Created by Naughty Dog, one of Sony’s leading first party developers, the Uncharted series got its start back in 2007 with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, which became one of the PlayStation 3’s earliest “must-have” games. However, it wasn’t until Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that the industry as a whole really took notice, as that title significantly improved upon the first in almost every category, and was widely considered to be 2009’s Game of the Year. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, another surefire hit, came out in late 2011, with the PS Vita spin-off Uncharted: Golden Abyss following in 2012 (development duties were handled by SCE Bend Studios on that one). With Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End for the PS4 reportedly closing out Nathan Drake’s story next year, there’s really no better time to get into the Uncharted series or replay them all for the tenth time. As a tribute to the imminent release of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection on PS4, we thought we’d take a look back at the ten moments that best define the series as a whole and have helped make it one of the best action-adventure experiences in all of gaming.
10. Zombie Spaniards Attack
You’d be hard-pressed to find someone whose favorite Uncharted game is Drake’s Fortune, but that doesn’t mean that the first in the franchise isn’t without merit or thrilling moments. While it’s not exactly the most fun section to play, the cursed Spaniard enemies that appear late in the game throw a totally unexpected tinge of the supernatural into the proceedings that has been carried throughout the series. Uncharted is not a scary game by any stretch of the imagination, but Drake’s encounter with these vicious corpses gets the heart rate up as well as any of the more explosive sequences seen in later sequels. While Uncharted 2 and 3 both tried to match Drake’s Fortune in terms of terrifying creatures with the late-game introduction of the mutilated guardians of Shangri-La and fire-headed Djinn, respectively, they just didn’t have the surprise factor (or creepiness) of the cursed Spaniards. Now let us never speak of them again.
9. Young Drake Flashback
As far as series highlights go, the flashback sequence in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception scores low in terms of excitement, but more than makes up for this thanks to its overall unexpectedness. Uncharted 3 shed the most light on Drake as a character and this sequence in particular reveals a number of interesting thing’s about his past (including the unsurprising reveal that Nate was a snot-nosed teenager). Most importantly, we get to witness the first encounter between Nate and Sully, proving that their relationship is both a blessing and a curse for Nate; Sully became a father-figure for the young orphan, but turned him to a dangerous life of treasure hunting in the process. While this sequence isn’t the most fun to replay from a gameplay perspective, it’s refreshing to have a sequence in which Nate isn’t able to shoot his way out of a problem, Plus, slowing the game down gives you a chance to admire the beautiful environments Naughty Dog has created, as it’s pretty difficult to stop and gaze at the scenery when a group of mercenaries is trying to kill you, which is generally Uncharted’s default operating procedure.
8. The Pirate Cruise Ship
Although the middle section of Uncharted 3 received some criticism for feeling completely out-of-sync with the rest of the game, it offered some memorable segments all the same. The standout among these was the extended battle aboard Rameses the pirate’s cruise ship, which is a great example of Naughty Dog’s ability to create multi-faceted gameplay sections built around a dynamic environment. The cruise ship covers pretty much every part of the Uncharted experience; it starts off with a stealth section, transitions into large-scale shootouts, and ends with a frantic escape sequence as the ship is turned over in a massive storm. Sure, from a story standpoint, its contribution to the overall arc of Uncharted 3 is minimal at best, but that doesn’t takeaway from the fact that the cruise ship chapter is a blast from start to finish.
7. Mountain Convoy Chase
Uncharted is at its best when it puts players in ridiculously over-the-top action setpieces that would give action movie heroes pause, which is exactly the kind of experience Uncharted 2: Among Thieves‘ mountain convoy chase delivers. Nathan Drake somehow jumps between at least a dozen different vehicles and blow up twice as many, but despite the loose connection to the laws of physics (hey, nobody plays Uncharted for its realism) the convoy chase is such a fun sequence that you probably won’t care one bit about how implausible it is. By the time Drake snags a mounted cannon and starts unloading on vehicles in pursuit, you’ll probably have long forgotten that this is all taking place on a treacherous road high up in the Himalayan Mountains. After all, there’s only room on this mountain for one homicidal adventurer…and maybe Elena.
6. Nepalese Village Tank Pursuit
Uncharted 2 was such a leap forward over the original and the main reason for this lies with dynamic setpieces such as the tank pursuit that opens the appropriately titled “Cat and Mouse” chapter. Instead of being yet another stale shootout, “Cat and Mouse” makes things more interesting by having a tank pursue Drake relentlessly throughout the level. In a refreshing twist that has gone on to become an Uncharted staple, Nate echoes what the player must surely be thinking as things progress, such as incredulously yelling, “how am I supposed to take out a tank?!” or “Is he drunk?” in reference to the tank driver who almost drives off a cliff. It all comes together to feel like one level-spanning boss fight and by the time you fire that final RPG round and put a stop to this relentless armored vehicle, you’ll probably want to fling your controller away in celebration (but try not to; those things are expensive!).
