[HEAVY SPOILERS] A Second Look: Uncharted 3's 'Last' Level
Author's note: Hey everyone, Dyran here. Anyways, I just wanted to make a quick runthrough of what this little opinion piece was all about and where it came from, in case you all didn't know, lol.
I originally posted this up in GameTrailers about a month ago, where I decided to provide my thoughts on one of the last levels of UC3 (hence the title O_o). After getting a warm reception by a handful of other users, I then thought of the idea of making a series of other '2nd Looks', where I'd take on games and analyze the ingenuity or horridness of their narrative, while other users were free to supply their own input or provide their own opinion in the 'Comments Section' and stuff. Being the cheeky, teenage bastard that I was, I pondered over the concept, decided that it might work out rather well (and hell, if it doesn't, at least I was able to use my spare time jottin' random contemplations down instead of getting high or...something [as tempting as that sounds]), and went for it, subtly announcing that this '2nd Look' thing will become a regular blog occurrence and will officially start with a more accurate, full-fledged analysis of the entire Uncharted series (and its main character) than this one, since there was still a large amount of things I just wasn't able to go over here since my focus was solely on the aspects surrounding Drake's Deception's final level.
Whatever the case, since this thing is getting stupidly long, to make a long story short, I guess you can say that this is the prologue to a fundamental series of more analyses (later features maybe even branching out to gameplay structure and level design and whatnot...although, I probably shouldn't be getting too cocky, since those are subjects I don't nearly have enough experience/expertise in :P) and insight into the composition of video game storytelling that scatters the young industry today, 'ey.
In the meantime, we'll be starting with this, lol. Comments, replies, and criticism and stuff will also be appreciated (still gotta be wary, though, since this is the Internet ffs), although, as mentioned earlier, I won't be truly 'penetrating' this subject and delving into everything that I see as establishing the Uncharted series' storytelling pedigree until the next entry, which means some counter-points or whatnot may be addressed there. Until then, though, in conclusion, I hope you enjoy the read, and happy early birthday, because I really don't know how else you would end these type of things, lmao.
It was just earlier this week that I was drinking down a glass of water, eyes drifting to my computer screen, watching a review on Max Payne 3 when, all of a sudden, it hit me -- Uncharted 3's last level was brilliant.
[Section below explains my foundational opinion behind the Uncharted games in general. Quite a long read, but probably more than necessary in order to fully absorb the next lines of text that follow, and construct a wholly genuine stance on the matter along the way.]
Now, to put it in perspective, Uncharted 3 was, to me, exactly what I expected it to be; moderately disappointing. So when numerous critics began flooding Metacritic and Gamerankings with reviews and several gamers started getting their hands on it and playing it for themselves, I was inevitably unsurprised by the general reaction (that is, excluding what...Greg Miller had to say, anyway). On the other hand, whatever it lacked in pristine level design and polish (that, when ignored, can actually make the game become quite the thrill) it definitely made up for in its writing and character development; and by character development, I'm referring to one: Nathan Drake.
I've been praising the Uncharted series' execution of storytelling for a frequent amount of time now, and if there was any one person who'd tracked my activity in Uncharted-related discussions for the past year, he or she would probably be mildly irritated by now, simply because of how repetitive and monotonic they all sound in relativity to each other. But to be honest, I just can't exactly state it in any other way; the Uncharted series showcases one of the finest examples of storytelling in current-generation gaming that I've ever seen.
To start off, Drake's Fortune almost flawlessly captured the essence of the pulp-action genre and masculine, snarky hero archetype that seemed to always have a way out of nearly every kind of predicament; on the other hand, Among Thieves raised that bar, creating a practically seamless gameplay experience with a story and script that wasn't just convincing, but immersive and settling; however, in Drake's Deception, the once straight, predictable formula of storytelling that Naughty Dog has shown in the past (with impressive delivery, nevertheless) is subtly twisted, and riddled with so much more symbolic metaphors and contemplative (almost philosophical [but thankfully not]) depth that I myself had to shake away a smile or two after thinking of the sheer level of skill that Amy Hennig (the writer) has ingrained into that profound lil' mind of hers to be capable of making such a patient, reflective tale. And what a tale it is.
Once again, in Uncharted 3, the last level pits Drake against "demons born of smokeless fire"; so far, all of the games in the Uncharted series has had a finalé composed of supernatural enemies that, in one way or another, reflect the themes of the story -- (the Descendants in Drake's Fortune representing recklessness and mystery, the Guardians in Among Thieves representing the scale in which his adventures measure up to, etc.) however, in the third installment, the story takes a much more personal turn, focusing on the struggle that Drake has within himself in regard to just how far he's willing to go to understand the true meaning of 'greatness', and whether or not deceiving himself into believing that expending the lives of thousands of men (and possibly even his own friends) is worth it along the way; as expected, at the end of the game, after Sully is 'shot by Talbot', Nate enters into a fierce, distorted battle with "demons born of smokeless fire", just as Salim had told him earlier in the game. Later, we find out that this was all a hallucination and was triggered solely by the water that he had drunk from the fountain earlier in the level, causing him to go berserk and confront his deepest fears, or "demons"; thus, the whole point of the last level was to display a symbolic representation of Nathan Drake's most challenging, crushing struggle within his own mind, in which the life of adventure and life of killing was, really, simply a facade to bury what he really was: a "scared, filthy little runaway" (as Marlowe had previously said) from Cartagena, merely trying to create an identity that made him invulnerable to pain, fear, and demoralization, when in reality, it only buried him under more psychological insecurity and disarray. In spite of all of this self-deception, however, once the last level is confronted, Drake metaphorically finds the courage to find and take down all of his demons and finally, finally emerge as the man that he truly is -- not Nathan Drake, or a mass murderer, or even a treasure hunter -- but simply, a man with struggles just like all the rest of us. Which is why, in Uncharted 3, the final, supernatural enemy represents the theme of overcoming and self-deception. After all, it wasn't until he was inflicted with that hallucinogenic nightmare did Drake finally realize that, out of all of the enemies that he's faced, and all of the predicaments he was capable of rolling out of just in the nick of time, the single one that was capable of standing in his way and taking the lives of those he loved and, most prominently, Sully, wasn't just a bullet, or a falling building, but himself, and the demons that resided within him.
Putting it that way, though, I honestly thought that that was pretty damn smart, and, once again, very well-executed by Naughty Dog, in terms of an elegant blend of raw, introspective depth with gameplay. Although, I'm still completely amazed that I hadn't noticed the connection sooner. (But then again, perhaps I was somewhat..."distracted" by the slight disappointments I had running through my mind by the time I had reached that point, lol. Overall, though, it was still a good game, imo. Just not at the same level as UC2 was.)
I still don't think that that completely makes up for the infuriating difficulty spike, but I guess, in a metaphorical way, it would make sense if Naughty Dog had truly wanted to convey just how formidable and almost undefeatable such 'enemies' really were. So, in that sense, I guess it at least slightly lightens the grudge, lol.
Regardless, what do you guys think? Thinkin’ that you had known that all along and hadn’t realized that nobody else didn’t? Or that, as profound as it was, it was still rather off-beat of ND to make us “think” that Sully was dead (or even further, fails to make any difference to the quality of the game itself)?
[NOTE: Of course, one can argue, "Who gives a sh*t anymore, the game's already been out for half a year, anyway.", but for the sake of a lack of any other mention of this, why not discuss it now, lol? Either way, it might bring up some other interesting ideas to the table that some here might've missed, 'ey. So what the hell. Besides, it took forever to type up that whole thing, lmao.]
Tl;dr, there's more than meets the eye with UC3's last level.