Indiana Jones is old news; these days, when you need a treasure found, a lost civilization unearthed or a secret society stopped, Nathan Drake is your man. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was an instant hit when Sony published the title back in 2007, and the series has grown by leaps and bounds since then. Soon, Nate will embark upon his last adventure, in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
If you're just joining Nate for the first time, you'll probably want to know what came before, since Uncharted is very much an exercise in character-driven, sequential storytelling. Alternatively, if you're a hardened series veteran, a brief refresher couldn't hurt. Read on to find out what every amateur treasure-hunter needs to know before the sequel arrives May 10.
What is Uncharted?
Uncharted is a series of action/adventure games, developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony. Each game stars Nathan Drake, a roguish, globe-trotting adventurer who's always on the lookout for a juicy historical mystery.
The games themselves are equal parts gunfights, platforming and puzzle-solving, and most levels offer an appealing mix of all three. Along with a colorful cast of supporting characters, Nate travels to the deepest reaches of the South American rainforest, the crumbling castles of Syria, the frozen wastes of Nepal and beyond in search of lost cities that might — but usually don't — contain enough gold to feed his adventuring habit.
What's the deal with the latest game?
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End will be Nathan Drake's last hurrah, and as such, Sony plans to send him out in style. The game will launch on May 10 exclusively for the PlayStation 4, selling for $60. Hardcore fans can also order a $120 Collector's Edition, which comes with a steel game case, a Nathan Drake statuette, an art book, a sticker sheet and a few in-game goodies.
In this title, Nathan Drake will pursue the trail of Henry Avery, a 17th-century pirate who supposedly left behind a hidden treasure worth hundreds of millions of dollars. As usual, Nate's quest will take him all around the world, pitting him against dangerous mercenaries who want to put Avery's fortune to less noble use than funding future adventures.
Who's who in the series?
Here are some of the franchise's recurring or important characters. While we're not sure who exactly will show up in Uncharted 4, expect to hear at least an oblique reference to each of these guys and gals:
Nathan Drake — The protagonist of the Uncharted series, Nathan Drake is a fortune hunter with a rapier wit and a winning smile. His happy-go-lucky attitude hides a thoughtful, caring individual underneath, not to mention a highly educated, autodidactic one.
Victor Sullivan — "Sully" to those who know him, Nate's best friend and mentor is a tough-talking, cigar-chomping, butt-kicking middle-age man with an eye for the ladies. A little more rough-and-tumble than his protégé, Sully is direct with his thoughts and as loyal as they come.
Elena Fisher — A video-journalist who travels the world in search of the next great story, Elena Fisher is a hardworking and dedicated woman who is much more courageous than she first appears. After accompanying Nate on most of his adventures, the two have an on-again, off-again romance.
Chloe Frazer — As a counterpart, foil and friend, Chole could hardly be a better partner-in-crime for Nate. A little looser with her morals and a little more uncertain in her loyalties, Chloe has nonetheless proved to be a vital companion for Nate, and a skilled treasure-hunter in her own right.
Charlie Cutter — Originally an inside man for a British con job, Charlie Cutter is hard-edged and sarcastic, but still a valuable member of Nate's growing team of adventurers. A brave gunfighter and hand-to-hand combatant, Charlie is nonetheless scared of enclosed spaces.
What's the story so far?
Not counting tie-in books and comics, Nate's appearances consist of four Uncharted games: three in the main series, and one spin-off for the PS Vita. The formula hasn't changed much since the first game: Nate has a plan to find a lost city, a local villain gets in the way, something supernatural appears to happen, the lost city actually hides a dangerous secret, and now it's up to Nate and friends to save the world. Uncharted 4 will likely follow a similar formula.
Here's what's happened in previous games, right after we sound an alarm for the massive spoilers that follow. (So maybe skip this section if you want to experience the first four games unspoiled.)
