Both are legendary franchises for the fans of action-adventure games. But which series is better? We’ll take a look at a whole bunch of important aspects, ranging from plots through the main characters to the gameplay stuff. Alright, let’s get to it!
Before we do that, though, a couple of important remarks.
Is Uncharted really inspired by Tomb Raider?
When first announced in 2006, the first Uncharted game was called “Dude Raider” or simply “Tomb Raider with more guns.” In general, people say that the Uncharted series owes a lot to the adventures of Lara Croft. But is that true?
No – and for a couple of reasons.
First off, pre-2013 Tomb Raider games had a different gameplay model. They were more like platform games with less combat and more exploration and puzzle-solving. The structure of levels was traditional, in the vein of old school games from the 90s – more open and allowing rather free exploration.
Uncharted, on the other hand, has a different gameplay model: it’s a blend of a third-person, cover-based shooter inspired by Gears of War with platforming segments and an overall cinematic structure and feel. It plays totally different from the old Tomb Raider games.
Second, the developers of Uncharted, Naughty Dog, have openly disputed this back in, like, 2006 or so. Gears of War? Yeah. Tomb Raider? Nah, it’s a different game with a different gameplay model. What connects these games is the general idea (an adventurer seeking various artifacts around the world), but this is where similarities end.
Third, Naughty Dog have always been known for cult classic platform games. Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, anyone? They don’t have anything to prove in this department, much less pay any tributes to any other series, as this is their specialty, dating back to 1996 (the year when the first Tomb Raider game was also released) or even before that, whenever the development of Crash Bandicoot began (fun fact: Naughty Dog made some role-playing, adventure and educational games before that).
So, as it turns out, it seems that it is the Tomb Raider reboot series started in 2013 that is Uncharted-inspired rather than the other way around.
Which games are we taking into account?
In the case of the Uncharted series, it’s simple: all of them. All four main games and the spin-offs, especially The Lost Legacy (but Golden Abyss, a PS Vita release, was also a decent one). Okay, maybe without Fortune Hunter and Fight for Fortune, as they are totally different games altogether, but pretty much every other release in the series is a cinematic action-adventure production.
As far as the Tomb Raider series is concerned, we will ignore anything released prior to 2013, as these games are fundamentally different from the Uncharted series and it would make no sense comparing them. So, this means the 2013 Tomb Raider game, Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider along with all the DLCs released for these titles. They are collectively known as the Survivor trilogy.
With these things in mind, we can finally delve into all them comparisons.
Protagonists: Nathan Drake vs Lara Croft
Lara Croft is a pop culture icon and a sex symbol, there is no doubt of that. But she is perhaps far too attractive and far too skilled and talented to be a relatable character. This is why the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot sought to make Lara far more realistic. All in all, she’s a likeable character and seems to be a positive role model.
Nathan Drake, on the other hand, has been designed as an “everyman,” someone in stark contrast to the original Lara Croft. Well, this worked for the most part. He’s likeable, witty, charismatic.
But do they really work as examples of a relatable everyman persona? Well, there seems to be some sort of a disconnect here between Nathan Drake’s easygoing personality and his combat skills. After all, he guns down hundreds of baddies in each of the games and doesn’t even flinch doing that, all the deaths he causes don’t seem to have any effect on him. Still, it’s not a psychological game, so nobody bothers with that.
Lara’s adventures seem to portray all the horror of killing a bit more accurately, as she is shocked at first, but she soon becomes a one-woman-army, kind of undoing the effect that has been achieved earlier. Oh well, these aren’t meant to be super-realistic characters anyway and we’re here to have fun, aren’t we?
Also, both Lara and Nathan are physically attractive, which also might make relating to these folks difficult. Oh, what the heck, these are just games, right?
Coming back to who’s a better character: well, we guess it’s a draw here. Nathan’s a fun character with a somewhat believable development arc. Lara’s very likeable too, but she’s on the more serious side of things. Anyway, it’s 1:1. For now.
All Uncharted series feature rather typical, swashbuckler-style adventure plots akin to a modern take on the Indiana Jones movies or virtually any other major classic adventure film or pulp story: National Treasure, Alan Quatermain, Romancing the Stone, perhaps?
What makes these stories so fun is both the main character and all the side characters as wells. Victor Sullivan, Elena Fisher, Chloe Frazer (by the way, she is the playable character in The Lost Legacy), heck, even Cutter are all super fun and nothing short of iconic. Too bad the games sort of lack very memorable villains for the most part, which is a shame, really.
The first Tomb Raider game, however, offers something a bit different, often verging on horror. This is mostly gone in the subsequent installments, although some scary segments are still present in them. Aside from Lara, however, most of the side characters are rather bland and uninspired, which means it’s really hard to form any sort of bond with them. The villains aren’t very interesting, either. Okay, maybe Matthias from the 2013 game is somewhat memorable and has a pretty good setup. Other baddies, however, are rather forgettable.
The thing is that Tomb Raider focuses on the development of Lara and her personal growth. Uncharted does that, too, but it focuses on Nathan Drake’s relationship with other characters, which is perhaps more interesting to witness. Themes like responsibility, sacrificing your inner thirst for adventure for your family’s sake, brotherly bonds and the like – the stories in Uncharted are definitely much more entertaining to follow than those in the Tomb Raider games, even if they are not of the most original sort.
It’s 2:1 for Uncharted here for the sense of adventure these games convey and fun, memorable characters. The Tomb Raider reboot trilogy is perhaps a bit too serious for its own good, with Lara being the only character that you’ll remember, really.
Both series offer pretty much the same base gameplay: a mixture of cover-based combat, platforming and climbing, puzzle-solving, some stealth, as well as lots of quick-time events and cinematic moments.
