Recently, a fan of the Uncharted games edited together cut scenes and bits of gameplay to create a feature length movie of each game. Personally, this is something that I’ve always wanted to see since just watching the cut scenes in order didn’t present a coherent story.
Watching the three movies, I was surprised by my reaction to the third one. I think that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the best game in the series with the best character arcs, the best writing, and the best plot. Yet, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was the most enjoyable movie of the three. Strangely, I found it more enjoyable for the one thing that’s always better in games than in movies: its combat.
In Drake’s Deception, Nathan Drake gets into a lot more fistfights. Not only does this make for more visually interesting fights, but it makes Drake a more sympathetic and relatable character.
Drake is the quintessential everyman of gaming, which means that while he does have several superhuman abilities that justify the game mechanics (regenerating health, climbing abilities) he reacts to the crazy situations around him as we do. It’s not about being realistic as much as it is about being meta. He makes snarky comments about the environment, he interacts with the environment in playful ways, he’s shocked when he survives an action set piece, and he’s easy to relate to because he’s literally the voice of the player at times.
We like him because he seems human—he seems like us. He acknowledges the absurdity around him, and in doing so, he admits his own vulnerabilities. Even if he ultimately survives every encounter, he initially believes that he can die. He fears for his life, and Naughty Dog has always been good at putting him in just the right amount of danger to keep up this illusion: shooting him on the train in Among Thieves and dropping him in the middle of a desert in Drake’s Deception. This humanizes him. since it’s natural to cheer for an underdog, and Drake is always the underdog. We want to see him beaten down, and at his most vulnerable moment. we want to see him overcome that hurt and pain to win the day.
So Drake shouldn’t shoot people because that’s too easy. A couple shots in the chest—or just one in the head—and a bad guy is dead. There’s no struggle. It doesn’t feel like Drake is risking his life in every fight. Look at Drake’s direct inspiration, Indiana Jones. Over four movies, Indy shoots a lot of guys, but he also kills people by beating them up, ramming them off cliffs, throwing them from moving vehicles, spearing them, blowing them up, and then there are the deaths that result from his indirect actions like being burned alive, cut up by a propeller, or crushed to death. Many of these fights are long and drawn out, and by the end of them, it feels like Indy is lucky to be alive. The adventure hero is a physical hero; he’s meant to get beaten, hurt, bloody, and battered. It’s the physical violence—the kind done to him and the kind that he does to others—that defines him. So it doesn’t make sense for Drake to use a gun. It’s just too easy.
The revamped melee combat in Drake’s Deception allows the player (or in this case, I suppose you could call him the director) to spend just as much time punching people as shooting them. Finally, Drake is acting like the physical hero that he’s supposed to be. Every fight feels like a struggle rather than a game of whack-a-mole with guns. These fistfights are the most exciting part of the game-movie to watch (and, in retrospect, play). These are the moments when I feel closest to Drake, the most invested in his struggle. It’s telling that the final boss uses this hand-to-hand combat; Naughty Dog knew this was a proper way to end the game. The final bosses in the previous two games look painfully easy by comparison.
Of course, this brings up the dilemma of watching a game as opposed to playing a game. You could make a strong argument that the final boss in Drake’s Deception was the easiest to play even though it looked the hardest. However, when I think back to playing the game myself, that final fight did feel exciting despite the lack of difficulty. It’s a matter of finding a balance between pacing and difficulty, something that Uncharted has always struggled with, but I think that boss fight gets just right.
It lessens Drake’s heroism to see him shoot someone, not because it makes him a violent man, but because it makes him look weak. He takes the easy way to victory, and the life of an adventure hero should never be easy. The more roadblocks the better. A gun is just boring.