Whether jumping from a cargo plane mid-flight or exploring a lost kingdom in the heart of the Himalayas, the Uncharted series is know for laying on set piece after set piece. However, away from the high-octane chase scenes and supernatural encounters, we’re occasionally given a small yet incredibly personal glimpse into the life of its lead protagonist, Nathan Drake. With today’s release of Uncharted 4, it’s the perfect opportunity to look back on what has become one of the most iconic figures in gaming.
2007 was a funny time for video games. Although it seems like eons have come and gone since, there’s no doubt many of you who still have retired RCA cables buried in the shallow confines of your nearest cupboard.
The seventh generation of home consoles didn’t just give us high definition, it also brought a more advanced form of virtual storytelling into the spotlight. Sure, PC and console games had already been telling stories for decades, yet the technical fidelity to bring these sagas to life wasn’t quite there.
Even for the Uncharted series, this intrinsic approach to character development wasn’t there from the get go. As iconic and charming as he is, Nathan Drake started out as your archetypal scoundrel. He was a lovable rogue who could get out of just about any predicament and still have enough words in him to belt out a pun.
However, we’ve seen the franchise slowly mature along with its developer, Naughty Dog. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a much more personal affair by comparison, spinning its narrative yarn to galvanise the bonds between its main characters.
Although it had its faults, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception dug even deeper. Aside from exploring the complicated relationship between characters, it pushed us to question their motivations. It’s that sort of in-depth thinking that surprised me. Playing through the original all those years ago, I never thought I’d be trying to probe the inner thoughts of characters who were, back then, conduits for the action unfolding on screen. Of course, at the very centre of all this mystery is the man himself, Nathan Drake.
With little to no preamble, Drake’s Fortune dives straight into the action and never looks back. There’s no exhaustive backstory to chew on or flashbacks to mull over. All we have is a treasure hunter, a reporter, and the coffin of long-deceased English admiral.
We’re talking about Sir Francis Drake, of course, the historic naval legend who – to our knowledge – sired no children before his death at sea. It’s no wonder, then, that our interests were piqued in those opening moments of the first game, to hear Nathan claim he is a direct descendant. That would explain Drake’s ring, after all – a tiny curio that continues to play a part throughout the series.
However, capping off the original trilogy, Naughty Dog’s third instalment had us questioning everything we thought we knew about the series’ protagonist. Instead of being passed from generation to generation, the iconic ring – engraved with the Latin phrase “Sic Parvis Magna” – was pilfered from a Spanish museum by a much younger Nate.
It’s not as if the lad was reclaiming a family heirloom either. When captured by Uncharted 3’s big baddie, Katherine Marlowe, we discover that his surname isn’t Drake at all. It’s a name he adopted during childhood at the Saint Francis Boys Home. With his mother having committed suicide when he was just five, Nate’s father left him at the orphanage before disappearing. Growing up, he would spend those years fascinating over Sir Francis and stories of long lost treasure.
Despite being a very short glimpse into his past, Marlowe’s reveal illustrates a mystifying chapter in Nate’s life that comes to fore once again in Uncharted 4. Without going into any specifics, those who have spied the trailers and pre-release material will know there are flashbacks that centre around Nate growing up beside his brother, Sam. When it comes to treasure hunting, the two seem to have a shared interest that stems from their troubled upbringing.
However, beaming way ahead to the closing scenes of Uncharted 3, Nate seems ready pack in his globetrotting antics for good. After the constant on again, off again relationship, he and Elena have finally settled down in Uncharted 4, but it doesn’t last for long.
No longer motivated by prospects of discovery and immeasurable wealth, Drake’s latest adventure is fuelled by a sense of loyalty to Sam, the brother he thought he’d lost. It’s this particular narrative thread that fans of the series will watch closely as it begins to unspool. Sam’s reappearance holds the key an entire saga in Nate’s life that players can only loosely piece together with a few scraps of information. It’s also evidence of Naughty Dog putting the series’ cast of characters first before the all-out set piece action, something that closely reflects The Last of Us and its own approach to storytelling.
With Uncharted 4 being the closing chapter in Drake’s journey, expect plenty of revelations with an equal number of loose ends being tied up.