Naughty Dog wasn’t always considered the cream of the AAA development crop until the Uncharted franchise rolled along. While the Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter franchises are looked upon fondly (perhaps a result of rose-tinted glasses), it wasn’t until Nathan Drake came into the public’s eye that Naughty Dog became arguably the best developer in the business. Now that the mainline Uncharted franchise has come to an end, it’s time to look back at Naughty Dog’s accomplishments in the best way we know how: an entirely subjective set of rankings.
Before diving into this list, it’s worth noting that it will contain five entries, despite Naughty Dog only developing four games in the Uncharted franchise. Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the Vita entry from Sony Bend Studio, is meaty and significant enough to warrant a place on this list.
5. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
Being the worst Uncharted game is kind of like being last in your class at Harvard: at the end of the day, you’re sill great in a sea of outstanding. Despite the fact that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the first entry in the heralded franchise, ranks at the bottom of our list, it still has a ton going for it. By establishing the comradery between this lovable band of vagabonds, Naughty Dog was able to set the stage for the amazing events that follow (especially those in Uncharted 4). Still, its gameplay stands as the weakest of the bunch, giving the term “shooting gallery” a whole new meaning. Combine this with what amounts to the weakest plot in the series and some god-awful Sixaxis controls (thankfully these were removed from the Nathan Drake Collection) and you have a title that feels its age more and more with each passing day.
4. Uncharted: Golden Abyss
The fact that what amounts to a Vita spin-off didn’t end up on the bottom of the list is likely the biggest shocker you’ll see in this particular article. The hallmark of Sony’s early plan to make the Vita a device that gives users a console experience on the go, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is still a must-play title on Sony’s handheld. Sure, there are definitely some rough spots (namely the forced use of all of the Vita’s different features), but thanks to an awesome portable control scheme and a story that felt like it was at least on par with the rest of the core franchise makes Sony Bend’s entry into the Uncharted franchise a worthy play for fans of our lovable murderous protagonist. Still, it’s hard to rank Golden Abyss higher than fourth considering that it features a host of forgettable side characters and the aforementioned launch-day Vita features.
3. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Now, if this was a list that was built around personal taste and not pure quality, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception would swap places with the next entry on this list. However, if we take a look at things through a slightly less subjective (but still fairly subjective) lens, it’s tough to say that every single risk that Naughty Dog took with Uncharted 3 paid off. Sure, the Young Drake sequence was one of the studio’s finest curveballs to date, and the central antagonists are arguably the finest in the entire series. Still, the fact that the campaign’s single-craziest twist was shot down with basic “it was just a dream” logic sullied what could have been an even better core story. Flaws aside, Uncharted 3 is still a borderline masterpiece that gets far too much flak for its own good, especially when you consider the power of the twists and turns that make this psychedelic thriller into the fine, fine game that it is.
2. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
The Uncharted 3 vs. Uncharted 2 debate will go on for as long as Naughty Dog is in business, but there are certain things about the second game in the franchise that are hard to deny. First and foremost, this is the title that showed the world that Naughty Dog had taken a step up; without the path forged by Uncharted 2, we wouldn’t have impeccable titles like The Last of Us and the final entry on this list. The action was non-stop, the story felt more robust and that train scene remains one of the best gameplay sequences of last generation. The love triangle between Chloe, Elena and Nate began the franchise shift from a cheesy Indiana Jones-style thriller series to a cheesy Indiana Jones-style thriller series overflowing with humanity. The one knock against Uncharted 2 is certainly that awful final fight against Lazarević, but that blemish is certainly not enough to ruin what is likely one of the all-time classics in the action-adventure genre.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Could it be any other way?
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End somehow managed to live up to the insane expectations set upon it by the gaming world, which seems borderline impossible. The most gorgeous console game of all time, Uncharted 4 injects even more humanity into its plot, which feels far more emotional and resonant than any other title in the franchise. It’s tough to get into why this particular entry has the best narrative the franchise has seen to date without spoiling anything, but let’s just say that the use of flashbacks and what essentially amounts to a perfect ending play a major role in that discussion. Speaking of that ending, never before has Uncharted been the type of game that has the potential to bring tears to your eyes, but the sheer beauty of its epilogue cannot be understated. From a gameplay perspective, the increased emphasis on open areas and stealth made the combat feel far more dynamic, and the environmental variation seen in the finale allowed Naughty Dog to showcase its knack for designing some of the best game-worlds in the industry. Uncharted 4 manages to live up to the hype in essentially every way imaginable and it’s a clear sign that Naughty Dog’s trajectory is somehow continuing to trend upwards.