Naughty Dog Is Right To Leave Uncharted Behind

Naughty Dog is changing. It’s about time, but part of me will miss what the studio has become over the past fifteen years as a pioneer of cinematic blockbusters lined with prestige storytelling that the entire medium now tries to emulate. It changed everything. But now, it is both leaving Uncharted behind and has no plans for The Last of Us Part 3 unless the narrative it aims to deliver is absolutely necessary.

This is the right move, and the selfless one from a studio that could have milked both these properties until there was nothing left. It isn’t like they aren’t still successful, with recent ports of Uncharted selling gangbusters and the HBO adaptation of Joel and Ellie’s adventure airing its third, most critically acclaimed episode at the time of writing. Naughty Dog is more mainstream than ever, long piercing the echo chamber it once called home to reach people all over the world. Its appeal has extended far beyond gamers only, with even my parents asking about The Last of Us and whether this zombie show is worth watching.

A new chapter is coming, but I’ll miss what’s left behind.

Uncharted will likely live on in some form, whether the torch is passed to a new studio or Tom Holland returns for a sequel of the successful film. Discovering that Naughty Dog has finally called it quits after almost two decades is strangely bittersweet. Nathan Drake’s whole schtick is rather outdated in 2023, and even back in 2007 it pulled liberally from Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones without many original thoughts in its head. Drake’s Fortune was all about murdering pirates, climbing ancient ruins, and getting the girl after gunning down thousands of random mercenaries commanded by a laughably evil British guy. Turns out the treasure you’re after is cursed, everyone turns into ghouls, and you escape with the girl. Bish Bash Bosh. Good job everyone, let's regroup in a few months for the sequel.

It was a successful PS3 exclusive, even more so in an era when there was nothing to play on the damn thing except Haze and Genji: Days of Blade. Sony had a clear, albeit flawed, winner on its hands. This inconsistency would evolve into a sequel that changed how we would tell stories in games forever, laying the prestige foundations that made The Last of Us, God of War, and Horizon Zero Dawn possible. It remains a masterpiece, and I remember at the time how shocked critics were regarding its excellence. The acting and writing was far superior to what came before, and it seemed to abandon much of the regimented immaturity that held back its predecessor. It’s still cheesy and self-indulgent, but this was all lined with far more purpose and sincerity.

Naughty Dog sticking with a charming protagonist and hoping to subvert the themes and tropes that brought him to life in the first place is likely what led to Joel and Ellie’s inception, and a wish to create something far deeper and more introspective with A Thief’s End. Even as Nate and Sully travelled the world in search of ancient treasure, a knowable attachment to reality and the consequences their actions wrought turned Uncharted into less of an action blockbuster and more of a relentless pursuit towards retirement. All bombasse aside, these characters suddenly felt like real, tangible people with flaws to work through. Looking back it’s almost absurd where it all started, and where Naughty Dog was able to take it.

In the context of A Thief’s End and its oddly melancholic drudgery, Lost Legacy felt like a wholesome victory lap, one last chance for Naughty Dog to recapture the classic media it began emulating before evolving far beyond it. Chloe and Nadine’s fruity journey across the plains of Madagascar is filled with fun little japes at the series’ history and a dense amount of character development. Its heroines are able to shine one more time, while constant hints are dropped that the heroes we once took on epic adventures have long moved on.

We had another chance to say goodbye while going through the motions once more, ending with a set piece purposefully designed to pull from the series’ finest moments. Naughty Dog might only now be declaring its final farewell, but to me, it was already made years ago. Now it moves onto greener pastures, or greyer ones if The Last of Us is any indication. Uncharted felt like a necessary step for video games though, especially in how it depicts realistic heroes and builds narrative prestige. It assembled building blocks that over the next two decades would be perfected, innovated upon, and emulated until we struck the right balance. It was valuable to the medium, but like all good things that teach us so much, the time has come to let it go.

Greatness from small beginnings is a fitting mantra for Uncharted, and how it paved the way for titans that will long outlive everything it managed to achieve.

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