Warning! Before you continue reading this article it contains massive spoilers
So while writing my review for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, I had a big chunk of the review that basically focused on the emotional and nostalgic parts of the game. It turned out to be spoiler filled and about 60% of my total review, so I decided to cut it out of the review and turn it into an article of its own. So if it seems a little disjointed you know why, but I will try and make it as coherent as possible. In all my years of playing video games (and I have a lot of them) I have yet to experience the same amount of emotional and nostalgic attachment to a fictional video game character, than what I got while playing Uncharted 4. One of the most nostalgic moments in Uncharted 4 for me is early on, in chapter four, when Nate is trying to fit into the traditional domestic life.
At the start of the game Nathan has given up on the illegal and dangerous life of a treasure hunter, and settled into a job at as a diver at a local salvaging company. He has a nice house (with a mortgage) that he shares with his wife Elena. They spend their evenings talking about work and arguing over who does the dishes, a far cry from his life before the start of the 4th game. Chapter 4 “A normal life” opens with a fantastic moment that has Nate sitting alone at a desk in the attic of his house. It doesn’t look at all like the rest of his house. Instead, the entire attic is filled with mementos and treasures from his past adventures. Old bits and pieces that he couldn’t bear to throw away, photos of friends and places he didn’t want to forget. There are also notebooks filled with sketches and stories.
As he walks through the attic it really hits you just how much Nate has done over the course of the past three games and more than 10 years of adventuring. What makes this Chapter really work is that it lets you reminisce as much as you want. You can pick up every object and turn it over in your hands, examining it from multiple angles. You can listen to Nate think back on the times he clearly misses so much, and it shows you just how much he misses the life of a treasure hunter and the trouble he has adapting to the domestic life. Even more evident when he pulls out his Nerf gun from his old gun holster and starts shooting targets imagining them to be enemies as he ducks and weaves through the attic shooting at them. It had me grinning like a retarded idiot the entire way through.
The attic sequence is the most prominent and most likely best example of the use of nostalgia in any video game that I have ever seen, and plenty of games can learn from Naughty Dog and the Uncharted franchise. Having said that this very nostalgic theme runs throughout the game. When Nate meets his long lost brother Sam for the first time, one of the first things he does is tell him all about one of his most daring adventures. The game gives you the choice to choose what adventure you tell him about, which is a nice touch. Because plenty of Uncharted fans out there have their own favourite game and adventure in the franchise. And throughout the game you will hear Nate, Sam, Elena, and Sully chat away, and often reminiscing about past moments from past games.
Nostalgia is the background noise of Uncharted 4, always there and just enough to make you notice smile and reminisce. All this builds up until the final last chapter the epilogue of the game. When we meet a surprise new character: Cassie, Nate and Elena’s young daughter, I swear when I realized this I squealed like a fan girl. During the course of the chapter you learn that she’s just like her parents, a budding explorer with a thirst for adventure. She appears to be already in her early teens, and already gracing the cover of a magazine for young adventurers. Eventually Cassie stumbles upon a locked cabinet in a beach house that belongs to her father. She manages to open it up, and inside are all of the same objects from the attic that we got to see back in chapter 4.
You can pick them up again, and see them through her (fresh) eyes and hear her commenting on the various items. They still there, just as they were before, and they always will be. Having said that I already miss Nathan, Elena and Sully. And Naughty Dog knows this, they really twisted the knife even deeper by building a warm sense of nostalgia into the final chapter of the game. Having said all of the above, I am happy with the ending we got. Too often in games these days, video game developers are determined to give us shocking finales and big cliff hangers. But with Uncharted 4 you get a touching conclusion to Nathan Drake’s story that fits with the feel of the series. And the more I reflect on it, the more I think this was the perfect finale for Nathan Drake and us his fans.