Uncharted: Which is the Best Story?
With the release of Uncharted 4 last year, the final installment of the series, the Uncharted franchise cemented its position as one PlayStation's most iconic productions, and Nathan Drake, one of their most iconic characters. However, while the games were utterly spectacular on so many levels, from presentation to gameplay, what in my opinion, really made them stand out, were the stories and the characters in them. These were people you loved to play as, and cared about, and wanted to keep watching. The amount of actual, well, character that was in them, them being just digital constructs, was unbelievable, and the emotional impact of their stories was as powerful or even more so than that of an actual cinematic narrative. And sticking to that, despite the fact that we didn't want to, the story came to a close. So now, with the brilliance of the Uncharted games behind us, it's a good time to look back and really examine what Naughty Dog gave us, and to that effect, I'll be ranking the four Uncharted installments by story, seeing what worked for me, what didn't work so well, and the overall impact each of them left on the franchise, the characters and us as players, let's get started.
Disclaimer: Needless to say, but I need to say it anyway, this are my personal preferences and you're free to have your own. I'll also at points adress some aspects of gameplay, but to a small degree and only in how they affect the pacing of the story. With Uncharted it's always hard to put one story over another, and you might disagree with me which is good. If you have your own choices, leave them in the comments below. Ok, here we go:
4. Uncharted 3 - Drake's Deception
After the success and overall critical acclaim given to Uncharted 2, the third installment in the series had a lot to live up to. As people were still unsure at that time whether the series would go beyond three games, there was also a looming possibility that this would be the final chapter in the story of Nathan Drake and so expectations rose further still. The trailers promised a desert setting for the adventure, a yet unexplored framing for these games, but not so much was known about the story. All we knew was that Drake would go after the fabled Atlantis of the Sands, following the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence, the famous WWI soldier.
When the game came out, it was praised for its cinematic feel, for the engaging and action packed set-pieces and combat scenes, and for the solid gameplay that the Uncharted series was known for. But not much beyond that. In a series so acclaimed for its ability to make us feel attached to the story as if we were watching a movie, the story this time was, in the eyes of many, good, but not great, just a standard adventure, but it lacked 'Wow' factors to make it something more. The structure was the same, Drake travels the world in search of a fabled lost city or artifact, a dangerous organization races him to the same objective, wanting to seize control over the power that the treausre will bestow on them, as it is cursed, once again. So plot wise, we have the same thing. Looking at characters, this game teases a lot of potential development for them, but then fails to deliver on it. The focus this time is on the relationship between Nate and Sully, and how Nate's insecurities affect his relationship not only with Sully, but with others around him. But we don't get into it as much as we should because the plot is so focused on moving forward to the next set piece. There is the scene early on when Sully confronts Nate about the point of what they're doing, and about Nate's obcession, and later on when Elena warns Nate that Sully will follow him to the end of the world, but these moments are few and far between, especially because the flashbacks don't explore this theme enough. I'm meant to feel a really tight father-son relationship between them, but it is not fully realized, to the point where Sully's presumed death feels unearned and anti climactic, and by the time we see he's alive we feel really relieved because it would have been a very unfitting send off to such a fantastic character.
As the primary relationship is not successfully explored, the rest is even less so. Nate's relationship with Elena is probably the weirdest of them. We left off with them clearly being together at the end of the second game, and in this one, they're apparently not, we don't know why, there's a lot of talk of rings, but no one takes the time to explain. I feel I'm supposed to feel something in these scenes, but because I don't have the context for it, I don't. By the end they seem to be back together, so as far as I can see, nothing changed. And that's the running theme: Nate and Elena are together, as they were, Sully didn't die, Cutter only broke his leg (although he is admittedly a great new character), and Nate didn't get the treasure, once again. Ultimately, this chapter in Nathan's story felt inconsequential, and the theme of his obcessive desire for adventure was set up, but would only reach its ultimate conclusion in the fourth game, so today it ends up being a fun but passable Uncharted adventure in terms of story.
3. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
Coming in third place we have the very first installment in the series, which really set the tone for the type of stories this franchise was going to tell. Drake's fortune opens up very well, with a fun exciting intro that lets us know a bit about each of our three protagonists: Nate, Sully and Elena, and from then on you feel that you're playing one of those old treasure-adventure movies. Our heroes are on a quest to find the fabled El Dorado, which takes them on an adventure through beautiful jungles, old castles and dungeons and even WWII german submarines, all the while fighting rival treasure hunters who are after the same thing.
All in all, the plot is fast-paced and exciting, the characters are vibrant, humorous, and work very well with each other, which is what ends up driving the narrative and to a large extent, the gamer's enjoyment of the experience, the action is fun and exciting though at times a bit repetitive, the villains menacing, if somewhat uninteresting, and there are cool twists and high-tense moments throughout. Overall, for the story, Drake's Fortune keeps it simple, and that might be its biggest strength and weakness at the same time. Strength because, like I said, the type of story comes a bit with a sense of nostalgia for this genre of adventure stories, but it comes as a weakness because it makes the whole ride fun, but not very memorable.
