Following its launch in 2007, the Uncharted series quickly became both a fan favourite and an industry benchmark.
Today, it’s one of the most-loved videogame series of all time. Pick up any Uncharted game and you know a third-person, globe-hopping, story-driven, action-filled romp is to be had every time.
Coming from Crash Bandicoot (and The Last of Us) developer, Naughty Dog, you know to expect best-in-class quality voice acting, graphical fidelity and attention to detail. Each game in the Uncharted series – now famed for high-stakes climbing, treasure hunting and cover-shooting – follows a reliable roadmap of locating a valuable or cursed treasure (or both), while simultaneously unravelling a mystery and thwarting a villain.
Having successfully established Uncharted as one of the biggest and best brands available for single-player experiences, a multiplayer mode was added alongside Uncharted 2 and this, too, quickly established a vast fanbase.
With a total of six games, including three sequels, a prequel and a spin-off, we’ve taken a quick look at each entry and put them in order, based on how good Sullivan’s moustache looks (just kidding. It’s always ten-out-of-ten).
6. Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Sony’s PlayStation Vita was a unique and powerful handheld system which needed support from major franchises to strengthen its hold on the market. Seeing the opportunity, Sony assigned its Bend Studio to create a bespoke version of its hottest property. Uncharted: Golden Abyss was designed to take full advantage of the Vita’s unique selling points, including both the touchscreen and rear touchpad.
It’s unfortunate that this list has to start somewhere, as Golden Abyss is a well-paced and well-made title; it’s only really let down by a lacklustre story (at least compared to the mainline titles) and the integration of those Vita functions. As far as the Vita’s library goes, Golden Abyss remains one of the best games on the system – but it still pales in comparison to the mainline entries of the Uncharted series.
We’d love to see Uncharted: Golden Abyss remastered for home consoles, and making its way to a larger market – but how likely that is remains to be seen. Given that we’re now a full decade on from its release and with no news of a celebratory “anniversary” edition in sight, it seems, unfortunately, increasingly doubtful.
5. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
The first entry in the series was an early console exclusive for PlayStation 3 and was warmly received by both fans and critics. Some criticism at the time was that this was just a male-fronted Tomb Raider – and on the surface, it’s easy to see why. But dig a little deeper, and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is much more than that.
As a series, Uncharted is as much about its characters as it is about action or its bombastic set-pieces – and this was evident right from the start. Nathan Drake had a purpose for his tomb raiding; he wanted to prove his lineage as a member of the Sir Francis Drake bloodline. Alongside him was Victor Sullivan, a fiercely loyal, cunning and experienced companion, and Elena Fisher, a documentarian, love interest and most certainly not a damsel in distress. Elena quickly proved that she was more than capable of holding her own and saving Drake’s bacon – which she continued to do not only in this entry, but across the whole series.
At this stage of Uncharted’s life, its cinematic flair was only hinted at a handful of times: the jeep crashing into the waterfall; wooden scaffolding collapsing beneath your feet. Instead, at this early stage, the gameplay, environments and characters were the developer’s focus. Each had been designed well enough to secure a sequel, kicking off this now-legendary series.
4. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
We were first introduced to Chloe Frazer in Uncharted 2 where she was something of an unknown agent; superb writing kept players guessing as to her true allegiance throughout the game. While most of us were fairly sure she was a friend, not foe, by the time Uncharted 3 wrapped up, it was never a safe bet. And in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, Nathan Drake stepped aside to allow someone else to take the leading role., Here, Frazer teamed up with Uncharted 4 antagonist (but not really) Nadine Ross, where the two set off on their own treasure-hunting adventure.
Once again, Naughty Dog shines through in the writing of its characters. This is a spin-off title which doesn’t feature the original, popular, titular protagonist, but it manages to be just as beloved and entertaining.
