Video Game Rivals – Episode 3
Tomb Raider vs Uncharted
In 2006 at E3 Naughty Dog announced Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, which would later be released in the fall of 2007. It would start one of the best video game franchises ever created and sold over a million copies within 10 weeks time. In fact, according to VGChartz.com, as of December 2017, the Uncharted franchise topped a combined 41.7 million units sold!
It all started with Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, and was very well-received by critics and gamers alike. It was praised for its technical achievements, acting (both voice and mocap), its music, and was compared to Hollywood films. It was compared to the Indiana Jones movie franchise as well as the very popular Tomb Raider video game franchise, which also had a successful run on the PlayStation.
Before we can dive deeper into the technical marvel of the Uncharted series, we should take a look at how it all started. Ladies and Gentlemen say hello to Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise.
Tomb Raider has quite the history, first developed by Core Design for the Sony PlayStation, Sega Saturn, and the PC in 1996, becoming an unexpected success with gamers. Tomb Raider would reach the top of the sales charts and remained there for a considerable amount of time selling over 7 million copies worldwide.
Sony saw this success and landed an exclusivity deal, keeping the Tomb Raider console version only on PlayStation. Tomb Raider 2 and 3 were a part of this deal, selling 8 and 6 million copies each. For the 1990’s, this was quite an achievement.
Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation released in 1999 on PlayStation and PC, and later was released for the Sega Dreamcast in March 2000. Reviews were mixed with some outlets claiming it was the best in the series so far, and others saying it was like dusting off old faded photos. Scores were all over the place for the various platforms, all the way up to a 10 from PlayStation Magazine and as low as a 3 out of 10 from IGN. In all instances, the Dreamcast version seemed to get the shaft.
GameSpot is quoted saying that The Last Revelation was “an acceptable game based on its own merits, but, set against its own legacy, it is for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from those that have come before it. It reeks of a ready-to-go game engine and of a level designer going through the motions, with someone else coming up with a new move for Lara all the while”.
Tomb Raider Chronicles, the last release for PS1, and released on PC and Dreamcast in November 2000, was nothing more than a rushed rehashed game. In fact, IGN is quoted saying “Lara Croft’s last adventure on PlayStation is also her very best. Still, it’s just more of the same.” GameSpot claimed, “The main problem is that the Tomb Raider series hasn’t grown with the times”. However, when it comes to the visuals, they had this to say, “Regarding the PlayStation version specifically, the graphics look better than ever before. The environments in the first Tomb Raider were very sparse and bland, but over the years the developers have been able to squeeze more and more out of the PlayStation. For a game on an aging system, there’s a surprising degree of detail in Tomb Raider Chronicles, without a significant sacrifice of level size.”
The PlayStation 2 was released in the year 2000, and Core Design began working on Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness. Three years later, in June of 2003 Angel of Darkness was released, failing miserably and almost killing the franchise, even though it sold 2.5 million copies. From my experience, as you can see in my gameplay footage, the controls were awful. I honestly wish that I had recorded video footage of me while trying to play this game, and from now on I will do exactly that. If I had to rate this game, it would be a 1 out of 10, simply because it is unplayable with how the controls are set up.
Angel of Darkness was delayed from November 2002 to Spring 2003 and was pushed to be released alongside the new movie, Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life. It was believed that the game would benefit from the marketing of the movie. The final game was missing a lot of pieces, areas of the game that explained how Lara Croft survived her death from The Last Revelation, cut due to time constraints. The team at Core Design later said that they felt Eidos forced them to get the game out before it was ready, and from what I have played, they were correct. Like an old NES cartridge, this game blows!
Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness was the last Tomb Raider game Core Design would work on. Eidos would promptly switch development duties to Crystal Dynamics, who have been in charge of the franchise ever since. Crystal Dynamics first game in the franchise was Tomb Raider: Legend, which released in April of 2006 and would go on to sell over 4.5 million copies worldwide.
After completing Jak 3 on PlayStation 2, Naughty Dog shifted their most technically talented staff members to begin working on Project Big, which would later be known as Uncharted: Drakes Fortune. This small team worked hard for an entire year before the rest of the team would join them, and then another 2 years of development time was required. Naughty Dog decided early on that with the power of the PlayStation 3, they wanted to create something completely new, an IP that would have a realistic setting, unlike their previous games. The limiting hardware was no longer an issue here, so they pushed their talents farther to create realistic characters and environments, creating new tools from the ground up. These tools were changed and rewritten several times, including switching from their own programming language, GOAL, which was a Lisp-based language to the industry standard, C++. This allowed Naughty Dog to share their tools with other Sony-owned studios and vise-versa, like say, Guerrilla Games.
