Uncharted 4 debuted earlier this month to critical acclaim. The highly anticipated finale to Nathan Drake’s story has been a title long in the making, and boy did it not disappoint. Uncharted 4 is the series high watermark, and that’s saying something given two of the previous games are considered among the prior console generations best.
Indeed, even in the face of immense pressure Naughty Dog have shrugged off the heavy weight of expectation and produced a game that surpasses what had come before. Uncharted 4 really is a superb achievement and a perfect icing on the cake for a series that has been universally adored for years. Naughty Dog just doesn’t seem to miss, constantly redefining what the video gaming medium is capable of in regards to cinematics, presentation and narrative.
Of course, the big question now is which direction Naughty Dog goes in terms of a new project. Let’s ignore the mad calls for a Crash Bandicoot reboot (yes, even despite that awesome Easter egg in Uncharted 4) and suppose that the obvious next move for Naughty Dog would be to focus their efforts to create The Last Of Us 2. In fact, given the critical and commercial success of the first game, you’d probably wager that the studio already has a follow-up title in development.
Arguably Naughty Dog’s best game, a sequel to The Last Of Us perhaps carries even more in the way of expectation than even Uncharted 4 had. After the emotional and shocking ending to the first game, there’s certainly cause for trepidation that a second wouldn’t be able to reach the same heights or even spoil the series completely. Yet, if the way in which Naughty Dog have handled Uncharted 4 is anything to go by, gamers should have no fear that they’re going to be able to pull it off. In fact, Uncharted 4 actually provides somewhat of a case study for how they might go about expanding upon some of The Last Of Us’ gameplay mechanics. Moreover, Uncharted 4’s compelling story reminds us why we should have faith in their ability to do justice to the franchise from a narrative perspective also.
One of the key points of interest in the build up to Uncharted 4’s launch was how much Naughty Dog would incorporate various systems from The Last Of Us and to what effect that would have on gameplay. Uncharted 4 is certainly a step above what we’ve seen from other entries in the series; its gunplay is tighter, platforming far more intuitive and there is a smoothness to its general controls that is of a higher standard than the PlayStation 3 titles. Most interesting, however, is the greater emphasis on stealth combat that encourages player choice and strategy when approaching enemy encounters. It feels very much like a watered down version of what we saw in The Last Of Us, right down to the way in which your companion will stay out of sight and assist with stealth until spotted. The larger sandbox environments too and the ability for players to navigate their way through areas in more than one way isn’t something we’ve seen in an Uncharted game. Indeed, it is a direct lineage from the developers experience with The Last Of Us.
Refreshingly, the additions to Uncharted 4’s gameplay were entirely appropriate, and that is perhaps the key outcome of this hybridization of The Last Of Us and Uncharted’s gameplay features; Naughty Dog didn’t shoehorn in new mechanics for the sake of it. We simply didn’t need weapon upgrades or real time crafting in an Uncharted game, and credit needs to be issued to the studio for understanding completely. After all, it would have been easy to start including a host of more detailed RPG systems to bulk out Uncharted’s gameplay.
We’ve seen other developers do that recently, and that hasn’t worked out too well, with those games rather losing their direction in the process. In the case of Uncharted, the game is adored for its Indiana Jones style action, its simplicity and story driven gameplay; adding weapon upgrades and crafting wouldn’t have felt appropriate at all. The crux of the point is that Naughty Dog was acutely aware of that, and the way in which they’ve kept things consistent is perhaps a comforting indication that The Last Of Us 2 isn’t in danger is straying too far from the formulae that worked so effectively in the first title.
Surely the biggest talking point in regards to The Last Of Us 2 is how to go about the games story and whether the game would see a return of the characters from the first title. There’s certainly strong case to be made for leaving Joel and Ellie’s adventure the way it ended in The Last Of Us, but if there’s a writing team that can pull off a fitting sequel to the original it’s Neil Druckman and co. Just look at Uncharted 4, it easily has the most compelling of the all the stories in the franchise, creating a convincing tale of adventure that nods its hat to previous games but still manages to hold up perfectly well as a standalone game. What’s more, Uncharted 4’s story is totally different from previous games in the series. It’s a much grittier, darker narrative that has evolved significantly from the more whimsical offerings of Uncharted 2 and 3. It shows an impressive ability to innovate and adapt.
Naughty Dog seems to be getting better creating these narrative arc’s that have gamers gripped from start to finish, and that’s not a trend you see often in video games. Uncharted 4 introduces a new character and compels us to become emotionally connected with him. Sure, Sam might not be on the same level as Sully and Elaina, but the games superlative writing and fleshing out of his backstory invests us in the character with impressive speed. Apparently, narrative in video games is an art form that Naughty Dog has seemingly mastered.
Uncharted 4 is a magnificent achievement and something to be celebrated, but it has also given us so many reasons to be excited for The Last Of Us 2. Naughty Dog continues to outdo themselves, once again proving that they are unrivalled in the action adventure genre, especially in regards to presentation and narrative. The Last Of Us is still their best game, but that’s like saying The Shawkshank Redemption is better than The Force Awakens. It is, but only because one is a deeply emotional, poignant story of survival and friendship; it’s always going to trump a blockbuster action flick, even if the latter does have a compelling story.
The Last Of Us 2 is a platform for Naughty Dog to expand on all the clever gameplay mechanics of the original, to marry the smooth gunplay and streamlined action of Uncharted, and to once again redefine the potential of video gaming narrative. With that in mind, who would bet against Naughty Dog producing the definitive title of this console generation with The Last Of Us 2?