It’s a difficult proposition to rank the Uncharted games. There’s a subtle diversity to the tone and sometimes quality of each individual entry, making separation a rather benign convention. But my admiration for this series deems such objective analysis a worthy arbitration, for the simple fact that I get to talk in depth about my favourite subject. And just because I love this series, that shouldn’t precipitate that it is exempt from criticism. This list will consist of only the 4 primary entries in the series so sorry to those two “Golden Abyss” fans. I’m sure many of you familiar with the series will contest my views, I’m not even sure this list could be considered definitive even to me, but it is as it is, for better or worse. So in ascending order is my list of the best Uncharted games.
#4. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune.
No surprises here. Drakes Fortune is a solid if patchy entry, that lays a suitable foundation for the more polished sequels. The search for El Dorado is arguably one of the more compelling plot devices used in the series, even if ultimately the city of gold is relegated to merely a cursed artefact embellished by sustained historical falsity. It contains many of series core mechanics still retained today, and does a great job of introducing characters that only become more enduring as the series progresses. Drakes Fortune is probably the series most measured affair, that belies it’s organically compounded dynamic utilised in latter entries. You’ve also got to remember that Drakes Fortune was being developed under intense public scrutiny and a great cost to NaughtyDog both financially and to their credibility. It was a huge gamble considering the endearing success of “Crash Bandicoot”. Without Drakes Fortune this list would feel much lighter, so it deserves a great deal of respect. But ultimately it is a forgettable romp, filled with largely irrelevant villains, expeditious conclusion, innocuous and borderline irritating vehicular sections and a rather jarring finale.
# 3. Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception.
A visceral, yet crucially venerated plot disguised as a intimate psychology of the mind of Nathan Drake and the vaguely hinted demons that inhabit it. This thinly veiled premise did a stern job of introducing some beautiful, albeit erratic smattering of locations that creates a sense of adventure, as you embark on treacherous excursions that’s conclusion is unclear. Nathan Drakes obsessive determination to find the lost city is supposed to be something of considerable pertinence to him. Something he, as well as us should feel as personally invested in. Yet this endeavour didn’t resonate with any more significance than the search for Shangri La. This, from my perspective at least felt like the first entry that really struggled to retain fluency. It felt more like a series of scripted instances, randomly generated demonstrations that illustrate NaughtyDog’s whimsical imagery, compiled together to form an amalgamation of dynamic events, as though NaughtyDog worked the story around the epic set pieces. It reminds me of Shaun in “Shaun of the dead” when he is trying to make a comparison between team and meat pie. “There’s no I in team, but there is an I in meat pie.” You understand that they are trying to make a point, but you’re not entirely sure what it is? There is however more depth and definition to the primary cast.
The characterisations are still enthralling, especially between Drake, Elena and Sully. Drake is more reckless in his approach, relying on sheer will. Elena has matured, advancing her career without risking life and limb to achieve this. And Sully has progressed from the money driven, morally repressed mentor into a more wizened, paternal father figure for Drake. Though many of the overarching conversations between them are a little more tender, this exposed sentiment really helps to elevate each and every character. The same cannot be said for the rest of the cast however. Though Katherine Marlow is a formidable foil, her subordinate Talbot is redundant. His involvement with Marlow is never really explained, neither are his vaguely defined prophetic abilities. Chloe is reduced to crew member # 4, with Cutter (crew member #3) a completely disposable confederate, merely enabling Drake to escape one of the most anti-climatic deaths scenes since every Marvel movie and giving Drake someone to converse with that is slightly more interesting than a brick wall. The biggest problem is that many elements of Drakes Deception suffers from a curious case of repetition.
We’ve seen this all before. The mystical creatures, even if they were delusions feel overused after the previous entries used them with such vigour. And when you get down to it, all of these dramatic feats, shoot outs and death defying stunts is to find a lost city, again. A city deserted because of the Arabian, supernatural entities known as the “Djiin”, which is a direct result of a demonic oppressor from the very depths of Hell! Oh wait no; it was a vase. An evil vase. An evil vase that poisoned the water of this exalted city, driving everyone insane. Well at least it culminates in a epic showdown between Drake and Talbot, locked in a brutal encounter that…no, wait. No, it’s just a series of QTE’s. Huh? Having said that Drakes Deception is more than salvaged by the incredible set pieces, with many of the stories or game-play’s incoherence instantly forgiven due to the fact that it’s such a blast to play. You could almost feel the heat emanating on the screen as you attempt to escape the burning château, the incredible sense of isolation as a dehydrated Nate staggers through the expansive desolation of dunes in the Rub Al Khali desert. The disorientation of shooting you’re way off a slowly sinking ship as it Sunday wrenches starboard.
Drakes Deception relies heavily on theatrical dynamics, it’s penchant for the dramatic and uses every conceivable excuse to ignite the highly volatile scenery rather than portraying a compelling or even competent story. Yet it’s ceaseless volatility makes it one of the more captivating and exciting entries to play.
