Back in 2013, Star Wars 1313 got canceled. Helmed by Uncharted creative director Amy Hennig, it looked to be exactly what you would expect from the creative director of the first three Uncharteds doing a Star Wars game. The E3 trailer showed off a big, expensive, exciting, and cinematic linear action game set in a galaxy far, far away. For a lot of Star Wars fans, its cancellation still stings.
Ten years later, we still haven't had a proper science fiction take on the Uncharted formula. The Last of Us is sort of that, obviously, but post-apocalyptic zombie fiction isn't what most sci-fi fans are usually thinking when we talk about sci-fi. When I say science fiction, I'm thinking about spaceships, lunar colonization, dystopian cities on far-flung planets, alien races, androids, futuristic tech, and so on.
Though Star Wars 1313 never came out, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is probably the closest thing we've had to an Uncharted sci-fi game. The problem is, it undercuts the Uncharted aspect of the equation a bit too much. I love Fallen Order, but it's a real mish-mash of disparate, sometimes conflicting, design philosophies. It's got a bit of Dark Souls, a bit of Uncharted, a bit of 3D Sonic, and a bit of Mass Effect. It allows you to visit three planets in any order, but if you go to one first, you won't be able to progress very far because you lack a vital skill, and will just need to leave and come back later. It feels like it was at war with itself, half-invested in giving players a wide-open Dark Souls or 3D Metroidvania style exploration game and half-invested in serving up Uncharted-style linear cinematic thrills.
The Callisto Protocol is another recent sci-fi game that suffers from being a servant of two masters. On the one hand, it is clearly going for Uncharted-style linear action with a Dead Space coat of paint. But, as a result, it doesn't really work as either. It's never really scary, and it's never really exhilarating.
Guardians of the Galaxy is the closest we've gotten, and Eidos Montreal's game is great in its own right, offering much of what we would want from Uncharted meets sci-fi. It's largely linear, character-focused, and set in space. But, GOTG takes just as much influence from series like Mass Effect and Life is Strange. It has great environments, but isn't set-piece driven. Its focus on characters plays out in dialogue choices and optional conversations with crew, which isn't an aspect of Uncharted's approach. Its combat is typically set in closed-off arenas and gives you command of as many as five characters at a time, while Uncharted more fully integrates stealth and platforming into its battles, and presents arenas as lived-in places with a purpose besides pugilism and picking off punks with your piece. You have companions in these fights, but you don't have control of their behavior.
The upshot is that we still don't really have a great, linear cinematic sci-fi action game. I would love it if Naughty Dog ended up being the developer to give us sci-fi's answer to its own iconic series, and there are rumors that the Santa Monica-based studio has plans to do just that. Given how little we know about their development slate beyond the announced TLOU multiplayer game, it's certainly possible that a sci-fi title could be the studio's next project.
That would be a dream scenario. Naughty Dog's one of my favorite developers and they would bring a unique sensibility to it that other devs just don't have. Though Mass Effect is a sci-fi game with a focus on characters, Naughty Dog does character-focused storytelling in a much different way. BioWare's characters tell you about themselves all at once, Naughty Dog's characters tell you about themselves in casual asides and small choices.
Given that it's difficult to get big-budget original sci-fi movies greenlit right now, I would love to see a really focused character-driven exploration of a sci-fi world, especially given Naughty Dog's talent for bringing believable performances to the screen. The developer has been devoted to Uncharted and The Last of Us for three console generations at this point, and it may be time to look to the future. Looking to the literal future may just be the best way to do that.
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