Uncharted 4 Has The Perfect Video Game Ending

Uncharted 4 Has The Perfect Video Game Ending

There are two endings in Uncharted 4, one right after the other. The first is fairly typical. The second is something I'm still getting over, days after I finished the game.

SPOILERS AHEAD. NOTHING BUT SPOILERS.

The first ending, the actual ending, is the one you get after wrapping up the escape from Danger Pirate Island. There's a tense gameplay sequence (a gentler version of Resident Evil 4's finale) followed by a pair of fairly lengthy cutscenes where everyone pats each other on the back for a job well done and goes off into the night, happy and content that they will (hopefully) never have to boost anyone over a high wall ever again.

It's good! We get some closure, some comedy, we get hints of further adventure from Sam and Sully, we get some more domestic bliss from Nate and Elena. If this had been where the credits roll, this would have been a very acceptable video game ending.

But then, surprise, we get more. A lot more. An epilogue! An honest to God epilogue. The cinematics fade away and the action cuts to a new location, with control suddenly and unexpectedly returned to the player. If you want a recap (or haven't played this and don't care), here it is.

It's very easy to look at this epilogue sequence and think, OK, it's cute but it's also just like the intro to Last of Us (where you played as Joel's daughter), only in reverse. Instead of setting the scene, it's putting a bow on it. Same developer, same trick.

But it's so much more than that. Uncharted is a series that fans have been living and loving for almost a decade now, and with this (reportedly) being the final game, at least for these main characters, there was a lot to tie a bow on. If Mass Effect 3's enduring legacy has taught us anything, it's that long-running series in which fans become emotionally invested in characters and a narrative can have their good work almost entirely undone if you don't get the end right.

Uncharted 4's epilogue is a brilliant way of addressing this, and every other video game ending that feels unsatisfying and under-cooked. I think the reason so many games leave you hanging at their conclusion is that too many are trying to close out a video game story using another medium's methods. A game's writing and characters may help draw us into an experience, but a game by definition is still an interactive creature. We learn as much by poking around in corners, exploring an environment and overcoming obstacles as we do listening to audio logs and watching cutscenes.

Books, comics, TV and movies render us passive, with a story simply presented to us. Games, on the other hand, let you live through your own adventures.

Uncharted 4 Has The Perfect Video Game Ending

Uncharted 4 realises that this kind of interactivity should extend to its farewell. It's like Naughty Dog found a way to make a whole little game out of those awesome "what came next" sequences that would always play during the credits of an '80s movie.

Set what must be 12-15 years after the events of Uncharted 4, we open to a scene that quickly lets us assume that we're playing as Nate and Elena's kid. A nice surprise, but that's just the start. It's what we do as Cassie Drake that makes this such a good time.

Left home alone, Cassie is free to wander the Drake household at leisure. With no cliffs to climb or South Africans left to shoot, it's a wonderfully sedate experience, as we walk from room to room picking through the trinkets and keepsakes of a family's life together.

She's discovering Nate and Elena's relationship in reverse. Cassie exists in the game as a mirror to our own experiences. While we know the pair as gun-toting tomb raiders, she only knows them as her loving parents. Cassie knows that for the last 15 years they have been touring the world as archaeologists and authors, but we're left to slowly piece this together by thumbing through book covers and pausing at walls of photos.

By the end of the epilogue we're mostly on the same page, Cassie aware that her parents did some wild shit before she was born, and us fairly clued in that the Drakes are now a very cool couple with a very nice house.

Uncharted 4 Has The Perfect Video Game Ending

It's a shared journey of discovery that's just so fucking video games. Where else could you pull a stunt like this and have it actually work? Be able to link a half-empty photo album that another character encounters early in the game to the same album (now filled out) over a decade later, and use it so masterfully as a story-telling device?

What I love most about it, though, is the way the whole epilogue is structured. Sure, on the surface it's just a quaint little walk through a few rooms, doing little but tapping a button when prompted. But it's also one last chance for exploration in Uncharted, at least as we know it. One last voyage of discovery into an unknown place, one last set of secrets to reveal.

Only these aren't about pirate treasure or lost cities. These secrets are about a pair of rogues that we've grown to love over almost 10 years of adventuring. And uncovering them doesn't lead to gold and collapsing ruins. They lead to a fuller understanding — perhaps even a rounding off — of some of video gaming's most relatable and endearing characters

Uncharted 4 Has The Perfect Video Game Ending

It would have been so easy for Naughty Dog to screw this up, or to have least left fans thinking "meh" at the conclusion of Nathan Drake's story. To have fallen back on the assumption that, even were they to be underwhelmed by the finale, fans would look back on four complete (five if you ever played Golden Abyss on the Vita) Uncharted games and remember the journey as a whole, not just the end.

But if Uncharted 4 is remembered for only one thing, it should be the power inherent in ending on such a high. I haven't been able to get the game out of my head since I finished it, and whenever friends ask me if it's worth playing (many, like me, were quite down on Uncharted 3), my mind doesn't skip to trudging through Scotland or a tedious intro. It goes straight to that ending, and the way I sat motionless on my couch for an eternity soaking it up, and how it's so rare and special that a video game — let alone a breezy blockbuster action series — can pack that kind of punch.

