The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie

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The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Pictures Entertainment

After more than a decade of rumors and delays, the “Uncharted” movie has finally manifested, bringing the popular video game franchise to life with a live-action cast led by Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg. The games themselves have always pulled so heavily from Hollywood action adventure flicks that a big screen adaptation seemed destined to happen, even during the years when the film was stranded in development hell. Still, there’s a lot unique about the “Uncharted” franchise that could help the film stand out from the rest of the genre.

Video game movies have always been notoriously troubled, and the landscape of past adaptations is littered with dismal failures and disappointments. Adapting the medium requires a delicate balance of loyalty and alteration, keeping the core story similar enough to the games that longtime fans can appreciate it, while also opening things up enough to allow for a larger audience of newcomers.

Hopefully, “Uncharted” strikes that balance well — but for those going in with little or no direct experience with the video games, there are some key things to know. “Uncharted” is one of the biggest gaming franchises of the past 15 years, and some of the context of all that history may be lost on people who just turn out to see the movie without playing the source material. To that end, here’s everything you need to know about the “Uncharted” games before you see the movie.

The history of the Uncharted franchise

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

“Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune,” the first entry in the series, was released for the PlayStation 3 in 2007. The game was developed by acclaimed game studio Naughty Dog, which had previously made a name for itself with the “Crash Bandicoot” series on the original PlayStation and the “Jak and Daxter” series on the PlayStation 2. The first “Uncharted” follows thief and fortune hunter Nathan Drake on a quest for the ancient treasure of El Dorado — a treasure previously sought by famed privateer Sir Francis Drake, who Nathan claims to be descended from. The game also introduces the other two main series protagonists — Elena Fisher, a cunning reporter and on again, off again love interest to Nate, and Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Nate’s mentor and best friend.

The first “Uncharted” earned positive reviews, but it wasn’t until Naughty Dog’s second attempt, “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves,” that the series leapt to the pinnacle of critical and commercial success. “Uncharted 2” saw Nate and crew searching for the lost city of Shambhala and introduced recurring character Chloe Frazer. Following the sweeping success of “Uncharted 2″ in 2009,” Naughty Dog developed “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” in 2011 and “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” in 2016 for the PlayStation 4, which introduced Nathan’s older brother Sam Drake. The series also includes a couple spinoff titles, like 2017’s “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy,” which stars Chloe in a leading role. Throughout it all, Naughty Dog’s “Uncharted” games have continued to set the bar high for technical excellence, cinematic action, and performance capture in games.

Uncharted is a character-driven franchise

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The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Mentioning the core characters in each “Uncharted” game is important because at the end of the day, it’s really a series that pivots around its characters. They may not all be the most wholly original, especially since the games pull heavily from action adventure movie archetypes and tropes. But there’s a human quality to the relationships at the heart of “Uncharted” that has always given the series an x-factor advantage over the competition. The voice actors, who also do most of the performance capture for their respective characters, all turn in exceptional performances, with special credit due to Nolan North (Nate), Emily Rose (Elena), Richard McGonagle (Sully), Claudia Black (Chloe), and Troy Baker (Sam).

The most impactful emotional moments in “Uncharted” all involve the relationships between these characters. Sully constantly fights his desire to stay in the fortune hunting game with the reality that he’s not as young as he once was. Nate is forced to reckon with how his own selfishly dangerous pursuits keep estranging him from the people he cares about. There’s a chosen family kind of narrative that runs through the “Uncharted” games, and it helps keep the stories grounded, even when the action itself becomes entirely far-fetched and defying of the laws of physics

Nathan Drake is not Indiana Jones

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

It’s easy to take a glance at “Uncharted” and immediately compare it to “Indiana Jones.” And to be fair, they do share a number of big similarities. Both series star rugged dudes in search of ancient artifacts who have to fight their way through waves of bad guys and out of improbably absurd action set pieces. It would be erroneous to say that “Uncharted” is packed full of new ideas when it comes to the narrative, and “Indiana Jones” was clearly a big source of inspiration for the developers at Naughty Dog.

Make no mistake, however: Nathan Drake is a very different kind of protagonist than Indiana Jones. Where Harrison Ford’s character is an almost dad-like professor and archeologist with a passion for discovery and preservation, Nate is a full-on thief. He’s a brigand, a scoundrel, a man who’s in it for the money and the self-aggrandizement of going where others couldn’t and discover what others didn’t. He still has an unabashed love of history, and he’s certainly not without plenty of likable traits. He cares for the people who are close to him and will sacrifice his own selfish aims to help them when push comes to shove. But where Indiana Jones is a gravel-voiced explorer with the greater good in mind, Nathan Drake is a brash, street-smart daredevil with a death wish.