Uncharted used the Cell microprocessor to generate many-layered character animations, which helped portray realistic expressions and fluid movements. The PS3’s GPU, the RSX Reality Synthesizer, handled the various lighting models, pixel shaders, dynamic real-time shadows, and the advanced water simulations. The RSX also allowed for processes which the team at Naughty Dog had never used before, because the previous hardware did not support them, thus forcing Naughty Dog’s team to quickly learn the new techniques, such as Pixel Shaders and Parallel Processing. Uncharted also used higher resolution textures and more of them than any Naughty Dog game before it. This concerned Naughty Dog, wondering if they would run out of space on the BD-ROM.
The overall presentation of the game received unanimous praise from reviewers and critics alike, who recognized Uncharted’s high production value, describing it as “top-notch”, “incredible” and even comparing it against Hollywood films like Indiana Jones and National Treasure. It was also compared to the highly successful Tomb Raider franchise. (Probably not Angel of Darkness though, cuz that game sucks salty ball sack.)
Uncharted: Drakes Fortune started the franchise that would ultimately become one of the best in gaming history, and received several accolades from various websites, one being PS3 game of the year from IGN.com It would eventually sell over 1 million copies within its first 10 weeks, and later become a member of the PlayStation 3’s Greatest Hits, joining many other great titles in Sony’s budget themed category.
Uncharted 2 was first revealed in December of 2008 by Game Informer, with the first teaser trailer showing a weary, wounded Drake marching through a snowstorm, approaching a Phurba that was half buried in the snow. This would later take place within the game and was said to have run real-time in-engine on the PS3. The 2nd teaser was released not long after, showing a severely wounded Drake, stuck in the remains of a wrecked train car, hanging over a cliff. The game’s story would ultimately start in this scene, and become one of my all-time favorite openings for any media.
Development for Uncharted 2 was 22 months long, with 6 of them for pre-production. Naughty Dog perfected their Motion Capture or MOCAP for short and refined their Naughty Engine. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune was said to use about 30% of the PS3’s power, whereas Uncharted 2 would use anywhere from 90% to 100%, however it is said that the code was not 100% optimized. Evan Wells was quoted saying “…now it’s at least busy 100% of the time, but it’s still not fully-optimized code. I mean, in order to get to that 100%, it was more about making sure the pipeline was filled, and we weren’t running into one of the processors becoming idle because there wasn’t a job ready for it.” One key feature that the Cell BE Synergistic Processing Units would handle is Screen Space Ambient Occlusion. This took a lot off the GPU.
Uncharted 3 was officially announced at the 2010 Spike Video Game Awards on December 11th, 2010 and for a couple of weeks after more and more trailers and teasers were released. Gamers worldwide saw the incredible dessert sands of Arabia. Showing just how far Naughty Dog had come with their graphics engine. Uncharted 3 uses an evolved version of the engine that was used in the previous games. Naughty Dog made enhancements where needed, such as Physics, visuals, and environmental effects. The engine also was tuned to provide better effects for Fire, Water dynamics, Smoke, and most importantly, Sand. It also enhanced the movement abilities of characters and more realistic textures and animations. According to Naughty Dog, Uncharted 3 is graphically superior to Uncharted 2.
“Real physics and environment deformation are key in creating a realistic playing experience”, according to Naughty Dog’s Community Strategist Arne Meyer. Game director, Justin Richmond, said that Uncharted 3 pushed the PS3’s graphical capabilities to its limits, but Uncharted 3 doesn’t manage the same graphical advance seen between the first two games because the PlayStation 3 simply can’t handle it, “We pushed it really hard. Uncharted 2 to 3 is still a jump, but it’s a narrower jump. And going forward, it depends on what we do.”
Uncharted 3, like its predecessors, received dozens of high scored reviews and awards. It received many Game of the Year Awards and was for sure one of the best PS3 games released.
TOMB RAIDER REBOOTED… Again!
Following Tomb Raider: Underworld, Crystal Dynamics was split into two teams; the first beginning work on the next Tomb Raider, and the second focusing on the newly created spin-off Lara Croft series which debuted with Lara Croft and the Guardian of Light in 2010.
