Uncharted Without Naughty Dog Isn’t Uncharted

A recent leak suggested that Uncharted could be set to be rebooted with a different studio taking over the series, with help from Naughty Dog. That may or may not be true. Whether or not that specific leak ends up being correct, it is almost certain that Sony will dust off the brand in the next few years.

Naughty Dog has moved on from their franchises before, handing over the keys to Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter to other developers and never looking back (though The Last of Us did begin life as a new Jak and Daxter). And, more recently, in the absence of anything new from Naughty Dog, the developer had a (relatively) small in-house team develop a remake of The Last of Us.

Sony has already done something similar for Nathan Drake, releasing Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection on PS5 and PC this year. The publisher will, undoubtedly, want to make more games in any successful series and Uncharted isn't just a successful series. It is the series that has shaped modern linear single-player triple-A games more than any other. Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter were popular platformers; Uncharted is the blueprint for much of the current era of gaming.

That may not seem true at first, and if it doesn't, it's likely because Uncharted doesn't seem to have added that much to the formula that was already present in earlier action games. The first God of War, for example, had linear levels broken up by combat and platforming, and told its story through cinematics. That was in 2005, two years before Uncharted. But Uncharted, arguably, codified the framework and added to it. Its structure wasn't dissimilar from something like God of War, but its version was characterized by a combination of increasingly photorealistic graphics, spectacular set-pieces, and down-to-earth characterization. It was the kind of game that people would point to as being "like playing a movie."

In-house, other Sony properties like The Last of Us, post-2018 God of War, Horizon Zero Dawn, Ghost of Tsushima, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Stray, and Days Gone have all built on Uncharted’s cinematic presentation and gameplay. Its DNA is also present in many games made outside the Sony stable. Final Fantasy 7 Remake, The Callisto Protocol, A Plague Tale: Requiem, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, and post-2013 Tomb Raider all owe much of their design to the template that Uncharted established.

If you’re making a linear triple-A game with a focus on story, you are either accepting or rejecting the Uncharted framework. There are variations to what can be done within it — God of War is focused on stylized action combat, The Last of Us emphasizes stealth; GOTG is more contained, Spider-Man is open-world — but all of these games owe their bones to Nathan Drake's brand of action-adventure.

When you ask a studio to reboot Uncharted, you aren’t just asking them to reboot a popular and technically impressive game, though that would be difficult enough on its own. You're also asking them, on the first try, to create something that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the series that most triple-A games are already emulating. That's tough for any team. Sony might be wise to just let Uncharted wait until Naughty Dog decides they want another crack at it. That day might never come, but that's a risk they should be willing to take.

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