The Uncharted characters are all scoundrels

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The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Nearly all of the characters in the “Uncharted” franchise are thieves of one sort or another. Nate’s friends are hackers, larceners, and getaway drivers with varying levels of respect (or lack thereof) for the items they pilfer. They know how to pick pockets and locks. They practice parkour so that they can scale security gates, and they have no qualms — not even Nate — about killing the competition to save their own skin.

Obviously, that comfortability with bloodshed is a necessity for the main characters of shooter games. In fact, most of the gameplay in the “Uncharted” series is gunfighting because. As a result, Nate, Elena, Chloe, Sully, Sam, and the rest of the characters have all racked up insane body counts in their battles with pirates, mercenaries, terrorists, and the like.

That kind of incessant violence doesn’t play quite as well in a live-action PG-13 movie, so Nate’s willingness to pull the trigger will probably be toned down a bit — especially since the film is technically a prequel featuring a much younger version of series’ protagonist. Still, he’s going to have to get his hands dirty sooner or later.

The Uncharted story spans decades

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

The “Uncharted” movie is a prequel to the main series, but it isn’t the first time the franchise has flashed back to Nathan Drake’s past. The four core games span decades, following Nate all the way from his early teenage years to his full retirement from fortune hunting. That grand scale adds an extra layer of emotional weight to the events of the games, as the player fully understands where the characters have come from and why they make the decisions they do.

That sprawling structure has a few potential implications for the “Uncharted” movie. First and foremost, it means that there’s a lot of room for sequels if the first performs well. That would of course necessitate Holland and Wahlberg to return to their roles, which isn’t a guarantee. But if all the pieces were to fall into place, there’s a lot more of Nathan Drake’s story left to explore.

If either of the series’ leads opted out of a sequel, there’s also a chance that a larger time jump could take place, accompanied by an age-appropriate recasting of one or both of their roles. The “Uncharted” franchise has made big jumps into the future before, so it’s certainly not unprecedented.

The Uncharted movie is missing a major game character

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The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Tom Holland’s “Uncharted” features three major characters from the video games in Nate, Sully, and Chloe, and the trailers have teased that Sam could show up as well. But there’s no sign of Elena, who is one of the most pivotal characters in the entire franchise.

The reason for that is pretty clear. In the “Uncharted” canon, Nate and Elena don’t meet until the beginning of the first game, when he convinces the history TV show she works on at the time to fund his search for Francis Drake’s lost treasure. Because the movie is set prior to the events of the first game, it wouldn’t make much sense for Elena to appear. Chloe, on the other hand, already has an established rapport with Nate when she enters the story in “Uncharted 2,” so it’s a bit more logical for her to be present in a prequel.

Of course, if “Uncharted” does well enough at the box office to justify a sequel, Elena could show up, or she could get snuck into the first film in some sort of hidden cameo. It would be fun to see her brought to live action since she’s such a beloved character for fans of the games, but we’ll have to wait to see how big her potential role in the film franchise could be.

There's a ton of action

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

The characters and the story of “Uncharted” are obviously core parts of the franchise. But the other reason the video games have been developed such a dedicated fan base is the huge, cinematic action set pieces that have become their trademark. Here are just a few of the things that Nathan Drake does over the course of the franchise: fights attack helicopters on city rooftops while leaping from one collapsing building to the next; battles along the top of a full-speed train as it crashes off a cliff in the Himalayas; evades trained killers and swarms of deadly bugs while a burning mansion collapses around him; escapes from an ancient, magical city that was actively disintegrating and collapsing into the depths of the Earth; and survives against hordes of pirates as their ship sinks in the middle of a storm.

One of the series’ most famous action sequences, in which Nate fights mercenaries while hanging out the back of a cargo plane in mid-flight, is actually being recreated in the movie. And it certainly won’t be the only “Fast and Furious” style action sequence to be featured in the film. Nathan Drake’s trademark is getting out of absurd situations beaten, bloodied, and barely alive, yet somehow immediately ready for the next one. He’s done it many, many times.

Nathan Drake falls a lot

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Speaking of Nate’s penchant for almost dying, one of the series’ biggest tropes is his unceasing tendency to fall from high places — and barely catch himself before plummeting to his death. This might seem like a hyper specific thing to include here, but that’s just how prevalent it is in the “Uncharted” vide games. Aside from fighting bad guys, the most common type of gameplay in “Uncharted” is climbing around on stuff. Wrecked ships, skyscrapers, ancient ruins, caves, mountains, cliffs, forts — you name it, Nathan Drake has climbed it. And every single time he climbs something, without fail, it breaks in some way, leading to a dramatic fall and a desperate “oh crap!”

