The Uncharted 4 Letters

in which Jeremy and Sara continue to break down Uncharted 4’s journey.

Dear Sara -

Funny thing, about Sam. Die-hard Uncharted fans might correct me here by burrowing deep into the series’ lore, but as far as I know, he’s never been mentioned in any of the original games. In fact, there are a few chapters in Uncharted 3 where you play as young Nathan, and you never get the idea that he has a brother — indeed, he appears to be a fully independent, street-savvy orphan with a penchant for archeology. U3 was, among other things, a bit of an origin story describing Nate and Sully’s relationship; Sam was never mentioned, and his absence is never noted. The scenes in U4 that depict a lack of trust between Sam and Sully would appear to refer to events that we’ve never seen before. In any event, it’s not that Sam is a long-lost sibling that Nathan’s been keeping a secret, but rather it would appear that he’s been conjured out of thin air.

There is a great deal more to unpack here, but it’s best saved for later in our discussion. It should be noted, however, that (1) the Uncharted franchise is arguably the crown jewel in Sony’s first-party arsenal, (2) there are a ton of PS4 owners who never owned a PS3 (and in so doing never played the original games), and (3) even if this is the last Uncharted game starring Nathan Drake (and/or made by Naughty Dog), I don’t believe for a second that it will be the last Uncharted game. If God of War can come back and reinvent itself, surely Uncharted will return as well. And the end of U4 leaves many options open as to who might star in subsequent outings.

As for the house — god, I love the house. As I noted in my previous letter, my feelings about the game continue to evolve, but Chapter 4 will always be one of my favorite gaming moments of 2016. To see such an action-heavy franchise prominently feature a “walking simulator” — especially early in the game, well before some players might move on to other games — is absolutely subversive. It’s a bold and confident move, especially as it explores a quiet moment.

It’s also remarkably adept in terms of how it incorporates environmental storytelling. It’s awfully telling that the chapter begins in, for lack of a better term, Nate’s “man-cave”, which in this case is relegated to the attic. He has fun up there, playing with his toy gun, looking over his mementos, thinking about his life before he “settled down” (more on this in a bit).

And so when he descends into the rest of the house — well, my goodness, we’ve really never seen this sort of thing before. This might not be the first “house” we’ve seen of a major videogame character, but it’s arguably one of the most realistic. I mean, we’ve explored Lara Croft’s manor in older Tomb Raider games, but nobody would ever believe that she actually lives there, let alone eats and sleeps and uses the bathroom and folds her clothes. The Drake house absolutely feels lived in; the unmade bed, the unfolded laundry, the unkempt bathroom (and the fact that the toilet paper is “under”, which drives me insane); the way the house is decorated — these all tell us about who Nathan and Elena really are, when they’re not out gallivanting across the globe. (True story — I actually took a bunch of screenshots of their central staircase to show my wife, because we’re trying to figure out how to paint our house, and we have a similar staircase that we’re struggling to decorate.)

You raise an interesting point about the idea of “adventuring” as we, the players, grow older. One can also see this emphasis on maturity in the two most recent Tomb Raider games, as Lara Croft is no longer a gratuitous sex object but instead is an independent woman fully capable of getting shit done. (And for what it’s worth, the menu screens in Rise of the Tomb Raider would appear to be set in Lara’s apartment/office, which certainly feel more lived-in than the sterile Croft Manor of games past.) My impression of the AAA scene in recent years is, to paraphrase Wooderson, “I keep getting older, and they keep staying the same age.”

Actually, Tom Bissell might’ve said it best in his essay about GTA V:

One of GTA V‘s characters admits at the end of the game, “I’m getting too old for this nonsense.” And you know what? I felt the same thing numerous times while playing GTA V, even though I continue to admire the hell out of much of what it accomplishes. So if I sound ambivalent, […] I think it’s because I’m part of a generation of gamers who just realized we’re no longer the intended audience of modern gaming’s most iconic franchise. […] I’m left wondering when I, or any of us, express a wish for GTA to grow up, what are we actually saying? What would it even mean for something like GTA to “grow up”? Our most satirically daring, adult-themed game is also our most defiantly puerile game. Maybe the biggest sin of the GTA games is the cheerful, spiteful way they rub our faces in what video games make us willing to do, in what video games are.

Playing GTA used to feel like sneaking out behind school for a quick, illicit smoke. The smoke still tastes good, Niko; the nicotine still nicely javelins into your system. But when you look up, you have to wonder what you’re actually doing here.

Again, there’s more to unpack here as you get further in the game, especially with regards to Nate and Elena.

Gee whiz, I’m almost at 1,000 words and I haven’t even gotten to discussing The Last of Us and how it influenced U4, or further tracing Naughty Dog’s action lineage through that Crash Bandicoot sequence, or even just simply discussing Elena and Nate’s talk in that same Chapter 4. I’ve seen some chatter about how Elena’s a bit of a wet blanket, but I don’t see it that way at all; if anything, I see her urgently wanting Nate to get out and do the things he’s actually interested in doing, rather than being complacent and feeling as if he’s “settled.”

Here’s hoping all is well with you in adventureland…

J

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