A Personal Ranking of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted Campaigns

Early December, 2020, I played through all 5 Uncharted games made by Naughty Dog, just in time to “celebrate” the developer’s big wins in the Game Awards. I tried to write separate reviews for the 5 games, but the binge had blended them together in my mind so much, I decide to instead make a ranked list of those 5, counting from my favorite.

List items

  • The Only One That I Genuinely Like

    My Uncharted binge really ended on a high note. After a game I actively despise and 3 I have mixed feeling about, 2017’s Lost Legacy is the only Uncharted game I genuinely like. This short game did a lot of things from the Last of Us in a way I prefer.

    The scripted sniper alley in Last of Us? Lost Legacy has sandbox moments when Chole Frazer can sneak into a vantage point, take down the sniper there and then shoot everyone else in the arena with the sniper rifle. Giraffes in Last of Us? Lost Legacy has elephants, and meeting them made me go “Guess I’m killing bad guys for those creature as well” while the Giraffe moment went nowhere in Last of Us. Troy Baker playing a complete asshole? Try being the comic relief while two badass lady being cool, that’s what I call real gender representation.

    Lost Legacy is essentially a PS3 Uncharted game in terms of its length compared to A Thief’s End being a “epic”. It has a tomb raider in Chole Frazer who actually has a deeper connection to the tombs she raids here. Without Nathan Drake “the American asshole” in picture, Chole Frazer and Nadine Ross have a very good female friendship story going for them. There is even a John Woo’s Killer moment in there when Chole calling Nadine a good hunter and Nadine calling her not bad as a mercenary.

    If this indeed turn out to be Naughty Dog’s final Uncharted game, they went out with a boom. Though with the cynic Neil Drukmann being their co-president, there are all the opportunities in the world to fuck it up...

  • The One That Is Honest About What It Is

    (Played as part of Nathan Drake Collection)

    Uncharted games might have better developed female characters, but their stories are ultimately about men. Like Nathan and Sam bonding as long lost brothers in A Thief’s End, how the leading Drake see Sully as his father figure is the emotional core of Drake’s Deception. So much so that the women are sidelined in the last Uncharted on PS3. I mean Elena Fisher at least is on a quest to get her husband back in A Thief’s End.

    Uncharted games are also more about action adventure than the human condition. Drake Deception also provide a ton of action, hustle, heist, foot chase, car chase, gun fight, fist fight...Anything makes action movie fun. Among Thieves might be remembered as character study, but Drake’s Deception just said to its face, “No, mate. We are just action game with more talking bit and variety”.

    One complaint though. Those beefy brawlers that cannot be gunned down feels out of place. Spec Op the Line has a similar type of enemy, but present them as skinny man capable of dodging bullets. Here, they are just big men wearing a shirt, pumping rounds into their torso would not do a thing. A quick-time event is needed to take them down. Drake’s Deception almost got rid of the awkward shall-I-brawl-or-shall-I-shoot enemy AI of its predecessors. But adding this bullshit just make it as lousy.

  • The One That Won A Bunch of Awards

    (Played as part of Nathan Drake Collection)

    There are Game of the Year held up years after its release, like Okami or Super Mario Galaxy that are mechanically sound and graphically stylish. Then there is the lot Uncharted 2 Among Thieves belongs to. They won awards for feeling “state of the art” when they were released, and for someone who picked them up say 11 years after the award, they just ain’t that impressive.

    Drake’s Fortune has the excuse of being Naughty Dogs first cover-based shooter and released in 2007 when everyone else was figuring out that thing out. Among Thieves’ combat in 2009 just look pale compared to 2008 releases like GTA 4, MGS4 and Gears 2, while 2010’s Mass Effect 2, not a top notch action game itself, can mop the floor with it. Story wise, it picked up the half-bitten Captain Sky and the World of Tomorrow sandwich left by the first game, chewed it up, add some grid meat and spit it out.

    At least it replaced the combo getting you more ammo bullshit of the 2007 original with stealth takedown getting you bonus ammo.

  • The One That Began Everything

    (Played as part of Nathan Drake Collection)

    Uncharted series from its beginning feels like mascot platformers trying to be a cover-based shooter. Too bad its sequels didn’t improve much on that front. I personally does not feel any ludonarrative dissonance about Nathan Drake gunning down people in the hundreds, because he simply feel like any cinematic “American assholes” that I found hard to sympathize with in 2020. Of course they would gun down that many people at the drop of the hat.

