Naughty Dog has been around for a long, long time. When Sony bought the Santa Monica-based developer in 2001, it already had 17 years of industry experience. A few years before the team were bought, the technological lord and saviour Mark Cerny suggested that the studio begin creating a character platformer. That was the moment the team began blowing socks off. The game becomes a 3D mascot platformer with a sense of cheeky fun, and the series that followed would become a phenomenon. The four Crash Bandicoot games operated using the PlayStation’s capability for rendering 3D space quite unlike anything else on the market. Crash Bandicoot
hit the market in 1996 to commercial acclaim and a surprisingly mixed reaction, primarily for its linearity. The sequel — Cortex Strikes Back
— replicated the huge commercial success with a much better critical reception only a year after the first game and dropped the stringent linearity for more modern Naughty Dog qualities: high-quality graphics, audio, and fantastic level design. There were still some hang-ups, particularly as the difficulty increased and the signposting for the platforming sections became minimal.
Around this period came the infamous PlayStation advert that featured Crash rocking up to Nintendo headquarters and advertising his wares; a simple but effective way of indicating the cultural prevalence of the character. The third game was called Warped
and came out in 1997 and arguably perfected the Crash formula, which was reflected in a fully unified commercial and critical success for the first time. The games have all been updated to PS4 level quality and hold up more substantially than one would have thought. Indeed, they are some of the best modern platformers as well as retro. Somehow, Naughty Dog followed a legendary trilogy with one of the best kart racers of all time in Crash Team Racing
, a game recently restored to full glory in a remaster.
Since Universal Interactive owned the rights to the Crash IP and Naughty Dog had become Sony-focused over the run of games, the team was brought up by the Japanese company and became a core member of the first-party PlayStation makeup. Naughty Dog then made three Jak & Daxter platformers and a kart racer. Like Crash Bandicoot before it, Jak and Daxter: The Precursor Legacy
kicked off the PS2 generation in 2001 and ended up being an era-defining platformer. As another 3D puzzle-platformer with a definite stronger leaning towards combat, young boy Jak saves a loud-mouth Ottsel — an otter crossed with a weasel — called Daxter. So, the adventure to save Eco begins. Received very well and praised for the trademark Naughty Dog qualities — technical brilliance, superb graphics, a surprisingly deep story — it was a marker for a generation that few surpassed.
Arguably, Jak II
(Renegade in Europe and Oceania) managed just that in 2003. With a darker tone and bigger guns, the game opened out a little to increase player freedom. The game wasn't a step forward to everyone's taste — perhaps a hint at the future — but it certainly kept Naughty Dog at the forefront of games development. 2004 saw the release of the final game in the main trilogy, Jak III
. A definite refinement of the series, the game had a much quieter launch than the previous two entries. The gameplay was honed and the story came to a conclusion, marking the end of Naughty Dog's time with Jak and Daxter. Another really rather good kart racer capped the trilogy, called Jak X: Combat Racing
. Perhaps the game did not quite hit the heights of Crash Team Racing, but it was undoubtedly a fun swansong.
With the PS3, Naughty Dog evolved the mascot platformer, 2007 brought about the Uncharted era. The first game, Drake's Fortune
, was a solid first effort at making an Indiana Jones-esque action-adventure with platforming, puzzles, and an amoral sharp-tongued protagonist in Nathan Drake. On reflection, the game was very much a work-in-progress. It nails the characters — sidekick Sully and reporter Elena are fantastic even with formative character development — and the single island environment, but it is a little simple and occasionally clunky. The second game, Among Thieves
, played a crucial part in getting the PS3 back on track after some miserable opening years for the console. Amy Hennig wrote a script filled to the brim with life and raw smirk-inducing moments. From Istanbul to Nepal to Shambala, Drake & Co follow the trail of Marco Polo while set-pieces chained everything together in a way that made it truly capture not just what the PS3 could do, but what gaming could be. With an expanded roster of characters — Chloe Fraser is a dream — it remains a firm favourite for many PlayStation fans and brought Naughty Dog into the limelight as one of the best working developers of the modern era. When you follow that up with a game as good as 2010s Drake's Deception
, it is hard to deny that Naughty Dog was (and still is) operating on a different level. For this entry, we delved into Nathan Drake's past, journeyed through deserts, and developed long-standing fears of ships sinking. But why would Naughty Dog leave the PS3 era there?
Neil Druckman helped the transition of Naughty Dog from mascot platformer into a story-telling powerhouse with the 2013 release of The Last of Us
: a now-legendary PlayStation IP that absolutely banged. The story of Ellie and Joel in the quarantine zones of a dilapidated America will live long in the memory of everyone who played it. No doubt, there was a maturity here that transitioned solid platforming, story and graphics into something darker and more brutal. To say it worked would be an understatement.
To put Naughty Dog on top of the first-party pile, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
and The Last of Us: Part II
reached new levels for the team during the PS4 era. The cinematic quality and storytelling hit new heights, while the gameplay became refined to an unthinkable level for the action-adventure genre. A Thief's End brought a closing chapter to Drake's story with a slightly less-chipper tone — Druckmann took over the project after Hennig departed — though it was still a joyous time. Featuring pirates, long-lost brothers, and some extraordinary climbing and puzzling sections, this game is a TT favourite. A perfect end to the tale of Drake spelt a new beginning for the hard-edged treasure hunter Chloe Fraser in the spin-off The Lost Legacy
. The game might be shorter than its brethren, but it is no slouch. In fact, one could argue that the high-quality set-pieces and environments, dense story, in-and-out by 12 hours gameplay was the direction Uncharted should begin taking in the future. The game is so perfectly shaped, it should be a must-play. Naughty Dog ended the PS4 generation with The Last of Us: Part II, a high-quality continuation of the beloved original. It shocked and angered — for some, a little too much — but it was of no doubt that the development team had produced something special to continue their heritage of excellence.