Uncharted 4: A Thieve’s End, the greatest adventure story ever told

The Nathan Drake adventures on the Playstation game systems have reminded me often of my experiences from 1983 through 1988.  I love the games and the character of Nathan Drake.  Up until recently I thought Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was one of the greatest video games ever made.  The video game company Naughty Dog actually did something unthinkable, they are challenging great movie characters like Indiana Jones for the right to be king of the storytelling venue, and up until Uncharted 4: A Thieves End—which just came out in May of 2016 I thought they were scratching the surface.  However, I have given myself some time recently to play the 4th game, with great anticipation on my part.  Even though in my life I have shelved many of the traits about Nathan Drake’s life which remind me so much of my early years I deeply wanted to see how Naughty Dog would end the story of that very likable character—as this is slated to be the end of the series as we know it.  After playing Uncharted 4 let me report that it is jaw dropping great.  I had high expectations but even so, it far exceeded those in every way.  By the time the credits concluded I had a very similar feeling as I did the very first time I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, only this was better, because the game was much longer and had time to jump into the lives of the characters in a storytelling fashion that I think was Academy Award winning.  The acting and pacing was so good that it rivals the best films Hollywood has ever produced—like Citizen Kane for set design and drama, or James Bond for sheer action and scope of circumstance.  As just an example of how good the game is, how it looks and how magnificent it is the video below is actual game play.  It looks like a movie but I can confirm that everything you see is a playable element.  It is quite astonishing.

If you have not yet played the game you may want to return to this article once you have as spoilers will follow.  I thought there were a number of elements about Uncharted 4 that were quite extraordinary story wise, and those items will be discussed—so if you don’t want to know, stop here.

Was I happy with the ending?  Actually, I was amazed by the ending.  It was so refreshing, that an entertainment company actually produced a story that featured strong characters with healthy relationships.  It was good to see that Nate and his wife actually lived happily ever after—that the events of the previous games were really about Nathan Drake coming to terms with his past and living a healthy future.  And it was nice to see that they gave birth to a daughter who was living a successful life with them.  Nathan Drake managed to also maintain positive relationships with his brother and his father figure mentor Sully as the years after Uncharted 4 progressed.  It was the happiest ending I’ve seen since the conclusion of the very first Back to the Future movie—it was satisfying in every way.  My wife and I kind of looked at each other after the story concluded because honestly it was like Naughty Dog had been spying on our own lives together over the years even down to the characters of the new daughters.  I was certainly able to relate to the ending—to say the least.  I was so pleased that millions of video game players were able to experience these Nathan Drake adventures which featured such positive role models and outcomes.  No wonder the game is so popular—the ending showed me that video games have become the dominate form of storytelling in our modern culture surpassing movies and novels finally.  In a lot of ways Uncharted 4 is the greatest story ever told—it is certainly the greatest treasure hunt surpassing Raiders of the Lost Ark or even Humphrey Bogart’s Treasure of Sierra Madre.  The people at Naughty Dog knew what they were doing and they pulled it off with sheer audacity.  Such a good ending to the story of Nathan Drake—especially for those who have spent the last ten years enjoying the Uncharted franchise.  Hollywood would have never dared to give fans such a positive ending.

What started as a rip off of the Tomb Raider franchise—which was a female rip-off of Indiana Jones, Uncharted had evolved into its own thing by the third video game.  Even the makers of the Tomb Raider games had realized that Uncharted was literally going someplace nobody had thought previously possible.  So by the time Naughty Dog set out to do Uncharted 4, they were truly in “uncharted” territory for any storytelling medium.  The game designers appeared to be aware that they were laying foundations that every video game and movie company in the future would have to live up to and they were enjoying it.  There were times where they were actually showing off their technical abilities just because they could.

For me the moment of ecstasy occurred when Nathan Drake arrived for the first time in Libertalia, the mythical pirate colony established by Henry Avery.  As it may be noted I have a particular love for pirate lore.  Uncharted 4 would have been the greatest video game I ever played taking away the pirate subplot, but adding it for me was just a wonderful bonus.  I have always wondered about the Avery colony which is a kind of Atlantis legend that I first ran across in the old book A General History of Pyrates by Danial Defoe (Captain Johnson).  Ironically, that book is one of my personal favorites so it was paradoxical that it was the centerpiece to the entire Uncharted 4 storyline—it was a slice of heaven for my mind.  It was the story I most wanted somebody out there in the world to tell because it is certainly worth of the attempt.  Libertalia in Uncharted 4 was realistically realized in much the fashion it would have been given Avery’s incredible wealth at the time and the tendency of the world’s nations to want to hunt down those pirates for the looting of all their vast treasures–$400 million dollars worth.

