Fair warning, here be spoilers
Much like Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid, and Resident Evil, the Uncharted series is overflowing with individual moments of brilliance.
Alongside the raft of truly astounding, high-octane action sequences that wouldn’t feel out of place in a John Woo movie, over the course of 4 incredible adventures (5 if you include PS Vita title The Golden Abyss) Naughty Dog has treated us to some of gaming’s most memorable stories, wittiest dialogue, and entertaining characters.
So, with PS4-exclusive spin-off Uncharted: The Lost Legacy’s release just around the corner, what better time than now to discuss our favourite memories from the series’ illustrious past? To get the ball rolling, I hereby humbly submit 4 that are indelibly imprinted on my memory; one from each of the main-line titles.
Feel free to agree with or dispute, support or mock my picks down in the comments.
Drake’s Fortune – Discovering the Supernatural
Naughty Dog’s first entry in the critically-acclaimed series was undoubtedly rough around the edges. It possessed some of the elements that would come to define the rest of the series, sure, but was hampered by tedious moment-to-moment gameplay and ropey mechanics, encapsulated for many by the awkward jet-ski sequences in chapters 8 and 12.
I imagine this is why, whenever I think back to my previous experiences with Drake’s Fortune, my most vivid memories aren’t of gunning down dozens of faceless enemy soldiers during one of the many bombastic set-pieces, rather, they’re of the entertaining, razor-sharp dialogue and revelatory plot twists. And none stands out more in my mind than the moment we discover things aren’t what they seem. That this is more than a simple story about treasure-hunting.
Although heavily implied throughout, we have to wait until chapter 17 for confirmation that supernatural forces a la Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider have and will continue to influence events, as, during their exploration of the El Dorado treasure vault, Nate, Elena, and cartoonish semi-antagonist Eddy Raja are waylaid by hordes of Gollum-like zombie creatures known as the Descendants.
While a development of this nature does little to disprove arguments that Drake’s Fortune bears more than a passing resemblance to the aforementioned film/video game franchises, it was nevertheless an intelligent move on the part of Naughty Dog. It gave the writers a far greater level of creative freedom than they’d otherwise have had if events were grounded in the real world and, more importantly for the rest of the series, it added a layer of unpredictability and mystique that ensured players could never be 100% sure what was going to happen in the inevitable sequels. Anything was possible.
Among Thieves – Train Sequence
Starting in media res with a wounded Nate regaining consciousness only to find himself trapped within a ruined train carriage that, just for good measure, also happens to be dangling precipitously over the side of a cliff, Nate’s dramatic escape from this precarious situation at the very beginning of Among Thieves is worthy of attention in its own right.
However, combined with the masterful action sequence that precedes it and you have, rather fittingly, arguably the series’ best set-piece in arguably the series’ best game.
From Nate’s heroic leap onto a moving train at the very beginning, to the numerous fire-fights that ensue as he battles his way through waves of Russian megalomaniac Lazarevic’s goons in an effort to save raven-haired heroine Chloe Frazer – which, by the way, includes a white-knuckle battle against an attack helicopter – and the aforementioned daring escape at the beginning of the game, this astonishing and utterly breathless sequence showcases Uncharted at its wonderfully histrionic, unique best.
Not that’s it’s perfect, mind you. Aside from the all-too-frequent railway signals that obtrusively interrupt the action mid-flow and give the player yet one more thing to contend with, the sheer amount of destruction Nate causes during this scene is a prime example of the Ludonarrative dissonance that so conspicuously and at times disconcertingly permeates the series.
Still, why let morality get in the way of a heroic action scene. After all, no one cares about the thousands of individuals who die at the hands of Luke Skywalker when he demolishes the Death Star at the climax of A New Hope, do they?
Drake’s Deception – Sully’s Demise?
In a game that features what is for my money the best opening scene of any Uncharted game, not to mention a spectacular cruise ship escape sequence in chapter 15, the most dramatic moment in the entire game as far as I’m concerned is Sully’s apparent murder at the hands of sickeningly smug secondary antagonist Talbot.
Now, you’d be justified in arguing the fact we discover the whole incident was nothing more than a horrible fever dream concocted by Nate’s drug-addled mind; that Sully is, in fact, actually safe and sound only a chapter or 2 later significantly lessens the emotional impact of what would otherwise be a seminal moment in the series. However, those few brief minutes during which it genuinely appears the roguish old adventurer is indeed the victim of a sudden, cold-blooded assassination are some of Uncharted’s most poignant.
Especially as, prior to the seemingly tragic events, Elena has been vociferous in her concern for the well-being of a visibly older Sully, admonishing Nate for bringing him along on such a physically demanding journey at his age. An interesting narrative thread that suggests, quite plausibly, something terrible might befall the legend that is Victor Sullivan before the end credits begin to role. Besides, Naughty Dog had already faked his death in Drake’s Fortune: surely it wouldn’t pull a stunt like that for a second time, right?
Maybe it’s just me but, even during repeated playthroughs, I still feel a slight twinge of apprehension when the seemingly fatal shot is fired. A testament to the quality of Amy Hennig’s writing and the performances of actors Nolan North and Richard McGonagle.
A Thief’s End – The Climactic Duel
Probably my favourite game in the entire series, Uncharted’s most recent iteration contains plenty of amazing scenes worthy of adulation. However, rather bizarrely, the one that resonates with me more than any other is the boss battle at the conclusion of A Thief’s End; an encounter that, from a purely mechanical perspective, is at best forgettable, at worst downright bad.
But, while the mechanics of the fight itself jar rather unpleasantly with the rest of the game, the emotional build up to this confrontation sets it apart, helped considerably by Naughty Dog’s insistence prior to release that A Thief’s End would be Nathan Drake’s final adventure (hence the title). Naturally leading us as fans to speculate what sort of end the developer had in mind.
Due equally to their choice of weapon (pirate cutlasses) and the wider setting, the QTE-style duel is a tense, intimate encounter between an increasingly maniacal Rafe Adler and Nate. Sam is indisposed, trapped as he is beneath a pile of debris amidst the burning wreckage of Avery’s treasure-laden ship while just moments before badass mercenary Nadine Ross abandoned her erstwhile employer, realising she’s already lost far more than she can hope to gain from the expedition.
Obviously, we expect Nate to come out on top one way or another and indeed our expectations are promptly met, however, given the perilousness of the situation and everything that’s gone before, the survival of the brother’s Drake once Rafe has been defeated is far from guaranteed.
I remember being convinced there were only a handful of likely outcomes as the first sword stroke fell, one of which, due to my habitually pessimistic disposition, seemed appreciably less plausible than the others. I firmly believed either Nate would die in the process of successfully extricating his brother from the burning vessel, or, alternatively, Sam would somehow manage to persuade his younger sibling to leave him behind, sacrificing himself so that Nate would have the opportunity to rebuild his life with Elena. The third – the one I had so little hope in – was that somehow, someway Nate would find an ingenious, undoubtedly far-fetched solution to their predicament that would save them both from incineration.
Suffice it to say I was indescribably relieved when, in true Uncharted fashion and despite all the obstacles in their path, Nate uses a conveniently place cannon to blow a hole in the ship’s hull, precipitating an influx of water that helps him simultaneously free Sam and escape the ship, allowing the series to finish on a gloriously happy note, capped off by a highly satisfying epilogue.
Hopefully, this list will stimulate some friendly discussion in the comments; I for one relish any opportunity to talk about a series as remarkable as Uncharted.
And be sure to check back in a couple of weeks’ time when our review of The Lost Legacy is published. Perhaps we can renew the conversation then.