Why Naughty Dog Needs to Say Goodbye to ‘Uncharted’ Once and For All

Why Naughty Dog Needs to Say Goodbye to ‘Uncharted’ Once and For All

Sony

With spin-off ‘The Lost Legacy’ out in August, now’s the time for PS4’s premier studio to call time on its beloved action-adventure

With spin-off ‘The Lost Legacy’ out in August, now’s the time for PS4’s premier studio to call time on its beloved action-adventure

Uncharted is a wonderful franchise. One of the true PlayStation greats. Nathan Drake’s handsome escapades capture the same good-natured Saturday morning matinee spirit that inspired George Lucas to create Indiana Jones. All four Uncharted games are brilliant technical showcases, first for PS3 then PS4, serving up dazzling setpieces, wryly delivered dialogue, and most importantly, damn good shootouts.

When it comes to first-party console exclusives, it doesn’t get any better than Uncharted. And you know what? I never want Naughty Dog to make another one.

Well, aside from Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, of course.

This standalone adventure is out August 22, and sees Chloe Frazer take the spotlight; Uncharted 2’s opportunistic fortune hunter returns to the series to jump, shoot and swing through the remains of the Hoysala Empire. As she searches for the Tusk of Ganesha – Uncharted loves a mystic McGuffin – Chloe is joined by Uncharted 4’s mercenary badass, Nadine Ross. With two morally murky co-leads front and center, Naughty Dog is bound to have a blast with the pair’s bickering banter.

The Lost Legacy takes place after the events of Uncharted 4, and Sony is so confident in the upcoming expansion, it opened its recent E3 press conference with a trailer of Ms Frazer’s Indian adventure. At an estimated six-seven hours long, it promises to be one of PS4’s most ambitious spin-offs. If the Santa Monica-based studio can recapture Uncharted 4’s tightly scripted showmanship, you could be looking at a stellar story-driven campaign to rival The Last Of Us’ superbly staged Left Behind DLC.

Though A Thief’s End conclusively closed the book on Nathan Drake, The Lost Legacy won’t necessarily be the last chapter in the Uncharted saga. Speaking to Eurogamer during E3 week, creative director Shaun Escayg was asked whether the series would end after Chloe and Nadine’s uneasy alliance has wrapped. His response is pretty definitive. "But to say the Uncharted world is done... I doubt that highly."

Escayg even discussed who could star in future Uncharted spin-offs, and the following tease is likely to put a grin on the faces of fans of Nate’s mustached mentor, Victor Sullivan.

"This thieving world is huge. There's so many characters. Even before we settled on this particular story we were exploring Sullivan, we were exploring Cutter, and pairing each other up, thinking what would be right, what would have conflict, growth, something new, something fresh."

Even though I adore Uncharted, these are not words I want to read. It’s not necessarily that the series doesn’t still have room to grow through quirky side characters. Would I merrily play a bumbling buddy comedy where Sully and Nate’s brother Sam get into globe-hopping scrapes hunting down some mysterious artefact? Probably. Yet I can’t shake the sense the resources Naughty Dog may end up pumping into making iterative updates of this beloved (and, crucially, safe) franchise could be better spent creating bold new IP.

We’ll all seen what happens when this studio is fully revitalized and dealing with a fresh franchise that gets it creative juices flowing. The results are extraordinary. And yes, I’m obviously talking about The Last of Us.

In the immediate aftermath of Uncharted 3, few would have predicted what Naughty Dog was about to unveil. Drake’s Deception had just capped off Nate’s PS3 trilogy in supreme, swashbuckling style back in November 2011, yet here was Naughty Dog just over a month later, turning up to the Spike Video Game Awards to debut what would become the developer’s undisputed masterpiece. From carefree (albeit super murdery) jaunts for treasure to a sombre apocalyptic road movie that owed more to Cormac McCarthy than Crash Bandicoot, The Last of Us marked both a drastic tonal shift for Naughty Dog, and a chance for the studio to stretch its storytelling legs in a way Uncharted could never provide.

I’m obviously thrilled the studio is getting the super depressing band back together for The Last of Us Part II. (I’m such a sucker for sad guitar-strumming). At the same time, I worry the boldness that birthed Joel and Ellie’s doomsday shooter may be pushed to the background if Naughty Dog assigns half its staff to make Drake-free Uncharted games, and the other TLOU sequels. If one series has to die, it’s clear which has had its time in the dashingly dreamy sun.

You could argue Nate’s games have been dealing with diminishing returns ever since 2009’s Uncharted 2. Among Thieves remains the series highpoint, a masterful, rip-roaring adventure that introduced a generation of PlayStation gamers to a level of cinematic polish and breathless action not even Hideo Kojima’s filmic, wonderfully silly Metal Gear titles could match. Sure, Uncharted 3 had some rollicking setpieces – remember the bit where Nate hangs out the back of a cargo plane? – but it was essentially Uncharted 2.5: Now with Extra Sand Effects. As for Uncharted 4, as undeniably beautiful and smartly paced as it is, you get a niggling feeling Naughty Dog would perhaps have rather spent that time making another Last of Us. Drake’s PS4 debut feels noticeably less fantastical (and hell, a little less fun) than the PS3 trilogy.

I don’t want to see Uncharted end up like the now defunct Naughty Dog franchise Jak & Daxter. By the time Sony finally pulled the plug on the platforming pair, the series had already peaked with Jak II. In the years that followed, subsequent sequels staggered around like a confused drunk, swinging and missing at concepts that just didn’t fit the original platformer premise – look at the weird Mad Max-esque third game, or PSP’s niche The Lost Frontier, and its out-of-character aerial dogfights. If I’m back here in 2020 talking about Uncharted Lost Legacy III: The Quest for Sully’s Mystic Mustache on PS5, you’ll know things have gone horribly stale.

After The Lost Legacy launches late next month, Naughty Dog should cut ties with Uncharted. Should Sony then want to pass the franchise off to another developer, so be it. (According to video game sales-tracking site VG Chartz, Uncharted 4 shifted 9.20m copies, so you couldn’t blame the company if it wanted to let that cash cow graze a little longer).

I hope Naughty Dog can once again give me the same sense of electrifying shock and awe that first hit me when I watched the debut trailer for The Last of Us six years ago. The team has proven itself adept at spinning a variety of storytelling styles, and the idea of it doing a war game, an L.A. Noire-style detective thriller, or even a full-blown Mass Effect-aping space adventure has me drooling. Regardless of the direction Naughty Dog chooses to take for any new IP, one thing is clear: if the studio is to produce another game that's as artistically fresh as The Last of Us, it can’t allow itself to get lost chasing Uncharted’s diminishing legacy.