You may not remember, but there was a lot of weird stuff going on at Naughty Dog on the road to Uncharted 4 coming out. The Last of Us had officially become the next best thing since sliced bread, for real, and the previously lauded Uncharted games were looking breezy in comparison. Uncharted 4 was next and while people were excited, the pressure was on to make something incredible. And then, suddenly a ton of people started leaving Naughty Dog, all of whom were big names in Uncharted. Then the Last of Us leads took over, and we got what we got, which was awesome. But recently, we got a look at what was in part, the original vision for Uncharted 4. Was it an interesting game of its own making, more or less the same beats or a project in desperate need for fresh blood?
According to a book by Kotaku reporter Jason Schreier called Blood, Sweat, and Pixels, Uncharted 4 was just getting started as The Last of Us was taking off. Naughty Dog up to that point was generally a one game at a time studio, so Uncharted 4 was at that point a small team, with the series mainstays, such as writer Amy Hennig, in charge. Work had been done on the game, including broad strokes of the plot, planning for various mechanical ideas and some of the environments, but a small team only goes so far.
While getting the full story will be impossible for various reasons, it sounds like ultimately, the pieces weren’t all coming together for Uncharted 4 with the same folks behind it. Uncharted 3 already showed signs of the formula wavering, despite generally rock-solid reviews. Talk about that game in retrospect isn’t nearly as much of a consensus. The well may have been tapped or the team may have been stretched too thin without enough resources while The Last of Us blew up to really get things moving.
Either way, frustrations reached a boiling point and Hennig, along with many of her long-time coworkers, ended up leaving Naughty Dog. Despite being nearly burnt out, The Last of Us’ “showrunners,” Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, took over. And they pretty much started over, retaining some of the characters and environment work but scrapping most if not all of the story, which meant actors hired and voice work recorded went in the trash.
In the book, we get a few tidbits on what was in place, that was different from what we saw in the final Uncharted 4. A few points stand out. One, the plan was for Nathan Drake to spend roughly half the game without a gun. One of the more common criticisms of Uncharted 4 was the dissonance between Drake in the story and Drake in the game – essentially painting him as a murderous sociopath. This was likely an attempt to circumvent that, maybe exploring more of the guilt associated with his high body count. Second, Drake’s brother Sam was intended to be a straight-up antagonist, the clear villain of the story. Finally, some interesting mechanical choices, such as the ability to create footholds with gunshots and a strange-sounding rhythm game-like section that saw Drake working together with Elena to steal something important.
These all sound pretty strange, compared to the more straightforward, albeit more grounded and human approach that Druckmann and Straley took with the game. Hennig’s Uncharted 4 sounds way more video game-y, which makes sense following the third game. It was also reportedly Druckmann and Straley’s decision to end the Nathan Drake story outright with this entry, which may have led to things like Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. It’s hard to say how this would have been received, although the game existing after The Last of Us probably made the situation inevitable.