend before Uncharted 4‘s release on Tuesday May 10, it’s time to take a look back and catch up on the last three Uncharted games. I’ll try to make it as spoiler free as possible, though i’m not too fussed. If you’re this excited about Uncharted 4 you should really have played through at least one of these…

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune 

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So without further ado, we’ll head straight back to the beginning, with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. 

Released 2007 as a key title for the PlayStation during the holiday season, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was the brainchild of director Amy Hennig, designers Neil Druckmann and Hirokazu Yasuhara, and writer Josh Scherr (who wrote alongside Hennig and Druckmann). The game was made instead of developers Naughty Dog slogging out another Jak and Daxter game (more on that later in the weekend), and after being revealed at E3 2006, was nicknamed ‘Dude Raider’ for its striking similarities to Lara Croft’s adventures. Uncharted however was built to be more photorealistic than Lara Croft, with more focus on cover-based play than auto-targeting and puzzles. The PS3 hardware gave Naughty Dog ample room to achieve the level of photorealism they required, using more and bigger textures than any other game undertaken by the company. All in all, however, they only used 30% of the Cell’s ability in their environments and animations.

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We started our adventures with Nathan Drake and Elena aboard a boat as they recover Sir Francis Drake’s coffin only to find a simple diary pointing to the location of El Dorado, the fabled city of gold. The find proves Nate’s theory that his ancestor faked his death and he and mentor Victor Sullivan jet off to seek the fortune. It’s a journey that takes players through u-boats, monasteries, and abandoned Nazi submarines, taking on wave after wave of faceless mercenaries and mutated humans, discovering the secrets of a large gold statue.

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The amazing critical reception the game received was just the beginning in a line of “Best Game” awards. With the title selling more than a million units in ten weeks and going platinum in Europe shortly after, critics praised its stunning visuals and entertaining and humanising voice over work. The high production value was cited as making Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune one of the best looking games on the PS3 at the time, though some criticism was stirred over the length of the game, which could be completed in anywhere from 6-10 hours.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves 

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Bruce Straley was brought into the directing team to join Hennig, and Richard Lemarchand joined Neil Druckmann as designer for the Uncharted sequel in 2009. The game saw a maximisation of the Cell’s SPUs (90 – 100%), with 564 in-game cinematic animations involved (compared to 80 in Drake’s Fortune). The sequel was built on a revamped and optimised Naughty Engine 2.0 which allowed for real time moving environments, and improved old mechanics while introducing multiplayer.

Stealth kills now had more and more bearing on gameplay, for example if you tactically take out a room of guards you can prevent more waves of enemies from appearing. Naughty Dog also hired a dedicated multi-player designer to implement both competitive and co-operative multiplayer.

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In a now-iconic opening scene, we meet Drake hanging off the side of a train hanging off the side of a cliff. However once we’ve climbed our way to safety we take a trip back in time and meet Harry Flynn and his girlfriend Chloe as they convince Nate to help them steal a Mongolian oil lamp from a Turkish museum. In what turns out to be the first in a string of double crossing and trust issues, Flynn abandons Nate once they locate Marco Polo’s lost treasure in Borneo. Sully returns to help Nate seek the Cintamani Stone, taking players through temples in the Himalayas, Tibetan villages, and girl trouble. With epic train sequences that have gone down in the annuls of video game fame, the second Uncharted title also begins to let us into the relationship between Nate and Elena – compromised slightly by a returning Chloe. It’s the classic love triangle under gunfire from soviet treasure hunters scenario.

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has been cited best in the series by multiple sources – including myself. It was praised as one of the best video games of all time, earning itself numerous awards for its immersion and realism and the implementation of its multiplayer mode. The first 3rd party title on PS3 to sell over a million units in North America, it stands in many players’ libraries as a classic. There were some control issues that needed to be smoothed out, resulting in angrily smashing the button to leap across a wall only to see Nate stretch his arm out and do nothing, yet again.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception 

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In 2011, Naughty Dog released their penultimate title in the Uncharted series. This time Hennig was joined by Justin Richmond in the director’s chair, with Jacob Minkoff joining Lemarchand as designer. The team used a further evolved version of Naughty Engine that allowed for better physics and visuals, though they were using the Cell at 100% with Uncharted 2, Justin Richmond assured fans that “there is always room where you find something where you can do the processing in some different way to find more power”. And it seems they did. Sitting at double the size of its predecessor, visuals, character interaction, and immersion were all greatly improved under the hood.

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Drake’s Deception brought in more options for close combat, with quick time trigger events allowing Nate to use the environment around him in melee attacks. This came together with hand to hand combat with multiple opponents that made for some brilliant hostage-escaping situations, and simplification and improvement of the stealth mechanics. The third game was all about interaction with the environment, not only would Nate push objects and people tentatively out the way when running lending itself brilliantly to immersion, but multiplayer brought new dynamic environmental events too.

In good old Blighty, Nate and Sully meet in a pub to talk with a bloke called Talbot who’s up for buying Nate’s antique ring. When they fight and the ring is stolen, we are transported back to Nate’s childhood to find out how he met Sully. It’s eventually revealed in the present day that the meeting was a set up so that Nate and Sully could track down Marlowe, the woman behind it all. They follow her to a library where they find a map showing Francis Drake’s secret voyage to Arabia, and there’s treasure to be found. From a French chateau, to Syria, a trippy walk through the streets of Yemen, the trailer-exploiting cargo plane scene, and the infamous desert scenario, Uncharted 3 saw a much wider gameplay experience. Focusing on Nate as a character, his history, decisions, and life story brought players into closer connection with the ballsy protagonist they’d been controlling for years – something that Naughty Dog are exploring even further in their next title.

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The game was, once again, praised as the second coming – particularly this time for its fluidity in movement and realism in characterisation. As always though graphics and cinematic appeal were up there in the comments.

This fluidity, and openness of the game world, is said to be improved and expanded in the upcoming Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and is just one of the reasons you should be excited for the series conclusion. Stay tuned to Uncharted Weekend though to find out more reasons you should be excited for the next game in a post coming up later today.

@MusingsTwit

 

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