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (2007) — Documentarian Elena Fisher decides to make Nate the subject of her latest video, but the job isn't as simple as it seems. After the two find the coffin of Nate's (supposed) ancestor Sir Francis Drake, a tantalizing clue leads them to pursue El Dorado, another one of Coronado's golden cities. Nate, Elena and Sully make their way into the Amazon rainforest, pursued by treasure-hunter Gabriel Roman and mercenary-leader Atoq Navarro. Nate eventually discovers that El Dorado is really a massive golden statue containing a horrific disease. After Navarro kills Roman to claim the biological agent for himself, Nate must single-handedly stop Navarro, sink the statue and save the world.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009) — When Chloe Frazer and Harry Flynn, two rogues from Nate's past, offer him a new business venture, he can't turn it down. The three set off to find the lost city of Shambhala, one of the untold wonders of Marco Polo's journey to the East, where fabulous riches await. Chloe and Harry betray Nate, however, allying themselves instead with Zoran Lazarevic, an Eastern European warlord intent on claiming Shambhala's power for himself. Nate teams up with Elena once again, and the two travel to Nepal, where they find the lost city and its deadly secret. Shambhala's riches are not gold, but rather a bizarre tree sap that can confer incredible strength and vitality. After Lazarevic kills Harry, Chloe comes around and helps Nate and Elena defeat Lazarevic and flee this city that's better left lost.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (2011) — Twenty years ago, Nate and Sully learned that Nate's ancestral ring could work in conjunction with Sir Francis Drake's prized astrolabe in order to reveal a historical secret. The two artifacts together could point the way to the Quranic city of Iram of the Pillars, better known as the Atlantis of the Sands. The two enlist the help of Charlie Cutter, a local hired gun, to con Katherine Marlowe and John Talbot, who know the astrolabe's location. What follows is a historical mystery spanning 400 years and three continents. When Marlowe and Talbot kidnap Sully, Nate follows them deep into the Rub' al Khali desert. Together, Nate and Sully discover the source of Iram's downfall: a hallucinogenic agent in the water. Marlowe and Talbot, who want to exploit the substance, perish in the city's collapse, while Nate and Sully live to fight another day.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss (2012) — This Vita spin-off takes place a few years before the events of Drake's Fortune. Nate teams up with an unreliable ally, Jason Dante, to find Quivira, one of Francisco Vásquez de Coronado's Seven Cities of Gold. When Dante betrays Nate to Roberto Guerro, the leader of a local guerrilla group, Nate teams up with Sully and an archaeologist named Marisa Chase. Together, the three of them find Quivira before Guerro and Dante, but also learn that the city was abandoned due to deadly levels of natural radiation. In the end, Dante and Guerro go down with the crumbling city, while Nate, Marisa and Sully escape.
What about multiplayer?
Although Uncharted is mostly a single-player affair, both Uncharted 2 and 3 contain multiplayer modes, and Uncharted 4 will follow their lead. The multiplayer modes are fairly standard affairs, in which players divide up into teams and attempt to gun each other down, stopping also to collect power-ups and treasure, and jump across perilous architecture. The multiplayer servers for Uncharted 2 and 3 are still up and running, although they're not as populous as they once were. Uncharted 4 should have a strong community, at least for the initial period after the title's release. Beyond that, we'll have to see how it holds up.
I haven’t played the previous games. Should I bother?
Since Uncharted is a story-driven series, jumping into Uncharted 4 without playing the first three games is probably not a great idea. (Golden Abyss is optional, although I stand by my assertion that it's much better than a portable spin-off really had to be.) Not only will the story pick up where Uncharted 3 left off, but also, all the characters and relationships are well-established by this point. If all you care about is game play, Uncharted 4's will be pretty similar to that of the previous three games, so you may as well start at the beginning. (Either Drake's Fortune or Golden Abyss is fine — take your pick.)
How can I play the previous games?
If you're just starting out with Uncharted, you have three options: The cheapest one, if you have a PlayStation 3, is probably just to track down used copies of the first three games. They're not hard to find, and you can probably get the whole trilogy for less than $30.
If you have a PS4, you can either stream them or buy them outright. For streamers, the whole Uncharted trilogy is available through PlayStation Now, through either a subscription or à la carte rental. (A subscription costs $99 per year, while the rental price varies.) You can also purchase the Nathan Drake Collection, which is my recommendation. This remastered compilation of the first three games is easy enough to find, and goes for about $30, making it the simplest and potentially most cost-effective way to play.
Sadly, there is no simple method of getting Golden Abyss, other than picking up a Vita and buying the title.