The third-person perspective action-adventure game series Uncharted packs a real punch with each game. The classic platforming games follow the adventures of Nathan Drake, a fortune hunter, along with a variety of companions. Although the franchise has some spin-offs, this article focuses on ranking games one through four.
As an extremely casual gamer without a PlayStation (seriously, I only have a Nintendo Switch right now), I wasn’t able to experience these games with a controller in hand. Instead, I watched playthroughs by Julien Solomita on his YouTube channel “julien 2.” Since I only watched them, I included the first video of each playthrough for each entry. I’m hoping one day I’ll be able to play them instead of watching–particularly the standalone story Uncharted: The Lost Legacy following Chloe and Nadine, considering Julien hasn’t done that yet–but in the meantime, Twitch streamers and YouTubers like Julien open a whole new world of gaming to people like me.
As usual, this article goes from worst to best. Each entry has major spoilers for the games!
4. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
Sitting in the fourth spot, I have a lot to dislike about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. On its own, the game isn’t terrible, but when stacked up against the other three, glaring faults leave it as the worst game of the franchise. The storyline is the least clear of the others, with less of a straightforward focus and more jumping around. This is the first game to delve into Nathan Drake’s backstory, which I thought was a good move to give more depth and background to Nate. However, I found the execution poor. They keep a lot in the dark and only give information slowly throughout the game, mostly relevant to the main villain, Marlowe. It was great to see how Nate met Sully, though. Personally, I think Uncharted 4 is more successful in incorporating backstory.
I wanted to enjoy the villainy of Marlowe, but I felt it was overplayed and confusing. I also didn’t care for the secondary and minor villains either: Talbot, Rameses, and the djinn. Rameses was a weird distraction from the main plot; it felt like his defeat was way too quick. If anything, the plot itself was my least favorite of the four games. It doesn’t have a smooth line throughout, hopping from city to flashback to a sinking ship to a plane to a desert in different orders. While the other Uncharted games tended to jump locations too, they had clearer purposes behind the changes. All these locations in Uncharted 3 felt randomized and shoved together to make it as “interesting” and “different” as possible. The inclusion of the hallucinogens, both from Marlowe and the infected water fountain, also weren’t my favorite and further complicated all of the scene shifts. I’m not the type of person who enjoys being confused when playing a game, especially when it happens so many times. The hallucinating plotline also felt tired after the second time they used it.
It’s also only fair to mention that my ranking is affected by the absence of Elena. She does show up later in the game and play a role, but even when she does, some subtlety between her and Nate left me confused. While I caught on that Nate and Elena must have been in a more serious relationship after the second game, I assumed the rings referred to engagement, then a breakup. After looking it up, I understood they were separated (but not officially divorced, I don’t think) in this game, not broken up. I’m sure other players might have realized it, but because of how implicit and not explicit it was, I feel it further proves the unclear aspects of Drake’s Deception. I do admit that the end scene where they reunite and Sully gives Nate his wedding band back was cute, especially when they threw in a callback to the first game by showing Sully with a new plane!
3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves starts with a bang, literally. The startling beginning hooks the audience with this life-or-death scenario: an injured Nathan Drake has to escape an exploded train hanging off a cliff. Not only that but a new reoccurring character is introduced soon after, when time rewinds and shows you how Nate got to that particular situation. The introduction of Chloe gave me a complicated feeling, considering she was quickly shown to be one of Nate’s love interests. If anything, I think this confused me, causing me to wonder if Elena wasn’t going to be included in the franchise anymore and was replaced by Chloe. I’m not the biggest fan of this love triangle either, which might be the main reason why I have this game in third place instead of second.
Among Thieves has more to offer as a game though, with a cohesive storyline and more interesting side characters. It’s not that I disliked it or have a lot to complain about, but I liked the ones in first and second more. I thought the double agent role that Chloe was playing made the narrative better, especially when you kept wondering whether she was serious and where her loyalty would lie in the end. As much as I love Elena more, I also think it was good to have another female character who was almost her opposite in attitude and selfishness. Not all the world (of Uncharted) can be the selfless treasure hunters that Nate and Elena are. It makes sense that Chloe is more of a gray-aligned character when you compare her against both our main couple and any of the villains of this game. Harry as a villain is a little forgettable honestly; I’m more inclined to remember Lazarević because of his overall presence and the final boss fight.
Another great element of Uncharted 2 was the integration of the Tibetan village and the side character, Tenzin. Not only is it fun to have a new companion for Nate to quest with for a chapter or two, but it further shows the humanity of others alongside the treasure hunters. The adventure they go on, scaling the icy caves for the truth of Shamballa and the Cintamani Stone, is intriguing considering they don’t speak the same language either. Other than Nate’s amusing remarks about communication, it was good to see them using body language and gestures to complete the mission. My heart constricted when they returned to find the village attacked by Lazarević and his people; the stakes are always higher when innocent people are involved.
The ending battle between Nate and Lazarević was good as well, showing its difference from the first game in allowing Lazarević to become a nearly invincible enemy by drinking sap from the Tree of Life, the real prize of Shamballa. Having to navigate jumping from spot to spot, while turning back to shoot at the explosive blue resin made this boss fight more intricate. Now after all is said and done, and Shamballa is reduced to exploded rubble, a tender scene between Nate and Elena plays. If you’ve played or watched all the games, you know that this is the staple ending of each game. While this moment is nice, it loses some of its sweetness when you take the third game into account. I’m pleased that he chooses Elena over Chloe, sure, but with two more games, this isn’t the ending point of their relationship at all.
2. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune
I’m as surprised as anyone that the original game only made it to the second spot in my ranking, considering how high I usually rate “firsts” of a series, but once you get to number one you’ll understand why. In the meantime, Drake’s Fortune deserves the number two spot because it’s the game that started it all, not just Nate’s journey but Sully’s and Elena’s too. You get to know the dynamic between all the characters quickly, especially the beloved banter between Nate and Elena. The arrogant self-assured Nathan is still likable, even when he and Sully abandon Elena thinking she’d bring too many people towards El Dorado with her press. His care for Sully (who initially seems to have been killed) and Elena is admirable and redeems his recklessness.
Since it’s the first game, the shock of a supernatural element was enough to get me hooked on the series and realize this game was more than just a treasure hunt. This twist sets the precedent for the rest of the series too, showing that all the “treasures” are not what they appear. In this game, the statue is the curse itself, causing anyone who finds it to become a mutated human. These mutated humans become threats alongside the others, Eddy, Roman, and Navarro. Finding Francis Drake’s body in the midst of all of this is an excellent moment for the namesake, Nathan Drake. It works as a mirror to Nate’s character, proving simultaneously that Francis had more of a conscience than perhaps thought, as does Nate. At the very end, realizing the danger of the artifact, Nate sinks both Navarro (the real villain all along) and the cursed statue, so its evil can never be waged like war.
This game also has a lot of great scenes other than the ending fight scene. For example, as Nate and Elena are under anti-aircraft fire, they are forced to leave via parachute, getting separated in the process. Although you know Nate will survive, his fall from the plane still elicits an adrenaline-pumping panic. During another cutscene, where we learn more about the opposing side, Elena breaks Nate out of jail by pulling a wall out with her jeep. In that same spot, Nate snatches the map from one of his adversary’s hands, giving a cheeky little moment to cut the surprise of the jailbreak. As I’ve mentioned, Uncharted is very good at the final scenes; in Drake’s Fortune, you see a tender moment between Nate and Elena before they take off with some treasure with Sully.
The gameplay does tend to be a little clunky since it’s the first of the franchise. There aren’t as many options for modes of play either, the standard platforming and gunfights. Protecting the jeep and the water fights with the jetski was interesting, but nothing stood out when compared to the later vehicle fights in other games. I don’t hold this against the game though, considering it kicks off the entire franchise.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Where Uncharted 3 failed, Uncharted 4 succeeds. Of course, it helps that this one was remastered for the PlayStation 5 and not the PlayStation 4 like the others, giving a huge jump in graphics and overall beauty to the game. Yet, I also found the storyline and cutscenes ran smoother than Drake’s Deception. This fourth installment also calls on Nathan Drake’s backstory, giving more information about his time in the orphanage and even throwing a secret brother, Samuel Drake, into the mix. While I’m not always a big fan of things popping up out of convenience for a story, I think Sam’s introduction gave Uncharted 4 a better backstory follow-through than the third game. It also helps that Sam’s betrayal and all the lies he told gave it the best plot twist of the series.
This game has more depth and care than seemingly all the others. Nate’s adventuring has more purpose than before, saving his brother, both times. It’s not just that, though, as the game also delves into some serious conversations between Nate and Elena, now happily married but not without real-life issues. Their progressed relationship, which continues to be worked on and evolve through A Thief’s End, is both in character and realistic. I was disappointed at first, thinking Elena would be shafted to the side in favor of a game only with Nate and Sam (and sometimes Sully), but was excited for her to save Nate in the back half and be his companion once more. Nate and Elena’s banter is my favorite of all the games, so I was excited for her to be there finally.
The whole adventure concept was good as well. A pirate’s gold is probably the oldest treasure-hunting idea, but A Thief’s End gave it its own crazy spins with Libertalia. The board of pirates and all the colonists gave the plot the intricacy it needed without throwing in as many wild elements as possible as the second and third games did. For me, this made the game more likable. The villains themselves had more interesting motivations and characterization than the other games. At certain points I even found myself cheering for Nadine, the muscled woman in charge of an entire mercenary troop called Shoreline. I applauded when she closed the door on Nate, Sam, and Rafe, knowing the heroes of the story wouldn’t perish, but the main villain would. As amazing as she was, the whiny, silver-spoon maniac Rafe was probably the best villain of the whole franchise. His jealousy of Nate showing in the final boss battle was the cherry on top.
This doesn’t even begin to touch on some of the other added loves of this game: the jeep and its wench, the climbing pick, the new stealth feature, the torchlight and booby traps, and the ability to have conversations with your companion to dig a little deeper into the relationship.
And, finally, how could I leave this without mentioning the Epilogue chapter? I’ll never get over the trope of my favorite canon couple having a child, but it makes it even better to play as her and uncover that your parents were famous treasure hunters. This sweet ending was perfect for the Uncharted games. I left the final playthrough with nothing but love for all the characters and their storylines.