Uncharted 4 was a visual and technical showcase, and releasing just one year later, Lost Legacy continued that trend. The power of the PS4 allowed the Uncharted universe to be further deepened; it showed us the beauty and vibrancy of India and brought new meaning to what expansions or DLC could be. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy has a running time around twice what some other, fully-fledged, titles might boast and every minute features a new and intense firefight, sight to behold or genuinely enjoyable puzzle to solve.
3. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Having already secured its place as an industry-leader, developer Naughty Dog was showing its confidence in both its own technical ability, and the success of the the Uncharted series so far. Uncharted 3 is a technical showpiece; arriving in the mid-to-late lifecycle of the PS3, it showed there was plenty of life left in its cell processor as it squeezed every drop of power from it.
Drake’s Deception doubled-down on existing characters, bringing back those we loved most, but also added new, likeable heroes and villains. Seeing the origin of Nate and Sully’s companionship now felt earned and we were invested enough to fully appreciate the backstory of each character. With it came context and heartfelt meaning to even the smallest moments from earlier games (“Hey look, Sully, it’s your first car!”).
The locales featured were, once again, not only original but breathtaking. Flying high above the Rub al Khali desert in a disintegrating cargo plane; sleuthing around a forgotten underground railway station beneath London’s grimy streets; slapping enemies with a fish in a dusty Yemen street market. Each leg of your journey was more compelling than the last, as the team hopped around the globe in their attempts to best yet another interesting and memorable character: Bond-style villain Marlowe.
2. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Uncharted 3 was a tough act to follow. How on Earth could Naughty Dog hope to capture lightning in a bottle for the fourth time in a row?
In a bold move, it added yet another interesting and fleshed-out character: Drake’s own brother, Sam. In perhaps Naughty Dog’s only misstep in the series, his character is introduced as crucial to Nate’s life, yet was never mentioned in the series before. But in making the effort to add a fleshed-out backstory to explain this, rather than asking gamers to just go with it, Sam rightfully earned his place in the universe.
In addition to new characters, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End introduced new gameplay mechanics, like the grappling hook and a new level of verticality in combat, to keep gameplay fresh. There were also almost photo-realistic vistas to be seen; the Savannah is the one that stays in the mind, but Scotland’s heather-coated moorland and Madagascar’s dense and damp rainforest aren’t far behind.
Facial animations were ramped up too, adding a new dimension to the story. Every nuanced movement of the actor was carefully captured to deepen players’ connections to the characters. Once again, Uncharted showed the world just how immersive and impressive videogames could be.
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The word “perfect” is rarely used in the videogame industry, with all the hyperbole attached to it. Maybe “superb”, “outstanding” or even “almost perfect” are often more appropriate – but as far as sequels go, we’re not afraid to say that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was and is perfect. This is, without a doubt, the best Uncharted game. So far, anyway.
While Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune introduced us to Nate, Sully and Elena and their world of treasure hunting, intrigue and mystery, Uncharted 2 elevated that to a new level entirely. We saw not only the introduction of Chloe Frazer and Harry Flynn but also the evolution of characters we thought we already knew. We saw Nathan Drake learning from his betrayal by Flynn; Elena was now an investigative journalist on her own adventure; and even Sully found it in himself to part with his treasure to secure Nate’s release from a Turkish prison.
Beginning with the epic climb up the crashed train carriage, it was clear from the outset that the blink-and-you’ll-miss-them action set-pieces of Drake’s Fortune were a distant memory. Instead, they’d been replaced by train-top gunfights, out-of-control personnel carriers and mountain village-levelling tank battles. Small-scale gun battles had become sprawling, open areas with several different enemy and weapon types, meaning each fight was its own puzzle with a specific solution. Even traversal was amped up; simple ledges to shimmy across were replaced with the now-infamous climbing sections, seeing Drake hoisting his way up the side of a hotel before falling out of the other side of it as it collapsed around him under helicopter fire.
The crescendo of Among Thieves sees Drake scarpering across the collapsing columns of Shambala. This was so fresh and unique; a fitting, dramatic and tense spectacle to end the game. Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy’s technical prowess may have shored up the series for its future into further spin-offs, but the true spirit of the series has never been more prevalent than in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.