A Thief’s End, The Second Coming

So many questions, so little answers.

Well, technically it’s the third coming — we did, after all, have our first glimpse of Uncharted 4 in December 2013 — but it’s Uncharted, for God’s Drake’s sake, so I wanted the title of this post to have a sort of messianic air about it.

All we saw last December was a map — a very intriguing map, but a map all the same. What the PlayStation Experience brought, however, was our second glimpse at the game itself. And what a glimpse it was. It was much, much more than I expected to see, and yet, at the same time, much less. Much more because it went on for about thirteen minutes longer than I thought it would, and much less because I expected to get a glimpse of some of the other characters we already know and love. Chloe and Cutter? Maybe. But Elena? Sully? Definitely. I would, in fact, have bet on it — and come away from that Friday evening with my wallet weighing considerably less.

The footage opens with a beautiful vista — first teased the night before at the Game Awards Show, which, despite still having some lingering issues that need ironed-out, should be commended for being such a turnaround from VGX — which, honestly, looks as though it could be right at home in a Pixar movie.

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From there, the camera pulls back, and we find ourselves looking at Mr. Nathan Drake — if, you know, that is, in fact, his name… *cough*… Drake’s Deception… *cough*… — himself. Here’s the thing, though: when Nate turns to face the camera, it can’t be denied that he doesn’t quite look like he did at E3.

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He still looks fantastic, but it’s not the same. The more cynical part of my mind immediately jumped the proverbial gun. Downgrade alert! But as the camera continues its journey and ends up behind Nate once again, it all becomes clear: this is gameplay. 

Even now, with a decent bit of time having gone past since the PlayStation Experience, there are still naysayers out there complaining that the game’s visuals have been downgraded. What they must realise, however, is that what we saw at E3 was most likely a cutscene — if even a part of the game at all: it may simply have been a proof-of-concept teaser. This, however, is what the game will most likely look like when we’re playing it ourselves next year. And for someone — me… — who has been playing Naughty Dog games since the days of Crash Bandicoot 

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— that is downright amazing.

From here on out, and in an attempt to prevent this post from running on for fourteen pages, I’m going to write about the content of the gameplay bullet point-style, with clickable timecodes to take you straight to the particular part of the video I’m talking about.

Ready? Great. Here we go!

02:13Not reassuring at all, Nate. But, ladies and gentlemen, notice the skull and crossbones painted in blood on the wall above Skelzor. Look familiar? It should…

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02:29Sigh. All this action is legitimately making my hands itch for a controller. Hurry up, release date!

03:42: Oh, Sully… what have you gotten yourself into now?

04:04Look at how good his hands look! His fingernails could use a cleaning, though… oh, and I suppose that letter’s interesting enough. Captain Avery, anyone? Goes by another name, too, I hear.

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04:33: ‘You tried to climb up there? In those boots?’

05:08Say what you will, but the Tomb Raider comparisons are inevitable.

06:16: I’m not sure I’m a fan of this semi-transparent foliage business…

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07:25Pay attention, kids. Those adversaries are having a very interesting conversation…

08:25: Well, this is awesome. And his hair reacted to the waterfall. I need this game.

09:10: Is that a whip? *Hums Indiana Jones theme music.* (Turns out it’s not actually a whip, but more of a grapple. What the hell, though? I’m just going to keep on humming the Indiana Jones music anyway.)

09:45These rocks really do look awesome…

10:15Look at that goddamn beautiful explosion debris. The level design here is fantastic. It seems a lot more complex than the areas we’re used to being given in Uncharted, and seems to allow for a greater degree of freedom in how you can approach things.

11:18This combat is Uncharted through-and-through. I simply cannot wait to get my hands on it. Anyone have a time machine I could borrow?

11:35: Looks like your fingernails aren’t the only things in need of cleaning, Nate. I wonder if this island has a laundrette?

13:27: Da-da-da-daaa-da-da-daaaaaaaa!

14:27: He can never just climb in peace, can he?

14:51: Wait a minute! That’s not Sully!

15:04Little brother?! Hmmm. I wonder if this apparent familial connection will shed a little more light on some of the Nate-related revelations of Drake’s Deception?

And thus the footage draws to a close, with Nate and his brother heading off to find some treasure. Cue speculation time.

There was quite a stir a while back — in April, specifically — when it was announced that Todd Stashwick, the man behind the voice heard in the criminally tantalising Uncharted teaser shown at 2013’s Insulting, Should-Never-Have-Been-Allowed-To-Happen Disaster Show — otherwise known as VGX… — had had his part in A Thief’s End recast. Now, here’s the speculation: what if he was playing Nate’s brother? And what if — if that turns out to be the case — said brother is the villain of the piece? I must admit, I’m not too keen on the notion. It’s a common cliché, but it does allow for some interesting ideas.

If the particular part of the game we were treated to takes place before the scene we saw in the E3 footage, we can assume that something goes wrong after Nate and his brother head off to find that treasure.

Was Nate betrayed by his brother? Is the guy even his brother at all, or just some fortune-hunter cashing-in on Nate’s troubled past? Did the leader of all those men Nate dispatched show up and throw his own personal spanner in the works? Or — and here’s the really out-there one (and yet, strangely enough, the one I’d be most willing to bet on) — does this part of the game take place quite a while before the main body of it? I’m not the only one who thought that the Drake shown in the gameplay looked a little younger than the version presented to us at E3. Can we assume, then, that something happened shortly after the footage we saw that led to Nate dropping out of the game? Something like — oh… I don’t know… – the apparent death of his brother? Said apparent death leaving said brother rotting in a certain hellhole for fifteen years?

This is all wild speculation, of course. Naughty Dog could simply have patched-out the cut on Drake’s forehead in an attempt to keep us a little more in the dark as to when and where in the game the footage takes place. And for all the evidence pointing to the gameplay having taken place before the E3 footage, there’s just as strong an argument to suggest that it takes place after.

Carefully observing the footage, it appears to be morning, with the day brightening steadily as the gameplay continues. The morning after the night before? Also, one of the enemies Nate encounters specifically remarks that ‘they’ — which we can be fairly certain means Nate and his brother — managed to survive some sort of wreck, which could point to the sort of accident that would leave a man washed up on a riverbank with a nasty cut on his forehead.

Only time will tell.

The footage that led to this post raises so many questions, and yet there are so little answers.

For now, at least.

Uncharted 4 is forecasted to be released at some point next year. Given how fast this year’s gone by, the time between now and then may — fingers crossed — feel like nothing at all. We’ll have those answers soon enough.


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