First and foremost, let me get this straight. This isn't a review and I don't see myself as a critic - although everybody is these days.
While playing Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, I'd like to admit that I'm quite biased in this sort of taste in games. I suppose I'd be called a 'fanboy,' and I'm absolutely okay with that.
I've been with this franchise from 2007 since the first installment, back when I was only around thirteen years old, and without being too sentimental, this installment isn't just a soft bittersweet good night to Playstation's most beloved modern franchise, it's a much more meaningful adventure game finale.
***Potential SPOILERS ahead***
It's true that video games are sought to be entertainment, passers of time for a few dour hours or simply aimed at demonstrating some competitive dorky online skills.
But as time goes on in the gaming industry, and especially since Naughty Dog's 2013 PlayStation exclusive, The Last of Us burst onto our shelves, it has never been more apparent (to me at least) that the gaming medium is aiming towards being more than just technological distraction.
I don't know about anyone else, maybe I'm just getting too geeky for my own good, but whenever I play a new video game or even watch a movie, without mentioning that I hope to be thrilled and entertained, I also try and take something from it.
If I can get entertained and also receive some sort of meaning or wisdom from it then I take that as a win win. Unfortunately, it rarely happens.
Even as a hardcore Uncharted fan, I will admit that the basic set-up or premise of the last three titles has essentially been identical: There's treasure somewhere exotic, we have to find it before the bad guys do - in a nutshell, that's about it.
This one's different.
None of the Uncharted games in the past have ever put so much focus on the actual characters themselves.
Sure, the writing has always been impeccable with pitch perfect comedic timing, both in gameplay and in cinematic cut scenes and although the characters were always charming and likeable, they never had much in-depth history and felt a tad bit shallow.
When in comparison to Naughty Dog's 'The Last of Us,' character motivations seemed a little thin - almost wishy-washy.
If Naughty Dog honed in on another sequel with this familiar sort of formula, it most likely would've also been great. But after finishing Uncharted 4: A Thief's End twice now, it is so clearly obvious that Naughty Dog has taken a large page out of The Last of Us' book.
The narrative of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End begins with Nathan Drake and Elena (now his wife) living a normal life with nine to five jobs. Sitting on the couch in a very ordinary suburban home, chatting about their days while eating their microwaved dinner etc.
Some may even call it shit talk. But there's a single line of dialogue in this scene of the game where Nathan is asked by Elena if he's happy.
Nathan quite typically responds in some accordance, claiming he absolutely is happy. But it's the delivery of his response that hints to the player that he undeniably isn't satisfied with his normal life. A stench of denial if you will.
Ironically, the chapter itself is called, 'A Normal Life.'
It doesn't require a genius to figure out that Nathan Drake isn't someone who's made up for the standard ways of living.
Long story short, Nate's older brother, Samuel Drake, quite literally shows up at his doorstep after 15 years of believing that he was dead. After a quick Uncharted style catch up, Sam quite casually asks Nathan for his help in finding the lost fleet of the infamous 17th century pirate, Henry Avery.
Nathan initially rejects the offer as he's living his normal 'happy' life until Sam spills some beans about a dodgy drug lord black mailing him to find the 400 million dollars worth of gold within a few months or he'll be put six feet under.
This character motivation has never really been seen before in an Uncharted game. Now, I'm not sure if spoiling certain parts of the game would be taken on board without some criticism on my part, but it's difficult to talk about this without giving away plot details and twists to enforce what I'm saying.
If you haven't played Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and wish to do so, I'd recommend you to stop reading at this point.
By the end of the game, after Nathan goes on a quest with Sam, Sully and eventually Elena, parallel to an interesting villain, Rafe Adler, it's his wife Elena that creates the watershed moment in my opinion.
When Elena finds out about Sam's existence, and a horrible lie Nathan tells her that he's apparently traveling the world on a Malaysian placement, by the third act of the game, Elena realizes something.
She realizes that Nathan Drake loves treasure hunting. She discovers it before even Nathan discovers it.
It reminded me of one of the last episodes of Breaking Bad where Walter White openly admits to his wife Skylar without any shame whatsoever that he loves cooking crystal meth.
No matter how angry she got with Nathan for lying to her and being pulled back into his Speilbergian treasure hunting vice, it is one scene towards the end of the game when Elena and Nathan are standing by Henry Avery's table in the middle of the lost city of Libertalia.
She has this faint smile while staring at Nathan breaking everything down like the archaeological detective he truly is, while he's in amazement of everything he sees.
Nathan apologizes to Elena and she just keeps gazing and grinning. It was as if she was saying to him, "Don't be sorry for doing what you love."
Nathan Drake is in complete denial. He doesn't want to admit that he's just born for this life. It's almost as if he didn't care for the fact that his brother's life was in jeopardy. To him, deep down, it was as if it was an excuse for him to go treasure hunting again.
Before I brand my stance on the way I see the game, I do know that not everyone will see it this way but I guess that what I'm getting at is that the message of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is simple; Do what you love.
In this day and age, there are so many of us that just won't go after the things we're truly passionate about for the saddest of reasons.
Maybe you were told you can't do something and it stuck with you, maybe you took one too many short cuts, maybe you took on a job that you don't like just for the pay. We all know someone who's in some kind of frustrating rut.
And for whatever reason, a lot of us won't go for the things we really feel pulled towards.
Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is just that exact archetypal person.
Nate was trying to find the lost treasure of Henry Avery to save Sam's life but it's actually the other way around. Sam saved Nathan's life. And Elena recognized that.
Without trying to make my readers vomit at my overwhelming love for the series, I think it's beautiful. how a video game can convey that. There, I said it. Forgive me.
Now, of course I am aware that there are many modern video games that have an excellent story, and I am by no means trying to criticize other franchises, but if every studio took just a tiny chunk of time to focus on the arc of their story modes just a small bit more, just an ounce, it wouldn't go amiss.
Don't get me wrong, our annual Call of Duty and FIFA releases are a lot of fun and the demographic audience for those releases are clearly very different gamers.
Some call Uncharted repetitive or too linear. But to me, that's like calling Skyrim too big, or Dark Souls too difficult. I'm not saying everybody should agree that Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is a masterpiece.
But I think it's a special game, along with its studio's previous game, The Last of Us, because it really says something unlike most mainstream releases - excuse the hipster in me.
It's akin to the way a great movie will make you forget that you're watching a movie or a great actor will make you forget that they're just acting. Uncharted 4: A Thief's end makes you forget that you're playing a video game.
I'm not going to say sorry for coming across as quite self-indulgent and perhaps a little overly philosophical about a damn video game - wow, I'm so far up my own ass!
But this is a rare example of a game, regardless of the platform, that really pushes the envelope in not just the gaming industry, but story telling as a whole. And that's why I loved it.
I know I said that this wasn't a review, but because of these surprising life lesson type of fulfilling reasons, just for the record in this opinion piece, this is the best Uncharted title.
For once in Uncharted's nine year run, it heeded its primary focus on its beloved characters and not the epic action set pieces.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is just a video game, right? 'It's not very important,' a lot of people may add. But what is important is its message:
Do what you love.