They say first impressions count, but if Uncharted 4 can teach us anything, it's that last impressions can count for more.


Comments

    Yes, really loved the ending, it left me with a warm glow of contentment.

    However I was slightly concerned that Nat didn't mention that his psychopathic tendencies lead to the early deaths of thousands of (admittedly equally psychopathic) mercenaries over the course of the chapters of his life.

    I think the game had an awesome story and an excellent ending. I really really enjoyed the game. I think for me it was the best game of 2016 by far.

    I loved the epilogues so much, for many of these reasons. the idea that these characters I've loved go on to lead full, happy lives is such a nice way to go out

    The ending was brilliant, probably the best in video games (perhaps only matched by The Last of Us). I actually started choking up going through the photo album. Plus I really want Cassie to be the protagonist of the inevitable next game in the franchise

      If Naughty Dog aren't going to do it then I don't know if I really want there to be a next game in the franchise.

        Yeah, I'm with you on that. But I'm also an eternal optimist so I think someone else can do it almost as well

          I'm also a believer in the law of diminishing returns. We've had 4 of these games (not counting the Vita one), and they were all fantastic (although the first one hasn't aged all that well). I would be perfectly happy to see a major publisher have the balls to say "we're going to stop this now and go out on top", and leave the series there with a consistently high level of quality. As opposed to continuing to milk the franchise dry e.g. Assassin's Creed. Sony pushed the God of War series one game too far (so far - there's the distinct likelihood of seeing another unnecessary instalment at E3 this year). Ditto Killzone - could have and should have stopped at 3. I'd hate to see them do the same with Uncharted.

            Perfect would be if we saw one in ten years time, when the world has moved on just as much as the potential young protagonist has. Continuity!

              Yeah, 10 years on PS6 or whatever would be fine, just let it rest for a while and come back fresh.

    Up did the thing with the half finished photo album exactly as you describe. Not a game.

      And I almost cried during that scene as well!

        Pixar are really good at making films for kids that make adults cry. Up, Toy Story 3, Inside Out. Finding Nemo even got me now that I'm a Dad.

    The ending was god-damn delightful. I think the Witcher 3 did something similar, and its good move. Games aren't like films. You spend a lot of time interacting with these characters, they become your friends. Its nice to get a sense of what happened to them post adventure. An opportunity to properly say goodbye in a more relaxed setting.

    ME3 would have been so much better of it ended on your ship post adventure and you could have one last chat with everyone about "where to now."

      Yeah, The Witcher 3 also did an amazing job with it's epilogue.

      As for ME3, I just talked about in a comment below that the 'Citadel' DLC for it was actually a very similar thing to Uncharted 4 and Witcher 3's epilogues for the Mass Effect series. It's second half, based around a party, has so many great interactions between Shepard and all of his team members throughout the series. If you never played the 'Citadel' DLC, I highly recommend going back to ME3 and getting that DLC, as to me it felt like that 'one last chat with everyone' you mention.

    Is it a thing in games that when two characters have a kid, she is called Cassie?

      I wager that was a happy coincidence... She seems to be named after Nate's mother, who's name I would be surprised if the writers didn't have sorted long before the likes of Cassie Cage was even around.

    I would have liked to find out what happened to Chloe. She was in Uncharted 2 and 3,but never even mentioned in 4. Hopefully they'll bring her back one last time in the DLC.

    I haven't played U4 yet (still slowly working my way through the Drake Collection - U1 almost turned me off the series completely. It's just not fun at all) but I'll fight anyone who doesn't agree that Halo: Reach wasn't the perfect send-off to a series/developer.

    Personally, the ending made me understand the series a whole lot more, almost trying to say Nathan spent years chasing myths to fill in a void that was left when he thought he lost his brother. So now he has him back he's happy to move on and find what he's really been in search for and thats family.

    Maybe I read too much into it but thats what resonated with me, maybe because so many of us can actually relate to that sense of loss and longing, or maybe I'm way off the mark and just seeing something different. Either way there were more than one times when I had a tear roll down my face. Like when he looks at Elena at the pirate house party and says I'm sorry... the look on his face...

    Great article Luke - Haven't heard much about the epilogue to date, takes a proper studio (and clever writing) to deliver an ending with such class and impact

    Just finished the game yesterday, and I agree with every word in this article. It was easily one of the best endings to any game I've ever played. It was the absolute perfect way to wrap up and look back on the whole series.

    Also, I'll bring this up as the article brings up Mass Effect 3's bad legacy for it's own ending. As bad as ME3's ending was, Bioware at least did a great thing in releasing the 'Citadel' DLC. It may not have been the chronological ending to the series, but as the last piece of content to ever be released for the original ME trilogy, the second half of it (the party) had a very similar feeling to Uncharted 4's ending as a more lighthearted and simpler way to look back on the series and celebrate it.

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