So just know that any time you see Tom Holland scrambling up something in “Uncharted,” it almost certainly won’t go well. That chandelier is going to shatter. That ledge is going to crumble. The rusty pipe he’s shimmying across is going to bend and break. That is the “Uncharted” guarantee.

Prepare for elaborate puzzles

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

There are really three pillars to the gameplay in “Uncharted” — shooting bad guys, climbing on stuff, and solving elaborate puzzles in bafflingly functional ancient ruins. The franchise exceeds its Hollywood inspirations when it comes to the absurdity of the temples, caves, and lost cities that Drake and company encounter. We’re talking massive, labyrinthine tunnel networks filled with millennia-old machinery that, somehow, all still works. There are lots of giant gears, moving statues, and water wheels, most of which are activated by sticking some very specific knife or key into some very specific and hard-to-find hole.

Like many of the other parts of “Uncharted,” these fully functional ruins require a healthy suspension of disbelief. The series’ actual archeology bits are not to be taken too seriously, but that’s pretty much par for the course with the genre the games inhabit. And Tom Holland’s Nathan Drake certainly will not be exempt.

The supernatural is real in Uncharted

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Clearly, there are things in the “Uncharted” franchise that require you to suspend your disbelief, but there are other things that venture completely out of the realm of plausibility and into the full-blown supernatural. Not every “Uncharted” game features magic, for lack of a better word, but it’s been a staple of the games since the very first one, which pitted Nate against a horde of zombie-esque humans transformed by a mysterious casket. “Uncharted 2” ends similarly, when it’s revealed that the lost city of Shambhala is inhabited by near-immortal blue giants, who were granted immense strength by drinking the sap of a mystical tree.

This kind of clear-supernatural-but-never-fully-explained will be familiar to those who’ve seen the “Indiana Jones” movies, and indeed it may be the biggest point of similarity between the two franchises. Characters in “Uncharted” rarely discuss these magical occurrences in much detail, which keeps them all pretty mysterious. Because some of the games don’t feature anything supernatural, there’s no guarantee that the “Uncharted” movie will delve into the realm of the magical, but it definitely isn’t off the table. This is a world in which anything, even zombies, can and have happened.

Uncharted characters rarely die

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Do you need to worry about major characters biting the dust in the “Uncharted” movie? Probably not. Obviously, the fact that it’s a prequel gives a certain level of protection to the characters from the games — but even in those games, the good guys usually all make it out okay. The bad guys often die at the end of their villainous crusades, but when it comes to the protagonists, “Uncharted” is a master of the fake death scene. In the past, characters have been shot, fallen from incredible heights, and suffered other apparently fatal injuries, only to show up hours later completely unscathed.

Most of the action in “Uncharted” is meant for excitement value, not edge-of-your-seat are-they-gonna-make-it thrills. The movie will surely take a similar approach. Antonio Banderas and Tati Gabrielle’s villains may need to watch out for falling boulders and collapsing bridges, but Nate, Chloe, and Sully should all be more than fine in the end.

The Uncharted movie is changing the games' story

The Uncharted Games Explained: What You Need To Know Before You See The Movie
Sony Pictures Entertainment/YouTube

Changes are inevitable when bringing a video game story to the big screen, and “Uncharted” is no different. Just going off the trailers alone, the movie is making some pretty notable changes to several key characters and plot points. In the games, Nate and Sully meet in Colombia when they both try to steal the same item from a museum. Nate is younger at the time then he is when he meets Sully in the movie, and the treasure they initially unite to search for is different.

Sam Drake is also being changed notably in the movie. While it hasn’t been confirmed that he’ll appear in the film, he is mentioned in the “Uncharted” trailers, which reveals that he went missing searching for the treasure Nate and Sully are now both seeking. In the games, Sam and Nate get separated much later in life after an attempted prison escape goes horribly wrong. And of course, the fact that the movie is stealing the cargo plane set piece right out of “Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception” is a bit of a problem for the video game timeline.

The “Uncharted” movie clearly isn’t canon with the games, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still tell a faithful and exciting story that stays loyal to the core tone and themes of the franchise. Hopefully, “Uncharted” isn’t dragged down by the same issues that have been the death of so many other video game movies.

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