    The story feel like a “rip off” of 2004’s overlooked sci-fi movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, starring an adventurous leading man and his lady reporter love interest with blonde hair. Maybe the narrative team of Naughty Dog just took from the same old pulpy source as that movie’s creative leads. The only difference in Uncharted is that the male lead here is actually a bubbling idiot while Elena Fisher has her shit together. Guess that would give Naughty Dog the repetition of writing women better in this business.

  • The One That Was Cynically Well-made

    Sharing creative lead with the Last of Us in co-writer and co-director Neil Drukmann, A Thief’s End is easily my least favorite Uncharted. Both games have great craftsmanship in them, but all that is seemingly in service of cynical award baiting.

    The intention to “elevate” a pulpy summer blockbuster into a prestige drama is way too obvious. I mean I enjoyed Troy Baker’s performance as the even bigger douche bag Sam Drake, but the game just got unnecessarily long with his story mixed in it. The least they can do is cutting some shootout out, they are not good at doing those to begin with anyway.

    Ending with an epilogue set years after the main story, I felt more relief than sadness that the story of Nathan Drake is over.

  • Dishonorable Mention and the One That Never Was

    Now the reason why I even bothered to play any Uncharted game. Vice’ Rob Zacny has scoured every AAA action game he reviewed in 2020, yet he couldn’t stop praising the Order 1886, a loathed by many PS4 exclusive, on Waypoint Radio. To shut up my inner Zacny voice, I paid the high high price of about 12 US dollars for a second hand copy and played it.

    In short, the Order is a bad Uncharted wannabe. Even the biggest similarity between it and Naughty Dog’s beloved treasure hunting series I found is a negative one: the characters are animated in a way that it is often hard to tell if enemies are killed or not. Zacny’s praise focus on how the game is self-reflection of a shitty cop. But that theme combined with an action game just finding excuse for player to fight something, the whole story just goes in circles until its non-ending. If it’s a comment on how meaningless violence is, it succeeded.

    The studio Ready At Dawn didn’t even bother to create a sense of closure for their console debut. Whether it’s their own hubris or someone up the corp chain pulling the plug, I don’t know. But I have to agree with “main stream naysayers” like Tyrell of IGN, Jeff of Giantbomb and Kevin formerly of Gamepot, Order is just not a good game. Any redemptive quality it has is all in people’s imagination.

    With this loathed PS4 exclusive with no sense of closure in my mind, I started to seek some beloved PS4 exclusives with sense of closure by their ends. That led me to Uncharted games. For its effort and ambition, Order does belong on a ranked list for Uncharted games. So here, it gets a dishonorable mention.

    P.S. 2020, with Supergiants’ Hades going 1.0, reminded me that Ready At Dawn had done Persephone, queen of underworld in Greek myth, very dirty by making her a generic final boss in God of War Chain of Olympus on PSP. That is a decision in line with God of War series’ shitty gender politic. Guess the Order’s gender representation is at least a step up from that.

  • (Dis)honorable Mention and the One Came after

    I got something I need to get off my chest about the Last of Us, a game I dislike so much I felt really happy when hearing its sequel got scoured on both Giantbomb and Vice. The last item on a ranked list of Uncharted games seem the appropriate place to do so. Before you accuse me of not playing enough of that game, just hear me out.

    In a parallel universe where I only played the Last of Us once in December, 2014, this first party swan song of PS3 would have been among my favorite games of all time. But we don’t live there. In the universe we do live in, I hit New Game + shortly after I beat the game and whatever affection I had for the game just melted away.

    Seeing Joel’s biological daughter killed before the apocalypse that soon after he got a new daughter in Ellie by the very end just grossed me out. All that Joel telling Ellie that he is not her dad and Ellie telling him she is not his daughter just felt like bullshit after ends of game met. Then there is the segment I would love to call Long Summer In Pittsburgh, in which boil-plate zombie fiction and way too worn out video game design made a dreadful experience. The rest of game after that felt better to go through, but my enjoyment had been ruined.

    My second playthrough of the Last of Us on PS3 began in January, 2015 and didn’t end until that June, merely days before I got my PS4. It turned me against Naughty Dog so much I didn’t play another one of their games until December, 2020. Whenever I express my dislike for Last of Us, the internet as a whole would threat to eat me alive. The angry questions range from “How dare you hate my favorite game?” to the simple “Why?”. Hopefully you all find the previous 2 paragraphs a satisfying enough answer.

    P.S. The only nice thing I can say about the Last of Us is that it finally feels like a modern third person action instead of a mascot platformer. Kudos to Naughty Dog for walking out of their old trap.