The Last of Us directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley are now in charge of Uncharted 4. What lessons can Nathan Drake learn from Naughty Dog’s newer IP?
One of the PlayStation 3’s defining franchises, Uncharted’s success isn’t just about how pretty the techno-wizards at Naughty Dog can make a pretend world. Uncharted introduced us to a new kind of action gaming, where the shooting got equal time with story-telling and exploration in a way we’d not really seen before. If you haven’t played the three games to date, you really should; although the impact of Naughty Dog’s achievement is sadly diminished by countless imitators popping up in the interim.
The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s second major property of the past generation, learnt a lot from Uncharted. Naughty Dog made Sony’s console sing louder and more tunefully than ever before, and brought all its expertise with vocal direction and motion capture to the fore. But it wrapped it in a grimmer story and world, and hammered out a new kind of action gameplay focused on stealth and survival. And gamers lapped it up.
Now that Amy Hennig has left Naughty Dog, the developer has tapped The Last of Us creative directors Neil Druckmann to lead Uncharted 4, the developer’s first PlayStation 4 game – which we’re calling Uncharted 4 and Uncharted PS4 until Sony blesses us with an actual title. This provides a really interesting opportunity for Naughty Dog to take what it learned from The Last of Us and import that back into Uncharted. So what lessons do we think Druckmann and Straley should bring with them to Uncharted 4?
Make us care about the story.
In past Uncharted games, I never really keep up with the plot. Drake is looking for treasure. Some baddies come along. Something supernatural happens. Boss fight, credits close on a romantic scene. Everyone finishes their popcorn and goes home happy.
If Uncharted is Indiana Jones, The Last of Us was The Road. We definitely don’t want to see Uncharted 4 emulate The Last of Us in that regard; Nathan Drake is a funny guy, and Uncharted 4 should maintain a light, humorous tone if it wants to keep fans on board and maintain its unique voice. Nevertheless, The Last of Us did something really special that Uncharted 4 could stand to take on board: it made us really, really care.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Nathan, Elena, Sully and whatever the one voiced by Morrigan from Dragon Age is called, and I don’t want to see them arbitrarily killed off to pluck my heartstrings, but I would like to feel a more palpable sense of danger than “the Spanish have turned into zombies and also there are mercenaries for some reason”.
Make it hard.
I’m not the world’s best shooter, so I remember struggling a little in some sequences in the first Uncharted before they refined the controls a little for the multiplayer-friendly Uncharted 2. I also recall a few puzzles across the three games that annoyed me briefly, and a couple of nasty difficulty spikes in certain action sequences. But overall, unless you turn the difficulty up all the way, the Uncharted franchise isn’t exactly a challenging affair.
That’s not a bad thing, and of course that’s why we have difficulty settings at all, but in Uncharted 4 we’d like some of the sense of problem solving and tactics found in The Last of Us. In Uncharted, “puzzle solving” usually amounted to finding the interactive items in the environment and looking for the next telegraphed leap in a jumping sequence. Battles were a case of moving through cover zones and popping fools who rarely managed to lob a grenade at you.
Meanwhile, in The Last of Us, every single battle encounter presented you with options and choices, and sometimes these choices were tough – or at least, felt tough. Do I have enough ammo to take these guys out? Am I quick enough to stealth this? Is it worth trying to grab those resources? And of course my personal favourite: what do I do now that everything has gone to shit?