There are plot spoilers within this article. If you have not played and completed Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception – you read on at your own risk.
The Uncharted series has sold 13 million units worldwide and is probably responsible for the deaths of countless more digital mercenaries. Nathan Drake and his half tucked shirt are Sony’s biggest exclusive, and developers Naughty Dog seem keen to keep the ball rolling:
“There are a ton of Drake adventures out there and we haven’t told all of them yet, and as long as fans want the games and as long as we find something that’s interesting and will push the medium forward, we’ll continue to make them.”
Uncharted 3 game director Justin Richmond, in a quote from Official Playstation Magazine UK
So what’s next for Uncharted? And what should change? Assuming that the world doesn’t go crazy and give us Uncharted Team Racing, here are a few thoughts….
There are a myriad of mythologies and countries still to be explored, but where should Drake go next? It has to be somewhere with a rich history and culture, one that is preferably dead or no longer dominant. Jungles and deserts have been done to death, so what about leaving the tropics behind and heading north?
North America is ripe for the picking and could finally let us in on the secrets of Drake’s personal life. The rich cultures of the indigenous people could provide the adventuring back drop, and weaving in a Viking connection would have a lot of potential too. If you’re not up on your Scandinavian history, Viking Leif Eriksson landed on North America long before Christopher Columbus did, and Erik the Red discovered and settled Greenland. Just to sell the Viking idea even more, the community of some 3000 Vikings established there disappeared after 500 years, with the reason behind it apparently a great mystery.
Or take in the vast wilderness that is Russia, the Celtic history of the British Isles, the ice caves and glaciers of Austria. Why should adventuring be stuck in the tropics?
Ultimately the developers have nothing to worry about when it comes to Drake’s next adventure – in terms of historical set up and setting at least. The world is packed full of cultures and mythologies not yet explored, and there are enough lost cities out there to keep Drake and co. busy for decades. But that’s just the set up, the source of all the action and the artefacts – what about how it’s used?
The life span on Uncharted’s formulaic story is growing short. You can’t get away from it – when you pick up an Uncharted game you know exactly how things are going to turn out – there’s an artefact that leads to an artefact that leads to a forgotten evil power conveniently nestled in a long lost city that won’t survive past the end chapter. The minutiae along the way help distract from the pattern but ultimately nothing changes, not for the characters, not for the Uncharted world.
The best example of this? Near the end of Uncharted 3, Drake sees Sully shot and killed. Having completely forgotten about the hallucinogenic water that Drake had just downed, I was genuinely taken aback by what I thought to be a real occurrence. I was furious at the villains, sad for Drake, and ultimately really impressed that the developers had had the guts to knock off one of their main characters.
But no. It was all a dream. Why do that? Sully is a great character and the relationship between him and Drake is entertaining, but what better end could there have been to a game that began with the very beginning of their relationship? It would have marked a new chapter in Drake’s life, and a chance for the game to change gear. After all Deception is littered with sequences that make Drake question the way he lives – the desert being the obvious stand out. Taking this disillusionment together with Sully’s death would have made the final reunion with Elena all the more poignant, and opened up an ideal way to have Drake back off from his adventures – if only for a little while. There’s a lot of drama to be had dragging a broken man back to his former self – perhaps on a quest to save a certain someone rather than a certain something?
As it stands, Uncharted 4, when it undoubtedly happens, will begin on the same footing as every other Uncharted game. Drake and Sully hang out. Drake and Elena kiss and make up. Yes, the current formula works, but we all know that if something is repeated and repeated and repeated, it gets old.
The Set Pieces
Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception had some of the best moments of event gaming in recent memory, and the scale and style of the spectacle define the series. Uncharted wouldn’t be Uncharted without some big action scenes, but with so many of them in Drake’s Deception, have Naughty Dog backed themselves into a corner?
Where Among Thieves had its train sequence, Deception had a plane crash, a sinking ship, a crumbling city, a blazing inferno, horseback chases, a sandstorm, and the bold emptiness of the desert. What’s left? What natural disaster has Drake not survived, what vehicle has he not fallen out of? A tsunami is too much like a sinking ship, an earthquake echoes the already overused crumbling city, a small avalanche or two crept in to Among Thieves. In going all out with the third instalment Naughty Dog could have exhausted Uncharted’s potential – the story is already repetitive, and if the set pieces head that way as well…
Now there isn’t exactly a new Uncharted game every year, but the last thing anyone wants to see is a new game that’s just a repackaging of the old one – we know that doesn’t sit well! It may sell, and it may still be of some quality, but it damages the brand. With Uncharted Golden Abyss heading to the Vita in the new year and a movie adaptation of Drake’s Fortune in the pipeline, there’s already more than enough Drake to go round. Whilst ‘Drake in Space’ is a ridiculous idea, the next entry in the Uncharted series is going to have to take that one giant leap to keep itself at the top of it’s game.
But what’s the best way to avoid repetition? Stop. At least for a little while.