Should You Play The Rest Of The Series Before Playing Uncharted 4?
This feature was originally published May 10, 2016.
Uncharted 4 just hit stores today and is by all accounts a fantastic adventure game. However, given it's the fourth entry in the series, there might be some apprehension for newcomers who haven't played the other games in the series. Fellow editor Andrew Reiner and I decided to hash it out and try and figure out just how necessary it is to have played the previous games to appreciate Naughty Dog's latest.
Javy Gwaltney: So Uncharted 4, after several delays and much anticipation, is finally out. Your review suggests you really enjoyed it, Reiner.
Andrew Reiner: After spending so much time with Nathan Drake throughout the years, it’s a little bittersweet to see it come to an end, but I’m glad Naughty Dog decided to send him off in style rather than continue on like Indiana Jones has. Part of me wishes the development team would go back on that decision a decade from now, given just how much fun these games can be, but Uncharted 4’s ending is so well scripted and so heavy in heart that I can’t see them ever revisiting this universe. It’s a hell of a sendoff and a hell of a game to boot.
JG: Yeah, it’s interesting to me because I’m kind of coming at it from the opposite angle. I did not care for the three Uncharted games before this that much, outside of Uncharted 2, and was never really invested in these characters beyond enjoying the occasional, well-landed witty remark. However, I just finished 4 last night and I’m a huge fan of this game. I just really dig it a lot. And I know there are a number of people who are kind of in my position with not liking Uncharted but being curious about 4 because they really dug The Last of Us or they just want something that looks nice and shiny for their PS4, so I figured we should talk about just how necessary playing the other three games is to enjoying the latest one.
AR: That all depends on how much emotional investment you want to have. I tell people it’s similar to seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens without seeing any other Star Wars film before it. Now, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but when it comes to character growth, I think we see similar arcs in Uncharted as we do to Star Wars. There isn’t so much a defined light and dark side that is easy to pinpoint like in Luke Skywalker’s arc, but Drake is just as conflicted of a character, and I think a lot of that comes from his past. Uncharted 4 is written in a way that allows newcomers to jump in and understand and enjoy it – the narrative and characters are clearly defined – but has more impact for people who have seen these treasure hunters through from start to finish. You aren’t missing any earth-shattering events in their lives, but it is very much the fourth chapter with them, and we’ve seen most of them grow in that time.
JG: Sure, it’s definitely a closing chapter to the series that brings resolution to the arcs of these characters, but at the same time I don’t think it’s really necessary to go through the whole series if you’ve never been through it before just to play this game and get a lot out of it. There will be callbacks you probably won’t get, but nothing major, and – this is gonna sound like a harsh criticism but it isn’t – Nate and the gang are pretty easy to figure out. They’re basically characters from an Indiana Jones movie: thrillseekers, mentors to thrillseekers, rivals, and so on. And the fourth game does a good job of building something out of those archetypes, especially with the villains. Nadine and Rafe are the first antagonists in the whole series I think are anywhere near memorable. And of course, you know, for this we’re talking about more than just Uncharted 4. We have to assess whether the others have aged well enough to be worth playing through to get to 4, and as someone who replayed all of them recently in the HD collection: I don’t think that’s the case. What about you?
AR: The fourth installment, while serving as a conclusion for Drake and his extended family, is just as much a new chapter. You’re right, Nadine and Rafe are the series’ most interesting foils, and they have never been mentioned before in any other installment. The same goes for Sam Drake, Nate’s lost brother who miraculously escaped death. Your point of them being Indiana Jones characters is also valid, but I still would be mighty disappointed if I watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade first. You go on a journey with these characters. You see what they endure and what they sacrifice. Although the script may not give them much rope, you learn so much about them and latch onto their personalities. For people who are looking at Uncharted 4 being their first Uncharted game, that’s a tough question to answer. I know it will cost a bit more, but I think you owe it to yourself to try playing the first game before jumping into the final one. You said you didn’t care about the characters that much in the first three games, but I did. I think that’s the big difference here. I bonded with them. You didn’t.
JG: Yeah, that’s definitely fair. To me, Uncharted has always been about the spectacle of it all: the explosions, the ridiculous number of times that Nate can narrowly avoid plunging to his death. But what makes Uncharted 4 interesting to me is that it’s the first in the series that combines that with a story I find constantly engaging on nearly every level: from Nate’s familial troubles to the treasure hunt itself. And I think it would just be a bummer for someone to start up Uncharted 1 or 2, find the games haven’t aged well, and then just not ever play 4 because, holy crap, 4 is fantastic. It’s the first Uncharted game for me that I don’t think will really have a shelf life. I can see myself replaying this in the years to come, which just isn’t something that’s going to happen with any of the other three.
AR: I’ll go back to Star Wars. Yoda doesn’t look great. He’s clearly a puppet, but there’s storytelling magic there, and I think the first three Uncharted games deliver plenty of their own. I don’t want people to shy away from jumping into Uncharted 4, if they see that as their starting point, but I do want them to give this some thought. There’s one sequence in particular in Uncharted 4, in an attic, that is a stroll through the entire series – which is meant as a moment for Drake and the player to reflect on the great adventures up to this point. That moment will just be time filler without context. Yes, you’ll learn where Drake went and what prizes were found, but the flood of memories won’t be there. I haven’t gone back and played the first three games recently, but that moment in the attic was powerful and different – a moment of reflection we rarely see in games.
JG: Right, that flood of memories is often what makes experiencing the end of a story so great. Man, it’s just a hard thing because those other games have not aged well at all but you are right: all of them have moments that really stand out and are kind of astonishing, like the opening with the dangling train in Uncharted 2. But new players can always go back, you know? I did that with Mass Effect 2 actually. Played through that first and loved it so much that I went through the first game. I honestly don’t know if I would have fallen in love with that series as much as I did if I had played through the first one right off the bat. It’s a hard thing to figure out but I do think that Uncharted 4 does stand on its own and can be a great time for newcomers.
AR: I don’t like the way you approach serialized games, but I do agree with you that you can appreciate most of Uncharted 4 without knowing who Nathan Drake is going into it. This universe is easy to figure out. It’s not like going into the final chapter of Harry Potter blind, which I suspect would be like an acid trip. Uncharted is simple in storytelling scope, but a lot of it falls upon developing the characters. Naughty Dog has done a tremendous job of doing that throughout the years. Just think about how much that means to you in other stories you’ve enjoyed before diving into Uncharted 4.
Learn more about Reiner's thoughts on Uncharted 4 in this recent Test Chamber.