Studio head Darrell Gallagher said, “Forget everything you knew about Tomb Raider, this is an origins story that creates Lara Croft and takes her on a character defining journey like no other”.
Darrell was right to say this, as Tomb Raider 2013 was completely unlike any before it. It’s my opinion that In some instances, Tomb Raider borrowed from the positive parts of the Uncharted series. There are a lot of similarities between them, and for me, this wasn’t a bad thing.
The game engine used was a custom built engine by Crystal Dynamics, called Crystal Engine. It was first used in Tomb Raider: Legend and then modified and improved for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and finally modified again for Tomb Raider 2013. This is pretty incredible, since the visuals, animations, and dynamics are far better in Tomb Raider 2013 that the other 2 games. They must have really overhauled that engine! (Add Overhaulin snippet)
Tomb Raider is now an incredible series again, as it received great praise from reviewers and gamers alike, scoring an 86 on Metacritic and averaging about a 9 out of 10 from reviewers, and on a very positive note, it scored a 38 out of 40 from Famitsu, Japan’s go to gaming publication. The game sold more than a million copies in less than 48 hours after release. The game set a new record for the franchise with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions setting new week one records as the fastest-selling individual formats of any Tomb Raider title, a record which was previously held by Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness. (That one is kind of crazy to think about actually) As of November 2017, over 11 million copies have been sold.
In November 2015, Rise of the Tomb Raider released with a timed exclusive deal for Xbox 360, Xbox One, and in January 2016 for Microsoft’s Windows. It was later released in October 2016 for PS4 as the 20th Anniversary Edition. Upon release, Rise of the Tomb Raider was critically acclaimed, scoring an 88 for the PS4 version on Metacritic, and an average of a 9 from reviewers. Everything within the game was updated and refined over the previous title, Tomb Raider. As of November 2017 Rise of the Tomb Raider has sold 7 million copies.
The game engine used for Rise of the Tomb Raider is called The Foundation Engine. It’s a heavily modified version of the Crystal Engine, first used in Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris in 2014.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
On November 14th, 2013, Naughty Dog released a teaser trailer for a new Uncharted game on PS4, showing an aged Nathan Drake washed up on a tropical shoreline. The teaser sparked the various internet gaming sites and YouTube channels to come up with ideas of what the game was going to be about. Was it going to be the death of Nathan Drake? I mean, the title, after all, was revealed to be “A Thief’s End” so naturally, some thought Naughty Dog was killing him off. Several months later it was revealed that Amy Hennig, Uncharted’s director, had left Naughty Dog to pursue other opportunities and that Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, the co-directors of The Last of Us, took over. 8 months of shooting and various story elements were scrapped, and on December 6th, 2014, a gameplay demo of Uncharted 4 was shown at the PlayStation Experience.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, was one of the best games reviewed of 2016, released on May 10th and sold 2.7 million copies in its first week, becoming the fastest selling entry in the series and among the best selling PS4 games to date, and by December 21st, 2016, Uncharted 4 had sold 8.7 million copies, and grossed $56 million in digital sales alone! (The death of physical media is near! Long live physical media!)
Naughty Dog announced the stand-alone side story DLC, The Lost Legacy, at the December 4th, 2016 PlayStation Experience event. The Debut trailer was later followed by a gameplay trailer in April 2017, and what was released on August 22, 2017, was actually a full game worthy of the $40 price tag. The Lost Legacy sold nearly 600,000 units within its first week, and as of this video, has sold a total of 1.73 million copies according to VGChartz.com
Both franchises also have various mobile games, each with their own playstyle. Uncharted has a card game and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Golden Abyss was met with great praise, staying true to the Uncharted formula. It was a launch title for the PlayStation Vita developed by Bend Studio, and to this day is still one of the best games on the system. That might not be saying much since the Vita is pretty much dead at this point, but either way, it is a great game.
Tomb Raider has had its fair share of mobile games as well. From releases on the Game Boy Color all the way up to today’s smartphones.
Overall, both franchises are incredible. In my opinion, each lends a hand to each other in some way and could be said to not exist in the way that they do today without the other. Both have sold many millions of copies, and both seem to be on a continuing trend in some form or fashion.
I would like to thank you for watching Episode 3 of Video Game Rivals. If you liked what you saw, please leave a like and a comment, and subscribe if you haven’t already. If you have any ideas for future rivalry episodes, please let me know down below.
Thanks for watching and like always, happy gaming!