PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Games

Combat Is Character Development in 'Uncharted 4'

In Uncharted 4, combat has changed because Nathan Drake has changed.


Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Rated: Teen
Games: Uncharted 4
Platforms: PS4
Release Date: 2016-05-10

Combat is expressive. You can tell a lot about a character based on the way that he fights. I wrote about this idea some time ago regarding Assassin's Creed. I considered how the fighting styles of Altair and Ezio changed over time and how those changes reflected on each character.

In retrospect, I wrote that piece based on an assumption that went unspoken at the time. Combat is at its most expressive when it changes. Seeing Ezio's techniques, arsenal, and skills evolve over the course of three games was far more interesting than simply analyzing Altair based on one game.

Combat is often a tool of blunt characterization, a means of quickly establishing personality. It's obvious at a glance that Kratos is angry or that Bayonetta is flashy or that Nathan Drake is reckless. However, the problem with us as players is that we rarely update our perception of a character beyond that initial introduction, so Kratos is always angry and Bayonetta is always flashy and Nathan Drake is always reckless. These are iconic characters, and we're reluctant to let them change. However, they have to change if they're to stay relevant and interesting.

Last week I wrote about my conflicted feelings about the stealth mechanics of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End and their prevalence throughout the game. I didn't want to play stealthily. I wanted to play recklessly because that's how I played the previous Uncharted games. That one combat style defined Drake as an adventurer.

But stealth? That's not what an adventurer does. It must be out of character. And it is, but that's the point. The change in combat reflects a change in Nathan Drake. This is combat at its most expressive.

The choice between stealth and action reflects on Nathan's maturity. On one side, you have the reckless, roguish, brawling boy of his youth, a man who lives for the thrill of the treasure hunt. On the other side, you have the smart, clever, methodical man of his adulthood; a man who wants to limit the danger that he faces.

Nathan Drake is no longer so reckless with his life because now he has a life that he doesn't want to lose: a happy and loving marriage with Elena, a life beyond the next treasure hunt. The game makes stealth a very attractive option -- so much tall grass to hide in, all so perfectly placed for ambushes -- because that's now Nate's default mode of thinking. I wanted to play as Nate the adventurer, even as the story and the cut scenes tried to push me away from that characterization and what I failed to appreciate at the time was that the combat design was doing the same thing as the story.

It's important to point out that the game still let me play recklessly. There was, in fact, a choice to be made at the start of each combat encounter. Nate may be trying to change, but he's struggling against an inherent need within himself. He may want to be careful, but it still makes complete sense for him to be reckless.

In retrospect, my decision to switch from stealth to action when I did added a nice touch to the character, one only possible thanks to the give and take of storytelling control that comes from combat options like these.

Spoilers for Uncharted 4

When the game begins, Nate has made an honest life for himself with Elena as a salvage operator. The reappearance of the brother that he thought was long dead puts him back on the road to adventure in search of the pirate utopia Libertalia and the supposed $400 million worth of treasure within it.

I played the first half of the game as a quiet killer. It made perfect sense. During this time I was just searching for clues to a treasure that might not even exist anymore. Why risk death for something so flimsy and unknown? Nate has too much to lose to do that.

Eventually and inevitably, he finds Libertalia. The first fight here is the one that disappointed me and made me want to fight like a reckless fool, but this is also the moment that it makes the most sense for Nate to totally backslide into his old ways. Being in the presence of an ancient forgotten city, so close to a mythical treasure, seeing sights no other living person has seen -- he's fully in it now, fully committed to the treasure hunt, fully ensconced in his old life. He can no longer pretend that he's a changed man, so it's back to the shootouts and rocket launchers.

It's a nice character moment because it's not written by the developers. They certainly encourage a change in tactics, as this is also when more fights start automatically, preventing any kind of stealth approach, but this just further reflects how expressive combat can be when it changes.

Naughty Dog understands this concept well. Uncharted 4 changes up the combat compared to previous games because Nate has changed, and when things do go back to those old ways, it means so much more than just a chance for an extended action scene. It's a return to form that shouldn’t be celebrated. Each action scene becomes more than just a struggle to survive, it becomes a struggle for Nate's soul.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.