Libertalia was very interesting in that it actually fits politically into the discussion of our times—really the philosophic difference between libertarians, and the Tea Party movement.  What a lot of people don’t know is that the American Revolution was ignited by the actions of these very pirates central to the Uncharted 4 story so I consider the narrative an important one which shaped the actual Libertalia which become America. But for the founders of Libertalia, what a concept, a utopian paradise founded by renegades from all the world governments and all the possible problems that might arise from it.  I found the entire concept extremely compelling.  Then to walk around that environment in a 3D world was really something to behold.  The sense of scale was truly incredible.  These Uncharted makers obviously have experience with real world adventures as their physics through caves, with rappelling and climbing and geography was spot on—nearly real world in their feel.  If not for some of the over-the-top gun battles, and climbing, Uncharted 4 could be a simulation of real life.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite part of the game for me, because after I was finished, it seemed like a really long journey.  I took my time getting through the game—spending about three weekends completing it.  Ironically, I think the chapter where Nathan and his brother break into the old mansion to get back their mother’s personal possessions was the most compelling, which I didn’t expect.  Nathan’s mother supposedly committed suicide when he was very young forcing him to grow up in an orphanage run by nuns.  Uncharted 4 opens with Drake and his brother in a Panamanian jail and it is very gritty.  Through the series Drake is in many jails yet he’s highly intelligent walking a very fine line between ghetto thug and world-class traveler.  So it was interesting and realistic to learn that Nathan’s mother was a genius scholar who had obviously brushed elbows with powerful people and something bad happened to her.  Her absence in the lives of her children obviously sent them down a dark path leaving them with relationship troubles later in their lives as they had been a relatively happy family.  As young children that happiness was ripped from them and they spent the rest of their days trying to get it back which culminated around the secret treasure of Henry Avery—a character of obsession for their mother.  I thought that the Naughty Dog team went so much further than Spielberg could in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in taking such an interesting globetrotting adventurer and grounding him into something internally driven by overbearing parents and childhood disappointments.  Even in the Panamanian jail, Drake and his brother seem too smart for their circumstances, but psychologically damaged by their upbringing.  Apparently they got just enough from their mother to be smart and inquisitive young people, but not enough to stay out of trouble.  The story was to me, deeply intelligent.

And that is the triumph of Uncharted 4, not just as a Playstation only video game, but as a mechanism for storytelling.  It is a shame that such a magnificent story doesn’t have the ability to reach everyone, but it certainly does justify the expense of buying a PS4 just so that people can play this video game.  It is worth every penny the cost of not only the game at $60 dollars, but the $300 cost of a PS4.  I haven’t played many of these types of games over the last five or six years.  Previous favorites were Red Dead Redemption and of course Star Wars: The Old Republic.  But this Uncharted game is just another step in creating virtual realities and telling stories in those realms.  Recently after buying a Samsung 4K 70” television the first thing I wanted to do was get an updated gaming system so I could catch up on some of the new titles that have been produced in the video game world.  The highest on my list was Uncharted 4 which was coming up at the time.  With that said, the game was gorgeous blown up big and in 4K—nearly flawless.  It really was a game that hit every mark on a high note and was something truly to behold and enjoy.  If you get the chance, take the adventure.  It’s not the only reason I spent 5K on an entertainment system, but I would do it again just to play Uncharted 4 once.   It will last in your mind for a lifetime.  It is my new favorite video game, and one of my most beloved adventure stories.  It has the depth of an adventure novel, the action of a summer blockbuster, and the romance of an Academy Award winning motion picture.  I really don’t think Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn could have ever imagined the type of storytelling exhibited in Uncharted 4.  It is a new gold standard that will certainly stand the test of time and is one of the greatest adventure stories EVER told.  What a great experience Naughty Dog!  Thanks!

Do yourself a favor and watch the videos included above.  The effort put into Uncharted 4 is just incredible, and it certainly shows—an A+ in every single category.

Rich Hoffman

 CLIFFHANGER RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT

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