I think what I like most about Uncharted 4 were the quiet moments. And there’s a surprising amount of them, for the final chapter in a series that’s made a name for having some of the most fantastic, action-laden set pieces in games.
It’s the first game to actually focus on Nathan Drake as a person and not just an action hero, and tells us more about the modern-day Indiana Jones than all of the previous games combined. He’s more than just an indomitable, affable rogue with a bottomless well of witty one-liner responses to the seemingly endless burdens of his adventures. He’s more than just a balance of charm and sarcasm, of determination and vulnerability.
He’s not just an asshole. Thanks to some pretty good writing, we can finally see Nathan Drake as a human being, one who you can actually care about. We learn that Nathan has an older brother – a fellow history buff with an eye for valuable artefacts and a penchant for sidling up walls – who’s largely responsible for setting Nathan on his questionable career path as a vagabond adventurer.
It’s a career that’s come to an end. Years after the events of the last game, Nathan’s settled down and married his enduring love interest, Elena. These moments we see here, of the two of them in their home – playful bantering over whose turn it is to do the dishes, and a score-chase betwixt the two in wonderfully Meta retro videogame to settle it, are some of the most nuanced and balanced looks at relationships you’ll see in video games.
Working doing salvage from sea wrecks, we see Nathan coming to terms with the mundanity of everyday life, his escapades little more than a series of memory, spurred by the mementos and keepsakes from them he keeps in his home. He yearns for adventure, but he’s a changed man; older and wiser. And then, fifteen years since he was last seen, Nathan’s brother Sam is back, endangered – and of course his returns sets off a chain of events that sees the Brothers Drake set off on one last great big adventure.
This time, they’re off to find their golden goose; the incredible fortune of pirate Henry Avery and the anarchist pirate utopia of Libertalia. It’s an adventure that’s reminiscent in many ways, of The Goonies, telling a similar tale of familial bonds, obsession and hubris. It’s a tale, well told, that takes time in its telling. Like many good stories it starts in the middle before going back and coming around once more to finish up. It’s not as immediately gripping as Uncharted 2’s lauded train-climb, or even Uncharted 3’s opening bar brawl, though it’s graphically impressive, as you’d expect from the technical wizards at Naughty Dog.
For a while, the whole experience – though breath-taking in its beauty, feels as though it could be stilted, not veering especially far from the formula set up in previous adventures. You run, you grab on ledges, you shoot at bad guys, you do the odd puzzle; the typical sort of evolution over revolution we see in sequels. It perhaps feel too familiar.