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Nathan Drake, Globetrotting Killer

It’s been a while since I played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the game that spawned a new franchise from Naughty Dog. The impression that game left on me of its protagonist Nathan Drake, was of a rakish, quippy adventurer who tried to do right by his friends. In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves however, he is all those things, but he also casually and remorselessly kills –a lot.

Early in Uncharted 2′s estimated 10-hour adventure, Nathan Drake expresses concern about shooting a security guard. His fears are assuaged when he is told that his weapon is a tranquilizer. There is a point less than an hour later though, when the sight of men in fatigues with big guns wipes away any of that perceived compassion.

Flynn!

If a slick British guy with guns wants you to go on an adventure with him, say no.

When I first encountered an armed enemy, his back to me, I hesitated, wondering if I should creep up behind the mercenary and knock him out, as I did the unarmed security guards. Recalling the number of times I had to restart a couple of those sections, I opted to shoot the man in the back of the head. This must have opened some sort of valve on a hidden enemy spigot, as armed mercenaries started pouring out of the woodwork. As they were doing a solid job of shooting me, I defended myself by shooting them all, mostly in the head. When that battle was over, I must have tallied around two dozen kills. I personally have never killed a man, nor do I plan to. I’m sure that Nathan Drake has lived an exciting life up until this point, but this doesn’t seem to be startling situation for Drake.

After having slaughtered dozens of men, some of whom must have had families or loved ones, there is not a single point at which Nathan reacts to having killed anyone. He treats this bloodbath with no more remorse than if he were a child stomping on ants. Nathan Drake just continues onward, killing every human being in his path other than the three or four friends whose lives he so valiantly tries to preserve.

I could imagine a scene with Drake, staring at his trembling, bloodied hands rasping out: “I killed them, Sully. All of them. For what? A rock? Some money? I don’t need this shit. I can go rock climbing at the mall and I don’t have to kill anybody!” There’s no need for Naughty Dog to get preachy, but I think if Nathan Drake acknowledged all the death and carnage around him, I would find him to be a much more believable and relatable character. Naughty Dog has expounded about how Nathan Drake is supposed to be imperfect and someone who is relatable in how he reacts to situations in the game. I think they succeed on this aim when Drake or his friends’ lives are threatened. They fail conspicuously when it comes to Drake’s reaction to the violence he perpetrates.

Lazarovich.

Lazarevich, like many angry men in Uncharted 2, wants to shoot Nathan. In the face.

There is a reason that all of the mercenaries are men and appear to be at the peak of their health. I’m sure part of it is so they seem imposing and so Naughty Dog can reuse as many assets as possible. Imagine though,  if every once in a while, one of the soldiers was a woman, a clearly older man, or a teen, in over his head. Presented with irregular targets like these, I think some people might be a bit more hesitant to kill them all.

Yes, we have all been shooting and killing things since space invaders first saw fit to march towards our little shields. If we all had a lifetime tally of kills (in videogames), I’m sure it would number in the thousands or hundreds of thousands. I am getting old, but at the same time, games are becoming more realistic, believable and nuanced.

I love murdering digital dudes in multiplayer Call of Duty or Battlefield. In Uncharted 2 though, it’s a strange dichotomy taken with Nathan Drake’s personality and likability that he seems so unfazed by all the death and destruction the quest for wealth inspires in those around him. Scores of lives are lost and dozens of families destroyed for some wealth for one person. Isn’t that sociopathic? I love the exploration and puzzle solving in the game. I could even learn to be okay with the violence if it was dealt with in a more convincing manner. Unfortunately, it is not.

Yes, this is that “ludonarrative dissonance” that high-falutin’ designers like Clint Hocking and Jonathan Blow go on about. The game’s story and characterization are trying to engage my empathy for the protagonist and the actual game mechanics pull in a completely different direction. I think the real reason for this is that Naughty Dog did not believe that a game that is just exploration, platforming and puzzle solving would be exciting enough to sell. I think they should have had more faith in the other aspects of their game. There is plenty of room for innovation in those types of gameplay that does not involve mixing them with a 3rd person shooter.

Penny Arcade. Never fails.

Penny Arcade’s recent comic illustrating the callous disregard for mercenary life.

I am having so much fun playing the game and I wouldn’t ramble on as I have if I didn’t truly have a great love for it. I see greatness in the voice acting, animation, rendering, controls and puzzle design. I just have a hope for something even better. Here’s looking forward to an Uncharted 3 with a Nathan Drake who’s a bit more relatable and grounded.


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