#2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
I was so close to putting this top. In fact I’m still conflicted as to whether I’ve made the right choice, but on reflection I don’t think Among Thieves deserves to be considered the top spot. In many respects it’s still the best in the series. It’s high octane, introducing some of the most theatrical, sometimes breathtaking set pieces I’ve ever experienced. The entirety of the Helicopter chase is hypnotic! For the most part you’re clinging onto the controller, praying that the collapsing building doesn’t squash you into a Drake sandwich. And the train, oh my god the train! I had by ass clenched so tight trying to navigate my way from the back, to the front carriage that I couldn’t poop for 3 days! Watching helplessly as Drake clutches onto the back of the carriage as the disconnected portion of the train comes hurtling towards you like a rogue rotisserie. “It’s not going to hit me, no. No? No! Drake! Pull yourself up its going to hit you! Drake! Drake!!! Agghhuuuhhgggbt! Oh god I need….air!” These were moments the series has never adequately replicated with the same intensity, despite subsequent attempts. But Among Thieves is well aware of the limitations of explosions by just toning things down to a more austere pace as they did with the Tibetan village. There’s a vast distinction between Drakes Fortune and Among Thieves. The disparity between the two is discernible, whereas the difference in quality between Among Thieves and Drakes Deception is negligible. Among Thieves is such a bigger, better, bolder game. It created this sense of hyperventilating anxiety, as if you were always on the cusp of losing control. Every shifting ledge, every explosive reverberation even the slightest environmental alteration had you on edge. It’s like Grandpa in the Simpsons indiscriminately pointing at different people and hysterically yelling “DEATH!” That’s how you feel trying to negotiate through war torn cities, jungles, mountains, ancient civilisation’s or any environmental hazard that “will” try to kill you!
Among Thieves was captivating and at times creepy. The moment you descend into the hidden sanctum replete in the skeletal remains of Marco Polo’s crew, each with unexplained blackened teeth and traces of blood all across the floor as if they’d all killed each other still creeps me out. The relationships are more refined than in Drakes Fortune too. The chemistry between Drake and Elena resonates with such intensity here, particularly with the addition of alluring temptress Chloe Frazier contributing additional dimension to Drake and Elena’s strained romance, with Chloe enabling Drakes reckless endeavours. It also features one of my favourite exchanges between Drake and Elena, where after sustaining serious almost mortal wounds Elena asks Drake on a scale of 1 to 10 how scared he was that she was going to die, where Drake glibly replies “4”. Elena, further trying to clarify what constitutes as a 10, Nate, without hesitation affirms that “clowns” are top of that distressing pyramid. Uncharted 2 features all the elements that truly define the series. The environments, the combat, the exploration and the characters. So how could such a seemingly perfect game only procure the silver medal in this contest? Well two crucial reasons.
The first being Sully’s primarily and largely absent participation, relegated to mere subsidiary observer for much of this entry, casually leaving early on. But easily the biggest crime is the horrendously asinine villain; Lazarevic. A derivative caricature of a villain he’s intentionally portrayed as this deranged, snarling, psychopathic killer, snuffing out members of his own inventory simply because they don’t warrant consideration. His motivations are solid enough; he wants to find Shangri La to gain immeasurable power so he can, you guessed it, take over the world. He’s heavily accented, is bald and has a pronounced scar on his face. Seriously Lazarevic couldn’t of been any more of a generic antagonist if he were sat in a swivel chair stroking a white cat demanding sharks with laser beams?! Every time he was on screen he irritated me, just devolving into this laborious plot device rather than an actual human being. Now Flynn, now that’s an antagonist. Not villain, not interlacing his fingers and exclaiming “excellent”, but a fully formed, intent antagonist with progressive motivations and context. The verbal jousting between Flynn and Drake is only further escalated when they become enemies, intensifying the collaborative dissonance between. It’s also incredibly enjoyable to watch.
Perhaps I’m being overly critical and unfairly biased to vilify the entire game based solely on these two proprietary errors. But I really do value this game despite the economic use of Sully and stereotypical antagonist. In a few years, properly motivated, a revised list may well have Uncharted 2: Among Thieves at the top of this list. But for this one it will have to settle for the silver medal…..
#1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
So how and why has this ascended to the top of the thrown, usurping Uncharted 2 which many consider the unequivocal focal point of the series? Well you’re have to wait for my review, which I have decided to separate into various categories for ease of use. Basically because I waffle on for extended periods and by reducing the review into segregated portions I can at least focus on specific points with expeditious leniency. Plus you shouldn’t get as bored. It’s a subject I have much to discuss, and also one I want to be entirely sure I discuss with salient clarification. This could very well be the last Uncharted game I’ll review and I just want to get it right.
So what is your’e favourite game in the series? Let me know in the comments below. Cheers.