Uncharted 4 is obsessed with telling the most relatable narrative of the series
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is developer Naughty Dog’s latest release and what they claim is the final installment of the series. They expertly crafted an experience that will make the player reflect on the game and their own lives long after the credits roll. This was achieved by grounding the story more than it has ever been. There’s still the grandiose set pieces and Nathan Drake’s daring dances with death that fans have come to expect from the Uncharted Series, but all the characters are humanized in a way that they’ve never been before. And this reason alone might make Uncharted 4 my favorite in the series.
Be warned: I will be using many examples from the game, most of which are from the last few chapters of the game. If you don’t want the game spoiled for you, back away slowly. Actually no. Run like the dickens.
The Uncharted series is appealing to me because of how much I don’t relate to its protagonist. I will never be an action hero capable of scaling mountains with my bare hands, single-handedly taking on an army, and solving mysterious puzzles using my wit and encyclopedic knowledge of obscure historical figures. I play Uncharted to feel like a badass for a few hours. Playing as Nathan Drake pumps me up and makes me feel like I can do the impossible. But Uncharted 4 marks the first time in the series where I felt like Nathan Drake was a surrogate for my own morals and foibles. This was certainly aided by some branching dialogue options, a series first, but ultimately is the result of lovable characters who exhibit genuine human weakness that every person great or otherwise is susceptible to.
Obsession is an all-consuming state of mind that never fails to bring out the worst in people. We’ve all been blindsided by our obsessions, even if our intentions were nothing but noble. I’m more guilty of this than anyone. Uncharted 4 chronicles generations of people who were overcome by their obsessions and their inevitable downfall. In Uncharted 3, Nathan’s obsession with finding Sir Francis Drake’s fortune almost gets him and his loved ones killed. Selfish obsession seems to run in the family as Sam, Nathan’s left-for-dead brother, shows up and takes the crew on a journey to find pirate captain Henry Avery’s 400 million stockpile of gold.
When Nathan finally discovers the lost utopia Libertalia, a pirate paradise built in part to safeguard the treasure, he discovers the uncomfortable truths that led to the collapse of the hidden city. A house divided against itself cannot stand and one built on greed was never made to last. Libertalia eventually caved in on itself as its residents revolted against the pirates and the pirates revolted against each other all for the treasure’s sake.
300 years later when the Brothers Drake and other interested parties arrive at Libertalia, their pursuit of the treasure provides a haunting parallel to the bloody fates of the former inhabitants of the secret city. This is further emphasized when Nathan and villain Rafe fight each other using the swords of pirate legends Henry Avery and Thomas Tew who killed each other fighting for the treasure that was now engulfed in flames. Nadine, Rafe’s partner, points out before she literally abandons ship that everyone who has ever sought to possess Avery’s treasure has lost their lives trying, even Avery himself.
Nadine’s revelation placed every character on the same moral plain. In a bittersweet epiphany I realized that there was no difference between the good guys and the bad guys in this story, but rather every character was the victim of their own obsession. Nathan’s adrenaline fetish almost ruins his marriage. Sam’s unrelenting childhood dream of finding Avery’s treasure almost leads to the demise of those closest to him. Rafe was willing to pay for his obsession of making a name for himself with his own life along with the lives of hundreds of henchmen.
Perhaps the most profound line of the game is delivered by Nathan after Sam reflects on how finally finding Avery’s treasure actually left him feeling empty. Nathan admits to his brother that he’s never felt fulfilled after his adventures. Even as the adventures get bigger and more exciting, that emptiness remains, and that the best thing to do is to learn what to keep and what to let go.
For once Nathan Drake wasn’t the great invincible hero he’d always been to me and many others. For once Nathan Drake was just a human: vulnerable, prone to misjudgments, full of faults and regrets. For once Nathan Drake was me, the boy with insecurities brought on by repeated failures and unrealized dreams, the boy who spends most of his weekends hating himself and wishing his life was more like Nathan Drake’s.
His words were just as much advice to his brother as they were a reminder to himself. Furthermore, these words were a message to the player warning them of the dangers of misplaced passions. I believe this to also be developer Naughty Dog’s way of justifying ending the series. Even though every game in the series wraps up in a perfect bow, the fans crave more and will never actually be satiated. Just like the characters in Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog had to learn how to bow out gracefully.
Uncharted 4 ditches the supernatural climax from the previous three games in favor of a much more grounded and relatable story. The game will be remembered for many reasons, but I will remember it most for the underlying moral seamlessly weaved throughout its 20-something chapter campaign. Because who needs ancient curses when the reality of Man’s physical and ethical mortality provides enough drama on its own.
Marcus Garrett is the creator of Top Shelf Gaming, an editorial website that seeks to use the power of video games to impact online and local communities. He enjoys playing guitar, taking naps, and eating tacos. His idea of a perfect day is one where he gets to do all three. Follow him on Twitter @marcus_media.