5. Footchase in Yemen
Taking a cue from the frenetic foot chases of the Bourne movies, Uncharted 3 contains one of the greatest foot chase sequences in all of video games. Building off the strong rooftop chase seen earlier in the game during the flashback sequence, Drake’s puruist of Talbot through the streets (and rooftops) of Yemen is a taut thrillride. In retrospect, some of Drake’s animations are a bit stilted and detract from the scene’s cinematic quality, but that’s a small price to pay for such an incredible parkour sequence. Like most Uncharted levels, this one is very linear but Naughty Dog did a great job of making the whole thing feel much more open and free-form than it actually is. It seems like there are options for how to best pursue Talbot (even if there really isn’t) and like any good chase sequence, it feels like if you just time a few jumps better you’ll actually be able to catch who you’re pursuing. Too bad it all ends with Nate getting knocked out and captured because up until that point, it’s a total adrenaline rush.
4. Plane Crash
Proving that Indiana Jones isn’t Uncharted’s only source of cinematic inspiration, the death-defying cargo plane battle in Uncharted 3 is a dead ringer for a similar scene in the 1987 James Bond film The Living Daylights. In true Uncharted fashion though, the cinematic details are cranked up to 11, as Drake not only has to fight a series of goons thousands of feet above the Rub ‘al Khali desert, but miraculously snag an unconventional parachute as the plane begins exploding mid-flight. The only real complaint that we can level at this chapter is that it’s way too short. To be fair though, an airplane can only take so much gunfire before it starts blowing up all over the place, so the fact that this chapter can be completed in only a few minutes is just something we’ll have to live with. On the plus side, its short length means it’s compulsively replayable and is about as perfect a five minute encapsulation of the “Uncharted experience” as you’re going to get.
3. Desert Walk
It’s fitting that Uncharted 3‘s introspective desert scene immediately follows the epic cargo plane crash, as their juxtaposition forms arguably the strongest overall section of any Uncharted game. Drake’s long walk through the Rub’ al Khali desert never gets more complicated from a gameplay perspective than simply walking from point to point, but the thematic resonance and overall production values of this scene make it a standout across the entire series. The desert walk does an excellent job of showcasing Drake’s fear and isolation, as he is plagued by hallucinations and near-starvation. Nolan North (as usual) totally nails his line deliveries, but the real gem of this sequence’s writing is the apt use of passages from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land.” The atmosphere is so much darker than pretty much everything else in the Uncharted games that you’d be forgiven for thinking that Nathan Drake wouldn’t survive it. Uncharted may primarily be all about action, but it’s scenes like this that give the series an edge over other action-adventure gaming franchises.
2. Horseback Chase
The successor to Uncharted 2‘s mountain convoy chase, the vehicular pursuit in Uncharted 3 ups the ante considerably by expanding the scope to include a group of allies for Nate, as well as the small fact that the entire thing begins on horseback. Wearing its Raiders of the Lost Ark inspirations on its sleeve, the setpiece in Uncharted 3 is like Indy’s pursuit of the Nazis and the Ark of the Covenant on steroids…and Nate’s just trying to rescue Sully! As is typical with Uncharted’s best moments, it’s all too easy to get so caught up in the task at hand and ignore the sensational design work on display. Everything about this sequence clicks, especially in the graphical and audio departments; the Middle Eastern-themed score is stellar but it’s the visuals that really sing. There’s no other sequence this side of Uncharted 4 that better displays the graphical fidelity of this series; not to mention that shooting an assault rifle while on horseback just never gets old.
1. The Train
When one thinks of the standout moment from the Uncharted series, the train sequence from Uncharted 2 is the clear winner. An intense experience not only from a gameplay standpoint but also a development one, the train scene was so complex that Naughty Dog actually had to create new technology — which the team called the “Dynamic Object Traversal System” — to make it. In fact, this sequence took so long to design and tweak that Richard Lemarchand, the co-lead designer on Uncharted 2, cited it as the hardest thing Naughty Dog had worked on up to that point. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, because even six years later, the train scene remains one of the most stunning examples of action-adventure game design ever made. Sure, picking the train as the greatest Uncharted moment is the obvious choice but that’s simply because it’s the best. Most other games would relegate something similar to a cutscene, but Naughty Dog went ahead and pushed game design forward by making everything playable. If you’re trying to convince someone to check out the Uncharted series for the first time, the train scene is the one you should go to every time…at least until Uncharted 4 knocks our socks off with something better.
Did we forget anything? Well, we know of one setpiece in particular whose absence will cause some heat. Sound off in the comments below and let us know what some of your favorite Uncharted moments are.