Uncharted’s Obsession With Murder Is More Ridiculous Than Ever In 2022
Nathan Drake kills a lot of people across all the Uncharted games. While exact numbers are rather difficult to pin down, the charming treasure hunter is easily one of the most prolific mass murderers in gaming history. No amount of cutesy jokes, swooning romances, or ancient cities are going to change that fact, and goodness me it’s a little hard to stomach in 2022.
I’ve spent the past couple of weeks playing through the Legacy of Thieves Collection on PS5, which compiles both A Thief’s End and Lost Legacy into a single package with enhanced visuals, improved performance, and a few extra bells and whistles that help it feel at home on the new platform. It isn’t transformative, largely because both of these games were already gorgeous anyway, but it’s lovely to have these gems on a new console where I can access them whenever I like. The additional Trophies and DualSense features don’t hurt either, giving purists a reason to replay games they might know back to front already.
Unlike the first three entries, which juxtaposed the murder of countless mercenaries with a happy-go-lucky charm and indifference to realism that helped it land, these two more recent titles exist in the shadow of The Last of Us. This harrowing post-apocalyptic adventure changed Naughty Dog forever. Previously responsible for the likes of Uncharted, Jak & Daxter, and Crash Bandicoot, the studio was now a prestigious art house that was expected to produce blockbusters with absolutely no equal. I’d call it the Druckmann effect. While he has been present in Naughty Dog’s staple for years now, it wasn’t until Joel and Ellie’s first outing that he was given such freedom to express his artistic vision, cementing an approach to virtual storytelling that proved incredibly influential.
Such influence made its way to A Thief’s End, with several months of Amy Hennig’s work being thrown aside as Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley stepped into the director’s chair. I imagine this change in direction was when the fourth entry became a far deeper, more introspective tale that wasn’t afraid to tear apart Nathan Drake’s legacy and showcase everywhere he had gone wrong in the past. His obsession with treasure hunting lingers despite his promise to Elena that they’d both pursue a civilian life.
This is an effective framing device for a sequel like this, yet so many of its stronger narrative elements are discounted when you consider how many people Nate has killed, and how their loss is little more than a footnote in his position as an almighty protagonist. Sure, he was acting in self defence, but a character study intent on discussing morality and self-worth sorta falls flat the moment you pull off your 100th headshot. Big Tomb Raider reboot energy, ironic when you consider where Crystal Dynamics drew so much of its inspiration.
The snapping of necks and firing of bullets hits different in A Thief's End because the narrative takes time to analyse the impact of actions like this, unafraid to express the futility of wasting your life away in search of ancient cities and endless treasures only to have it all fall away in spite of your own greed. I adore how this game explores the consequences of Nathan and Sam Drake's messy lives, defining their legacy while simultaneously deconstructing it in what many consider the series' finest hour. I agree with them, but it's increasingly hard to ignore the body count of our heroes when the wider plot is desperate to paint them as people who would never kill someone in cold blood.
They would, and very much do. Nadine Ross and her relationship with Shoreline is painted as a double-edged one, with the character choosing to abandon Avery's treasure in the final act because she has already lost so much, countless men dead at the hands of her enemies in a fight she now has no reason to win. Lost Legacy does a much greater job at analysing this plight, with Nadine having left Shoreline behind in the wake of her own failure to protect those under her command. Nathan and Chloe are mentioned as moral equals, two sides of the same coin who tried to kill each other for monetary gain. They're just two people hunting around in graves for easy riches, which is hardly a glamorous occupation.
The Last of Us was such an exhaustive exercise in human misery that it was impossible for Uncharted to return without being influenced by it, and it would be downright unusual if it wasn't. You don't make one of the greatest games of the generation and immediately jump back into campy treasure hunting adventures filled with ghouls, ghosts, and yetis. At least not without being judged or accused of moving backward. When Druckmann took charge of A Thief's End, it veered into the dramatic, wishing to take a darker, more human look at Nathan Drake and his fellow adventurers while no longer putting his penchant for violence and greed aside as a wacky little character flaw. All of this bloodshed, Nate, what are you like?!
I suppose the proof is in the pudding, or the name in this case, with the fourth entry continually referenced as a swansong for Nathan Drake as he literally sails off into the sunset. I love this game, I love its story, and I even love its ending, but considering where the medium has gone in light of its success, so many of its stronger moments have aged badly. Horizon Zero Dawn, God of War, The Last of Us Part 2, and even Ghost of Tsushima have built upon the storytelling devices that Naughty Dog itself helped pioneer, meaning that everything A Thief’s End hopes to accomplish with its sombre tale of sibling conflict and bitter acceptance has since been surpassed.
That, and the act of mass murder in a virtual world that is eager to mimic our own just doesn’t feel right anymore, especially when the characters can put this trauma aside for a cheeky game of Crash Bandicoot when all is said and done. It’s still a wonderful game, but one that invites us to reassess the medium’s relationship with violence and combat in a way that few before it have.
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