Nathan Drake is the bad guy

Andy Kelly sees a darker side to Uncharted's lovable wisecracking hero...

We know him as the charming adventurer, the one-man quip machine, the good guy. But Nathan Drake has the blood of thousands on his hands, and his face, and splattered across his trousers.

Over two Uncharted instalments the affable Drake has murdered more people than all of America's serial killers combined. He's blown them away with shotguns, burst them with grenades, snapped their necks and tossed them off cliffs - all without a glimmer of remorse.

One minute he's pumping an entire SMG clip into a human being and the next he's cracking wise, to the delight of Elena and Chloe. He smirks and they bat their eyelashes at him, a pile of bloodied, mutilated corpses at his feet. He's so funny! Outside games, even in film, this would be considered lunatic behaviour - we just quietly accept it.


This is something I've always found jarring about the Uncharted series, and games in general. Sure, the people you're killing are painted as the 'bad guys' - evil Russians and pirates. But Drake is after the same things they are: namely, really valuable stuff that doesn't belong to him.

The only thing that separates him from his enemies is that he's a lovable scamp and they have surly foreign accents. When you think about it, they're all as bad as each other.

Would a hero like Indiana Jones rob a museum or flog a priceless relic? Of course not. It's not exactly heroic. Drake's motives are questionable, to say the least. OK, by end of Uncharted 2 he's trying to stop lead villain Lazarevic from taking over the world, but it takes a lot of effort from Elena to convince him, and even then he's reluctant. "I'm through with all this," he says. "I'm done playing the hero!"

What, the hero who murders thousands for personal gain? OK. There has to be gunfire. Without combat, Uncharted wouldn't be the same game at all. And this is the problem many developers are ignoring: they're enslaved to genre and tradition while trying to tell increasingly nuanced, believable and human stories. Game mechanics didn't jar so much in the days of simple sprites.

So now a realistic Max Payne shrugs off point-blank shotgun blasts by necking two paracetemol. Resident Evil 4's Merchant waits patiently in a spike-filled pit, somehow knowing Leon will be thrown into it. Gordon Freeman noticeably hasn't gone for a shit, had a sit down or eaten in 20 years.

This kind of design - the kind we take for granted as gamers, but that any normal person would find totally ridiculous - is a necessary evil. Without it, shooters wouldn't work. They'd be tedious and frustrating. They wouldn't be games. That's why Drake has to butcher all those mercenaries and pirates - because you can't have a shooter without people to shoot.


But does that excuse Uncharted's violence? Of course not. There are ways around it. They could make the enemies as rich and nuanced as Drake, making killing them genuinely affecting. Or just have less shooting and more exploration, set-pieces and puzzling.

The moments when this division shows can destroy the magic, and ironically these moments occur because Drake is so likeable. Any reminder you're playing a game can kill immersion dead, whether it's an unfair death or the hero doing something out of character because the game design dictates it.

A game can never feel utterly real, because reality makes for boring, impractical gameplay. Imagine having to take toilet breaks... you'd forget and soil yourself during a gunfight. Imagine a platformer where your character suffers fits of existential angst and refuses to jump over a gap, or even define themselves as a person.

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