By Saibh 35 Comments
This post will contain no Uncharted 3 spoilers.
Before November 2007, when developers told us how Nathan Drake was different, they had a particular name for him: an everyman. A character who was scared when there were scary situations, who felt stressed in fights because he wasn't a formally trained marine, who didn't have an otherworldly destiny that predetermined his victory. Countless video game publications followed suit, referring to the protagonist of Uncharted as the sort of hero that normal people could identify with.
By the time Uncharted 2: Among Thieves began its pre-release hype rounds, the same description was being repeated. Despite the fact Drake had probably participated in more firefights than a trained bodyguard, and solved ancient puzzles no other had been able to crack, publications and developers still had that description on hand.
Nathan Drake often draws comparisons from two adventures: Lara Croft and Indiana Jones. Lara Croft because she is the protagonist of Tomb Raider, the gameplay of which the Uncharted drew inspiration from from, and Indiana Jones for the general feel and spirit the series abides by. Drake resembles Jones in several ways--both are handsome, cunning, resourceful adventurers who often find themselves eyeball-deep in supernatural and fantastic wonders while on the search for more "mundane" ancient treasure. You'd be hard-pressed to identify Indiana Jones as an "everyman". He's often listed as one of the greatest action heroes of all time and you won't find many who argue. But Nathan Drake himself is responsible for greater feats of human ability than even Jones--for every trap and puzzle Harrison Ford thinks (and runs) himself through, Drake solves a dozen over about an eight hour range. There are more gunfights, car chases, and derring-do than even Indiana Jones lives up to.
So is Nathan Drake an everyman? Is he the sort of normal, Arthur Dent fellow that the audience could imagine and identify with? It seems unlikely. Every time Nathan expresses regret over killing a soul in Uncharted, he gets ready to pop a bullet in twenty more brains. Even as he's shouting fear and horror, he charges through without a hesitation or balking. He reads at least two languages (both ancient and dead). He can do pull-ups with his fingertips, and there's never a time when he doesn't have a witty comeback. And he has that staple trait of all action heroes: luck.
There's nothing wrong with Uncharted's wise-cracking hero. Certainly the game would be less enjoyable if Drake couldn't scale the walls of ancient temples, or if he didn't keep players amused with his snappy dialogue. But all of his charm comes from traits outside of being an "everyman": his roguishness, his humor, his high energy are qualities of a high-flying adventurer, and that's what makes him enjoyable as a protagonist. The Uncharted series doesn't derive its quality from the human condition, but from action and adventure.
It might have been tempting of Naughty Dog to call Drake an everyman, when you compare him against most video game protagonists: he's not a chosen one, like Dovahkiin from Skyrim. He's not the finest living soldier in the galaxy, like Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. But he's not average, either. With the athleticism of a mountain climber, the knowledge of an archaeologist and anthropologist, and the martial ability, sharpshooting, and charm of James Bond, he's just the hero that the Uncharted series needs. And I wouldn't do him a disservice by calling him an everyman.