After 15 years of false starts, Uncharted has finally come to the big screen. A film adaptation starring Tom Holland as Nathan Drake is in theaters now, kicking off PlayStation’s expanded media strategy. It has everything you’d expect from a big-budget blockbuster: Bankable stars, flashy set pieces, and some comical product placement.
There’s just one problem: It doesn’t hold a candle to the games it’s based on. That’s not so much a knock against the film as it is a compliment toward the games. The Uncharted series has spent 15 years building itself up as gaming’s most cinematic series. It doesn’t have stars like Holland, but its set pieces are bigger and more thrilling than your average blockbuster’s.
The film adaptation of Uncharted underlines an awkward reality for Hollywood. When it comes to big-budget spectacle, movies are no longer the best way of delivering action. Video games have superseded them after over a decade of trying to emulate them.
When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune first launched in 2007, it was an ambitious release. It captured the treasure-hunting thrill of Indiana Jones and put it into an eight-hour video game. It wasn’t a perfect first draft (who can forget the zombie-like Descendants?), but it was a turning point for the industry. It showed that video games could be more than mindless fun, with strong writing, well-developed characters, and spectacular action.
Developer Naughty Dog would spend the next decade sharpening its skill set with every game. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves ratcheted up the thrills, opening the game with an unforgettable train sequence that still wows to this day. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception cut back on the supernatural silliness to focus more on its character arcs. And Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End brought it all home, bringing jaw-dropping spectacle and personal storytelling in equal measure.
Uncharted 4 was a major influence for the film adaptation, with director Ruben Fleischer noting that it’s his favorite in the series (he calls the game’s car chase the best car chase in any medium, games or otherwise)….