This formula became rather stale by the third game in the Uncharted series. Impressive visuals and cinematic tricks cannot hide the fact that these games are more like repetitive shooting galleries, with each element occurring one after another.
Tomb Raider seems to be a bit more interesting, as it includes mechanisms known from Metroidvanias and survival games. It too is a linear adventure, but you are able to return to previously visited locations in order to find more salvage and collectibles, as well as complete the puzzles you were unable to before due to the lack of necessary gear and abilities. You collect salvage to craft new gear and upgrades. You also gain experience points that let you level up and learn new skills. All these might seem a little bit forced, but they do make things more interesting and definitely encourage you to explore the game’s world.
Stealth is also more prominent here as a viable alternative to open combat. And the bow! It’s really insane how fun using it is. It’s a tool to help you solve certain puzzles (which are generally rather simple and physics-based) and a really quiet weapon that you can use to avoid triggering alarms (or cause destructive fires, courtesy of fire arrows available at one point). Still, the games borrow A LOT from the Uncharted series.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, on the other hand, features some improvements to the original formula. It’s nothing revolutionary, but much larger levels, for example, and a very good AI makes combat more exciting. Instead of rather confined areas, now you have open arenas that let you approach things the way you want. You can go in with guns blazing, you can totally exercise stealthy takedowns, it’s all up to you.
Ultimately, it’s hard to determine a winner in this category. Uncharted games aren’t as robust as the Tomb Raider reboot series, but they were an influence here. You might even say that all those additional mechanics introduced in TR are merely distractions and that Uncharted is more straight to the point. This might be true, so the verdict is as follows: if you prefer straightforward action-adventure stuff, then Uncharted is the best here. If you like a more nuanced gameplay model with lots of additional features, then pick the Tomb Raider reboot trilogy instead, especially if you like stealth.
All things considered, it’s a draw, so it’s 3:2. Both series have become formulaic, anyway.
When it comes to the multiplayer component, there isn’t much of a competition between the series.
Only the 2013 Tomb Raider game features it, with several competitive modes available, including two objective-based ones and a simple team deathmatch. You can play as either a scavenger or a survivor, in two teams of four players. Multiplayer in TR has not been well received. The player base has probably diminished to pretty much zero after all these years. The mode has disappeared in the next installments in the series.
Uncharted, on the other hand, seems to enjoy some success in this department. Introduced in the second game, Among Thieves (2009), the multiplayer component was well-received and returned with all sorts of tweaks and new features in the subsequent games, Drake’s Deception (2011) and A Thief’s End (2016).
Needless to say, Uncharted wins here. It’s 4:2 for Naughty Dog’s series.
Let’s get this out of the way: both series rock when it comes to the visual aspect.
Naturally, the first three Uncharted games have aged and while they’ve been remastered, the Tomb Raider from 2013 is still more visually impressive than Naughty Dog’s games that came before it.
However, Uncharted 4 is an absolute stunner, with gorgeous vistas to behold and very detailed, realistic character models.
Without further ado, it’s a draw here as well. Both series are beautiful. However, if you’re looking for something more colorful, choose the Uncharted series instead. The Survivor trilogy seems to be rather dark and bleak, which may become a bit dull after some time.
It’s 5:3 for the Uncharted series.
By the way, as far as performance is concerned, the better your PC is, the better the Tomb Raider games can look, and you’re most likely going to need a good rig to play the Uncharted games once they come out on PC.
This is where the Survivor trilogy wins, hands down.
2013’s Tomb Raider was pretty much Uncharted on PC. The game is available across all platforms: personal computers, Xbox and PlayStation.
Uncharted, on the other hand, has always been a PlayStation exclusive. This is about to change, as Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection (comprised of a remastered version of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and The Lost Legacy spin-off) is slated for a 2022 release on PC.
Additionally, you can stream the first three games on PC via PS Plus Premium, however, there’s no 100% certainty this will work for you.
So, it’s 5:4 for the Tomb Raider games, as they have been available on all major platforms from the very get-go without any extra hassle.
The first Uncharted games were scored by Greg Edmondson, who has been replaced with a renowned film composer, Henry Jackman, in the fourth game. The soundtracks by Mr. Edmondson are serviceable and adventurous, but also rather generic and forgettable, unfortunately. Mr. Jackman’s soundtrack seems darker, more menacing and ominous than its predecessors. Again, perfectly serviceable, it works well as background music underlining what’s going on at the moment, but it also isn’t particularly memorable, either.
The Survivor trilogy’s soundtracks, while more gimmicky, seem to be more interesting. The 2013 Tomb Raider game features a rather hummable main theme and orchestral music with lots of odd sounds thrown in the mix, including a special percussion instrument, brought back in Shadow of the Tomb Raider. Rise of the Tomb Raider, aside from orchestral music, also has some low-pitched male vocals and a gusli-like instrument used in the Siberian segments of the game.
All in all, the Survivor trilogy seems to have a more original soundtrack, meaning it wins this round. It’s 5:5, then. Still, both series have decent music, so it’s a matter of taste, really.
And the winner is…
As you can see, we ultimately have a draw here.
After all, these games are very similar to each other in terms of the gameplay, plot and the like.
If you want to experience a more fun story with interesting characters, choose the Uncharted series. Each of the games is an exhilarating, satisfying adventure. Additionally, most of these (minus Drake’s Fortune, the first in the series) feature very good multiplayer modes, which is also a plus.
If you’re looking for something very similar, but darker and with a bit more complex gameplay (including stealth mechanics, although Uncharted isn’t too shabby in this respect, either), choose the Survivor trilogy in the Tomb Raider series instead. It’s just as fun and visually stunning as Naughty Dog’s games. It’s also readily available on PCs. Don’t count on any multiplayer here, though.
All in all, they’re both very good series, you can’t really go wrong with any of these.