After the lukewarm reception that met the overwhelmingly successful Uncharted franchise’s debut on PlayStation Vita, I am calling for a new hero to take over for Nathan Drake in future iterations of the series on Sony’s powerful handheld.
There is no denying that Sony has discovered a gold mine in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise. Since Drake’s Fortune was unleashed into the wild in 2007 the series has gone on to become one of the star jewels in PlayStation’s catalog; spawning multiple sequels, a card-game spin-off, and even an assortment of comics. The Uncharted series has become one of the industry’s most beloved franchises, and its protagonist Nathan Drake has become an idol along with it. With his sense of humor and charm, “Drake” has quickly become equally as iconic as the series he stars in, despite the Uncharted series having a bevy of interesting and like-able characters.
Since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, both the series and its hero seemed nearly untouchable, as the pair began to take over the PlayStation in tandem. In fact it was due to having more momentum than a rolling boulder that the Uncharted series was chosen to take on its largest challenge yet – becoming the flagship title for the PlayStation Vita’s launch. When Uncharted: Golden Abyss was announced, fans all over the world were stuck with awe when the game made its debut at E3 2011, going on to win best mobile game at Germany’s Gamescom in the following weeks after the Expo. Despite the early applause something quite strange occurred when players and critics managed to get their hands on the game in February 2012, it was met with an overwhelming sense of disappointment.
Critics and fans from around the world seemed to have appreciated the technical achievement that Golden Abyss was, but it never seemed to be quite enough. Many stated that due to being developed by Bend Studios the game lost some of the magic injected into previous titles by creators Naughty Dog, and that the experience felt like a scaled down attempt when compared to its console counterparts. Perhaps it was the feverish anticipation or unrealistic expectations, but the game never seemed to appease the public despite being an unbelievable experience on a mobile platform.
While it is understandable that many had higher hopes for Golden Abyss, it is a stretch to call it a bad game. When judged on its own merits as a game made for a portable (albeit powerful) device, the game was (and continues to be) both a technical marvel and a truly enjoyable experience. One might consider that a sequel to the early portable offering may prove more fruitful, but it may fall unto a far worse fate when one considers the future.
Naughty Dog may have left the Jak & Daxter series behind them after the jump to PlayStation 3, and they very well may do the same with Uncharted moving forward into the PlayStation 4, but make no mistake that the house that Nathan Drake built will continue on. When Uncharted does manage to finally make the jump to next-gen the future of the franchise on PlayStation Vita becomes even more uncertain and likely much more controversial. If the sentiment was that Golden Abyss could not live up to its heritage, how will its successor manage to step out of an even larger shadow? The answer is simple; by handing another character the spotlight.
Where Golden Abyss fell short in my opinion was that it sought to tell a smaller and more personal tale, whereas the public have been accustomed to the adventures of Nathan Drake being larger than life. By swapping the lead character on PlayStation Vita entries Sony would not only be able to escape comparisons to the technically superior releases it is bound to be compared to, but also it would open the door do a host of new possibilities for the franchise.
While it is absolutely true that “Drake” is indeed the star of the series, Naughty Dog and Bend Studios have done a fantastic job of surrounding him with a cast of characters that are as capable, and like-able as Nathan himself. Whether it be Victor Sullivan, Elena Fisher, Chloe Frazer, Rika Raja, Charlie Cutter, or Marissa Chase; it’s clear that if Sony decided to choose a new protagonist they would be spoiled for choice.
Though earlier I may have mentioned many possible characters, I have to mention that the Uncharted series has represented women remarkably well considering the “action movie” aesthetic the games are known for. Female characters can be as charismatic and often more capable than Nathan Drake himself, a fact made even more impressive by the fact that they are portrayed in a realistically diverse manner.
It is not an unprecedented idea as Ubisoft attempted a very similar endeavor recently when they released Assassins Creed III: Liberation as a companion to the console edition of the title. The game starred the first female assassin in the series Aveline de Grandpré, and differed largely from is console counterpart. Admittedly the game was met with a mediocre reception, but the issues rarely stemmed from the bold choice of character.
Often the complaints were due to the ambitious nature of the title trying to maintain the scope and feel of its brethren, and failing due to the limitations of the hardware. In fact, since the game’s release nearly a year ago Aveline has long endured the game of which she made her debut and is even set to appear in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag via three exclusive missions only on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4. Though Liberation itself may have failed on technical merits, the bold choice to push forward and explore new stories in the Assassin’s Creed universe has proved fruitful for both PlayStation and Ubisoft moving forward.
I’m deeply aware that the mere suggestion of removing an iconic character from a revered franchise will likely be met with a substantial amount of push back, I offer my opinions based on my love of Uncharted as a franchise. I love the characters and world that both Naughty Dog and Bend Studios have crafted and don’t want to watch it become stale as it attempts to repeat one note on a variety of instruments.
Uncharted is a game built around the thrill of traversing exotic locales and braving danger in the search of undiscovered treasure, and that is exactly the sentiment that I am echoing. Let Nathan Drake rest up for his next big adventure and sit out future entries on the PlayStation Vita in the name of exploring the unknown; which is what Uncharted is all about.