Human isn’t often the kind of word you use to describe a video game. Most games just can’t reach the level of immersion required to make a player forget they are playing a game. Uncharted 4 is a rare exception to this rule. A Thief’s End is certainly full of reminders that it is a spectacle first, but there are moments where the characters feel more like people than just a character in a game. Uncharted 4 is the most human game I have ever played.
The finest example of this comes early in the game. Nate is now your average Joe working a 9 to 5 job. He goes home to his wife Elena, eats dinner, and argues that it’s his turn to do the dishes. Where the scene really shines is after the Crash Bandicoot easter egg. The smile on Elena’s face, the satisfaction, and then the look on Nate’s, the sheer disbelief that he lost. For a moment I forgot I was playing a game. Watching these two as they eventually fell into each other’s arms, they didn’t feel like characters in a game, they felt like real people who were clearly very much in love. It isn’t often that a game truly sells the idea of people being in love, the most human of concepts. Much of this is due to just how real the characters look, but a lot also falls on the voice acting. The delivery matches the look, making the event come to life and feel human.
Other games, for example Mass Effect, fail to deliver on the concept of love. I understand we’re comparing apples to oranges in terms of actual games, but hear me out. The characters look great and the voice acting is good, and Mass Effect even gives the player hours of time to develop their relationship. But when it comes to Mass Effect, relationships feel cold. Everyone talks a big game about how much they care or how much they would do for them, but the ultimate payoff just doesn’t feel as rewarding as it should. Uncharted evokes more emotion in a 10 minute sequence than Mass Effect does of a 40 hour playthrough in this regard. The characters in Mass Effect, as charming as they are, never feel real, or “human” (you know what I mean).
Another example is Sam, Nate’s older brother. We’ve come to know our hero as Nate because that’s what Sully calls him, that’s what Elena calls him, and even Chloe. He’s Nate, and yet, Sam will always call him Nathan. You probably see if in your family, I certainly see it in mine. I go Chris among my friends and even on this site, but my family will always call me by my full name. That’s what family does, and so it makes sense that Sam, being the big brother that he is, would refer to Nate as Nathan. It’s such a small detail, sure, but at the same time it goes a long way to bringing the world to life and selling the relationship Sam and Nathan have, even though this is the only opportunity we’ve had to meet him, let alone know he existed.
Knowing there wouldn’t be much of an adventure if there wasn’t a treasure to find, Drake finds himself in Madagascar on the hunt for the treasure of Henry Avery. He had told Elena that he was doing a job in Malaysia, but she would not be duped so easily. She found out what he was up to, but he only found out after escaping a gunfight and returning to his hotel room to find here there waiting. Her eyes were red, the look on her face was that of someone broken, betrayed. My heart ached for her. Every word she spoke she sounded as though she was fighting back tears. A scene like this is the perfect example of how far the medium has come in conveying human emotion in games. I’ve seen real actors and actresses that couldn’t make me feel the way Elena did. It was crushing.
Obviously this strained their otherwise successful relationship. When Drake washes ashore after a shipwreck, he begins talking to himself about how he threw his happy life away and for what? Elena later saves Drake after he is knocked off a cliff, but all is still not well in the Drake family. The two are clearly distant, uniting at this point only to save Sam. Nate tries when possible to explain himself and apologize while Elena tried to put the talk on hold, not ready to forgive and forget. However, being back in action together reminds them why they fell in love in the first place. They slowly open up more about the situation and talk it out, like couples do, though most couples aren’t trying to survive and island covered in mercenaries looking to kill them. Though the circumstances surrounding them bring us back to earth, Drake and Elena shine in these sequences.
Then comes the ending. Elena, not quite ready to give up on their old crazy lives, buys the business Nate works for, making it theirs. This means that the treasure hunting doesn’t have to end, even if they both agree they need to play “by the books” this time. They go on to amass fame and fortune and even have a daughter. It is a fitting and reasonable end, and one that gives players the proper closure they need. I was happy for them, genuinely happy for two characters that I felt deserved to be happy. That kind of connection isn’t easily made. There are characters you care about, ones you root for, but Uncharted has characters I believed. Yes, this was a game where Drake survived more than a few impossible situations and killed more people than I could keep count. For all the spectacle in Uncharted 4, there is a whole lot of heart, enough to make a few characters on the screen human, if only for a few moments.