On Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
“Sic Parvis Magna”
It’s been 10 years since Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was first released for the Playstation 3. From then on we were treated to two sequels, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. In those games we followed Nathan Drake into globetrotting adventures in search of hidden treasures and ancient civilizations.
Comparisons to Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider were obvious, and fair, though Nathan Drake easily broke away from these already established characters with his charm, wit and a tendency to never take himself seriously. However the tight spot Drake would find himself in, there was always time for a good quip. Somehow he was aware of the madness and reality-bending events he was in, for he was the player. He was us.
So last year, developer Naughty Dog decided to end Nathan’s story with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. As the Latin quote that opens this text, which can be translated as “greatness from small beginnings”, this final installment achieves masterpiece status closing the series without ever forgetting its humble beginnings. What was once a simple adventure with fun characters evolves into a gripping and, above all, moving story about love and knowing when to quit.
Starting years after the end of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, we see Nathan retired from the fortune hunting business, working as an ordinary person in a local salvage company. Drowned by the boredom of everyday life, Nathan often finds himself revisiting his past adventures on his attic, where many of the souvenirs acquired in previous games can be found. He longs for adventure. And that’s when his older brother comes in.
Filled with flashbacks, the game is very successful in layering Nathan even further than its predecessors. From the orphanage years to the beginning of his career as a fortune hunter, every level has a very clear objective to show an aspect of the character we have never seen before. Where other games might use the device only to stretch the plot, Uncharted 4 makes those flashback levels essential to understanding its main character.
As the story progresses, Nathan goes back into his old ways to aid his brother in a quest for the pirate treasure of Henry Avery. Much of what made the Uncharted franchise is back too: cinematic sequences, extreme parkour and climbing, shooting arenas and gorgeous landscapes. The difference now is that the scope of the game is a more intimate one. Focused earlier on ancient civilizations and large scale action, this last game knows that the real story takes place within its characters. Treasure hunting is a mere metaphor to our ever lasting search for happiness and a sense of personal satisfaction.
Sure the game can still deliver high-octane action and set pieces which are both breathtaking and insane, but the real treasure lies in the interaction between the characters. There are a lot of chances for extra interaction among characters, and every bit of dialog feels natural and adds a level of intimacy between them that you can’t help but feel that they could very well be real people, like you and me. You feel the guilt in Nathan’s dialog for not being able to save his older brother all those years ago and how he feels about lying to Elena and how this could mean the end of their relationship.
As we reach the end of the game, we also reach the end of these characters’ story. At the same time I was rushing to complete the game, it started dawning on me that this was, indeed, the end. Once you reach the climax, a thrilling sword-fight on a burning pirate ship, you know there will be no more Nathan, Sully, Elena, not even Sam.
However, Naughty Dog had one last trick up its sleeve.
Before the curtains fall, we are treated to an epilogue chapter where we control Cassie Drake, Nathan and Elena’s daughter, years after the events of the game. As we roam through an empty beach house, we are invited to browse around and fill the gaps between then and now, much like we did with Drake at the beginning of the game. It’s a testament to Naughty Dog work and the love the developer holds to its most famous franchise. When we finally get to see Nathan and Elena, showing their wrinkles, we know it’s time to say thank you and goodbye. Cassie might be the new face of the Uncharted franchise in future installments, but we know that Nathan and Elena sailed off into the sunset.
Thanks for the ride, Naughty Dog. “Sic parvis magna” indeed.
Originally published at nickbitt.wordpress.com on February 28, 2017.