I always like to go back to Drake's Fortune and there are certainly plenty of reasons to, and the story is not in any way bad, or even average, it's actually pretty good, but everything Drake's Fortune's story does, would be done better in future installments, which is a good thing, and to be expected. As it stands, I don't think there's a lot more I can say, Drake's Fortune is as solid a story as they come in this genre, and that's the highest praise I can give it. Also, there's an evil curse, get used to that.
2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
When it comes to these last two spots on the list, I constantly went back and forth with which game belonged in the top spot. But after thinking a lot about it, I came to realise that the point of this list was to rank the Uncharted installments according to the quality of their stories, and that is how Uncharted 2 fell into second place, in my opinion of course. Uncharted 2 is regarded by many, by most even, as the highest point of the series, and there are a lot of reasons for it. Uncharted 2 is an escalation of the series on every level, everything the first game did, Among Thieves did bigger and better. The gameplay was better, the visuals were better, the environments were bigger and more varied and dynamic. And ultimately the story was better as well. The opening alone on the cliff immediatelly brings you into this new adventure and from then on you are hooked.
The story follows how Nathan partnered up with Flynn and Chloe, two new and charismatic charaters, on a heist where he is betrayed by the former. he then races Flynn and his employer to the ultimate goal, Shangri-La and the Cintamani Stone, an adventure that passes through the forests of Borneo, a city in Nepal, a moving train in the Himalayas, ancient ruins and monasteries on the mountains and finally, the mythic city itself, all of them gorgeous, enthralling settings that not only drive and alter the look of the story but also its structure and pacing very well.
The adventure also uses the characters very well, introducing Chloe as a part of Nate's past, bringing in Sully just at the moments where he is needed to bring levity and laughs and that sense of partnership between him and Nathan and also reintroducing Elena at the perfect moment halfway through which rekindles the excellent dynamic between her and Nate, creating a neat love triangle that brings humor to the story but doesn't detract from it or takes over it. The drama between the heroes and villains is more tense and the stakes are higher, the double crosses are more interesting and the remarkable work done by the actors playing the characters both in cutscenes and in game make the story and the characters as fun and engaging to watch as they are to play.
Nate's arc takes him from a place where he is driven by both wealth and vengeance to fight the villains and find the treasure before they do, to a conclusion where he realises he must in fact not give up and do it not for wealth but to save the world. And in the end, he takes no material prize from his adventure but is not bitter or disappointed about it (which he kind of is in Drake's Deception, when he says to Sully 'It's not much, is it?'), he's content with having done the right thing and with Elena surviving the ordeal, with whom he starts a romantic relationship as the credits roll. It's a heartwarming finale to a rollercoaster of an adventure that takes you from moments of laughter, to moments of dread (RIP Jeff), to moments of extreme excitement and leaves you with a gladdening conclusion that makes you want to play it again and relieve the story and those favourite moments thoughout.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
So yeah, coming in at number one is the final entry in the series, Uncharted 4, a story that was tackled by a different team than the previous installments and although I battled constantly on whether to put this over or below Uncharted 2 I ended up putting this one on the top spot. Uncharted 4's story does feel different than the ones that came before it, but not to a degree that it loses coherence with the rest of the series. In my impression, it just felt more personal than it had ever been, and the reason for that is what I would select as the main reason Uncharted 4 takes the top spot on this list: the story's treatment of the characters is at its alltime best in this installment, specifically Nate and Elena.
More than ever our engagement with the adventure is driven not mainly by what is happening but more by how the characters react to it, and the small dialogues between them within gameplay and in-cutscenes are brilliantly written and acted and are quite introspective sometimes, allowing us to connect with these people on a deeper level. The plot itself introduces a big divergence from the rest of the series right out of the bat with the introduction of Samuel Drake, Nate's brother who had never been seen or mentioned, who comes back from the dead not so dead after all, and together he and Nate along with Sully and eventually Elena race a former colleague of the brothers to the treasure of the pirate Henry Avery.
The introduction of a long lost brother to the mix could have ended up failing as a plot device to drive the narrative of this installment, but guess what? It works so incredibly well, that you just accept it, because it feels genuine. These characters act like real people when they interact and that makes us buy and invest in their relationships. Sam, and his role in the story ends up creating some amazing character development for himself and for Nate, as well as great character dynamics between the two, Nate and Sully and especially Nate and Elena, whose relationship is portrayed with such delightful realism and naturality that they might be my favourite couple in gaming from this game alone. Moreover, the villains of the story, Rafe and Nadine present themselves as quite deep and original characters with interesting motivations and decisions that makes them quite memorable in how they impact the plot and our heroes.
The story itself is quite engaging, the opening is filled with moments of excitement with Nate and Sam, followed by moments of tragedy, and later a wonderfully nostalgic section with Nate that sets the stage for where he is at the beginning of this adventure, and for the rest of the way there are gorgeous environments, witty banter, shocking twists, moments of weakness for the characters and flashbacks, making this truly the spectacular cinematic gaming adventure experience that the Uncharted series is known and praised for being. A Thief's End cements the series' place among the great gaming franchises of this generation, gives the story and the characters a more than fitting conclusion, it leaves you with a heartwarming feeling as the credits roll and is in my opinion the best story in the series.
So that's my ranking for the stories of the Uncharted games, I hope you enjoyed the article, I would love to hear your thoughts so if you have your own preference, leave a comment below and as always thank you for reading.