The Uncharted series is often praised for its pleasing mixture of cinematics and gameplay. Players spend half their time engaging in traditional third-person shooting and exploring, while the remainder of the game is devoted to taut storytelling and impeccable voice acting. Yet, despite continued accolades and huge sales, there are things about Uncharted that could be tweaked to make it an even better experience, though few those tweaks might be. Here’s how Naughty Dog can take Nathan Drake’s next adventure to the max!
A reviewer of Uncharted 3 pointed out how they had wished, during the course of the game, that they could have spent a little less time shooting and more time exploring and experiencing the story. It’s become evident over the course of four Uncharted games that the titles are hampered by an unnecessary fixation on gunplay and ridiculous amounts of dead bodies piling up.
I get that there are parallels between Uncharted and films like Indiana Jones, including how Harrison Ford racks up a decent body count of his own, but Nathan Drake’s exploits could fill a crematorium through sheer volume. When there’s such an emphasis on narrative as there is in the Uncharted games, it makes little sense to have Drake take down waves of baddies when it ultimately doesn’t enhance gameplay and distracts from the story. I say less shooting for the next Uncharted so as to make the times when you are in a gunfight more meaningful.
Don’t Be Such a Crook
I had some trouble getting into the story when I played Uncharted 2 because at times I just didn’t feel sorry for Drake. This issue is acknowledged within Uncharted 3‘s narrative, but when Drake is just a straight-up crook, it makes it hard to root for him. Of course, I know that’s sort of the point with Uncharted; Drake and Sully aren’t necessarily the good guys. They live in a dark world and make some shady choices. Unfortunately, Uncharted’s unique take on the concept of the protagonist in a video game makes that a tough pill to swallow.
Like The Last of Us, the purpose of the protagonist in the Uncharted series is to be a character and not a projection of the player. This is part of the reason the narratives that Naughty Dog puts together are so entertaining and compelling, as the traditional emotional cipher of so many other games is replaced with a genuine person. The only problem is that in The Last of Us, Joel’s choices are distinctly framed by what he believes to be right; as a result, no matter how horrifying some of his actions might be, it’s reasonable to want to root for Joel anyway. With Nathan, it can be a little tough, because the particular shade of gray he exists in can often be too unflattering.
Being an antihero is fine, and exploring a morally ambiguous protagonist in a video game isn’t unheard of, but Uncharted can sometimes simultaneously portray Drake as likable and irredeemable, which is frustrating. It’s unrealistic to expect a player to cheer for Drake when he’s done something out of pure greed and is killing a bunch of people for selfish reasons and nothing more. In fairness to Naughty Dog, the studio does try to stymy this feeling when Drake’s targets are revealed to be the worst of the worst, as it facilitates sympathy that otherwise wouldn’t exist when he goes at them. That said, as a narrative device it can appear lazy when Drake is being blatantly bad, but conveniently is shown as not being as bad as the guy he’s about to blow away.
If Naughty Dog wants to give Drake that classic, charming scoundrel type of personality, it has to be tempered with less acts that come across as totally unheroic. If the intent is to shine the spotlight on Drake being a bad guy, then keep the presentation more even. Drake’s got plenty of personality, Sony; now just make sure it’s a consistent one.
I think that hand-to-hand combat in the series has gotten better with each installment of Uncharted, but there’s plenty of room to grow. First off, going back to the idea of not killing everyone that crosses his path, Drake’s fisticuffs should get pushed into more a combo and counter system like the Arkham series of games in order to put gunfights on the backburner. Uncharted 3 played with this to a certain extent, but the results could have been better. Button prompts for blocking mixed with the satisfying beatdowns Drake is known for would be a great addition to make the games less dependent on gunplay. With that said, Drake also doesn’t need to snap necks or start strangling every time he sneaks up on a baddie. Deepen the fighting and make shooting less of the go-to during gameplay and encounters will become that much richer.
The Uncharted games border on perfection each time out, but making these adjustments could push them that much further. Tone down the senseless slaughter, make hand-to-hand combat more satisfying so that gunfights aren’t the focus of every battle, and provide Drake with something a little more meaningful to compel him to action, and suddenly The Last of Us has company at the top. Here’s hoping Naughty Dog can bring Uncharted to PS4 better than ever.