Uncharted might have once been PlayStation's golden goose, but the reaction to a recent report into The Last of Us remake revealed it's curious position in the wider landscape now. News that Day's Gone developer Sony Bend were in the pre-production phase of a new Uncharted game would have almost certainly dominated headlines years ago, but now it seems to be a curious side note, nothing more than a bit of color buried under bigger revelations.
But it nevertheless offers up a tantalising glimpse of a potential future for fans. While Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier has gone on to state that this project might not exist now, he also said in a recent appearance on the MinnMax show that it was “supposed to be an Uncharted spin-off, not Uncharted 5 or something like that. For sure there will be new Uncharted games in the future, who knows if that particular one will continue. But that doesn't even mean anything, it was just paper design.”
So while it's unlikely that we'll be seeing Nate, Sully, or Elena soon, what should news that a new studio could end up tackling it mean for the series? Is its future in a major sequel to a story that Uncharted 4: A Thief's End pretty much wrapped up perfectly? Or should it be spin-offs and side stories that allow other developers to bring their own perspective to the franchise, especially as Naughty Dog's increasingly stark storytelling feels at odds with the series that made it PlayStation's premier studio.
A Thief's Return?
Let's first consider where Uncharted 4 actually left things. The game's epilogue sees Drake, Elena, and their daughter Cassie living on a secluded beach, with artifacts of their many adventures littered around their house. Cassie might have the adventuring gene – after all, there's a magazine laying around with her on the cover saying “Treasure Hunting runs in the family – but for all intents and purposes, the Drake's story is over with a pretty definitive 'happily ever after'.
It would be no surprise if an Uncharted follow-up was to swap Cassie with Nate and have her become the grinning face of globetrotting and treasure-pilfering shenanigans. The fact that she's played by Booksmart's Kaitlyn Dever in the epilogue even gives this relatively minor role a degree of contextual importance. While Dever wasn't as big a name back in 2016, she had still starred in plenty of films and shows, and had a degree of recognisability. If you were looking to build a new era of Uncharted around an actor, she would be a very strong pick, giving this section a vibe that Naughty Dog was leaving itself a thread it could pull later down the line.
A Lost Legacy
However, with Uncharted 4 turning 5 years old this year, it seems less and less likely that momentum for this type of continuation is still there. For starters, Naughty Dog's immediate follow-up was the DLC turned spin-off, The Lost Legacy. This put Chloe Frazier – the whip smart foil to Drake whose moral compass is a little looser – in the lead role with Laura Bailey's Nadine Ross. It's a mix of elaborated ideas from Uncharted 4 and greatest hits fan service, with it's finale a knowing homage to one of Uncharted 2's best set-pieces. This tone meant it felt like Naughty Dog was both trying out new ideas for moving the series forward and giving it an extended goodbye.
That feeling only intensifies when you take Naughty Dog's storytelling history into account. With the original Uncharted, the studio crafted a pulpy yarn that was light and breezy, with the character's banter helping to create instant PlayStation icons. Sequels in Uncharted 2 and 3 refined this formula, adding more complexity to it's heroes in amongst the one-liners. But Naughty Dog really came into its own with The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic tale (which I'm pretty sure you'll have heard of) that has defined the studio's output since, especially in last year's violently melancholic sequel.
Uncharted 4 sits in the middle of The Last of Us sandwich, and it's clear that the darker tone of that series found its way into Drake's world. From a focus on the strains that adventuring has taken on Drake and Elena's relationship to the introduction of Sam's estranged brother, it's a story that is arguably Drake's best – the story for once is just as memorable as the characters who take part in it – and yet, it almost feels like it's from a different series.
Let’s not forget that Naughty Dog president Evan Wells has distanced the studio from more Uncharted in the past. He told Game Informer back in 2017: "I would say that Naughty Dog doing an Uncharted after this is unlikely. I would never say never, but we've got The Last of Us Part II on our plates and there's so much other stuff that [we want to explore]. It'd be hard. If we magically had that two-team, three-team studio, sure – it'd be great to keep doing it. We really love the franchise, but the studio has limited resources and lots of other ideas. I'd say the likelihood is low."
Around the Bend
Which is why it makes sense that Sony might be looking for a new studio to take on Uncharted. It's hard to see where else a story with Nathan Drake could go unless it involves the time rewind that Sony Bend did with their PS Vita spin-off Uncharted: Golden Abyss. On top of that, Naughty Dog as a studio has moved away from the popcorn thrills of Uncharted, so would the creative appetite still be there to step away from the darkness that has earned them both critical praise and commercial success? Giving a series that has a lot of lapsed fans to a new studio could allow a fresh perspective to help move Uncharted forward in ways that wouldn't feel like the well is being returned to for the sake of it.
This is not to say that an Uncharted game without Naughty Dog is a banker. The aforementioned Golden Abyss was an impressive technical showcase for what the Vita could do, while being a thoroughly average Uncharted game. It showed how tough it can be to capture the tone of the series, from balancing Drake's charm with his bodycount to matching the series' set-pieces. You also have to consider if Sony would be willing to risk a new Uncharted game without Nathan Drake. The Lost Legacy suggests it might, but a spin-off a year after a bestseller came out if very different to a series returning after a relatively long hibernation. Drake might be the star, but it's hard to see what fertile ground is left with him after Uncharted 4's ending.
There are no easy answers for what Uncharted's future should look like. As a fan of the series, it's hard not to hope that whoever takes the reins finds a way to move Cassie Drake into the spotlight, giving a new lease of life to the story while ratcheting up the signature blockbuster thrills. At the very least, I hope a new Uncharted is capable of becoming a game that makes its own headlines for the right reasons.