Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Uncharted

This feels real. You’re looking at the trail of footprints you’ve made leading along the beach and up into the jungle. Sandy marks turn to trampled grass as you head inland. It’s all created with stunning authenticity; waves gently brushing up onto the shore and an amazing variety of vegetation bending out of the way as you brush past. Of course, this isn’t the time to focus on such things as you have your back pressed up against an ancient, crumbling ruin as enemy fire vibrates its foundations. Bullets whizz past overhead, striking tree trunks. You think about popping your head out for a second when a small object drops by your feet. You look down. Grenade.

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Ever since the Uncharted series made its return last week with the visually astounding trailer for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, it’s been hard to stop thinking about the potential for a virtual reality (VR) adaption of the franchise. The series boasts many of the hallmarks needed for the best VR experiences: stunning locations that we simply couldn’t experience in our own lives and beg to be explored, unprecedented production values that set visual benchmarks and character interaction that feels real. Sony Computer Entertainment (SCE) likely won’t be bringing Nathan Drake into the world of VR with Project Morpheus any time soon, but we’d love for the company to give it a shot.

Developer Naughty Dog’s flagship franchise set the bar for graphics on PlayStation 3 and, judging by last week’s trailer, looks to be doing the same again on PlayStation 4. We long for this kind of visual fidelity in a VR experience. The in-engine trailer showcased an incredible amount of detail on Drake’s character model, with his cheeks twitching subtly to show signs of pain, and eyes expanding as he tries to bring his brain up to speed with his surroundings. Obviously for the best VR experience, we’d prefer to have a VR Uncharted as a first-person videogame, though imagine if Naughty Dog could achieve that same level with the title’s beloved supporting cast. Having a conversation with Sully as you meet eye-to-eye could well be the first case of actually blurring the lines between our reality and a virtual one.

Not to mention that, when it comes to a sense of presence, no one does it quite like Naughty Dog. Nathan Drake’s globe-trotting adventures have taken him to some of the most memorable locations in videogames. From the lost city of Shambala to a deadly trek through the Rub’ al Khali desert, the developer spares no expense in bringing players creative, believable environments. Placing us closer to those settings in VR would deliver us to worlds we simply wouldn’t want to leave.

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The series’ brand of shootouts could also make for a more natural VR action title than seen before. Uncharted’s gunplay isn’t about well-aimed shots and slow-motion breaches so much as it is based on desperately squeezing a trigger in the direction of an enemy as you head for cover, or running in the opposite direction as a grenade drops by your feet. It’s an impulse-based shooter more than anything else, which seems more fitting of a player that doesn’t have any military experience trying to assume the role of a character in a world. After all, Nathan Drake was originally billed as an average Joe, and that’s what many players approach videogames as.

Of course, it’s impossible to talk about Uncharted without mentioning the bombastic setpiece moments that have come to define the series since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Admittedly these pose something of a question mark for VR; how would the tight leash players are kept on in these moments translate to the technology?  It would be impossible to maintain a sense of presence sitting in a chair as Drake tumbles down cliffs or hangs off of the back of a helicopter. The same goes for the title’s scrappy brand of climbing. Perhaps an Uncharted VR title is better off in the vein of the original, more down to earth Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune or its PS Vita spin-off Uncharted: Golden Abyss. These are titles that still stand up despite the lack of adrenaline-pumping, cinematic scenes, proving that Uncharted VR could be a worthwhile endeavour without them.

SCE would sooner remind you that VR works better in native titles than it does in its most beloved of IPs, but that doesn’t stop us from wondering what could be. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was one of the few titles to really shine in the ill-fated 3D, just lending proof to the idea that Naughty Dog could really nail a VR adaption. Perhaps after this thief’s end, he’ll find a virtual new beginning.

‘Make it a (virtual) Reality’ is VRFocus’ weekly feature that takes the videogames we already know and love and looks at how virtual reality (VR) could enhance them. From retro classics to modern blockbusters, we examine the pros and cons of bringing a franchise to VR headsets. 

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