Uncharted 4 felt a bit divisive, for a few reasons. Eight months of work was thrown out when Amy Hennig left Naughty Dog. The tone of the script is a touch more serious, using the spectacle of pulp adventure serials to background a more character-driven drama closer to the The Last Of Us. And of course, now that the dust has settled after the game’s release last month, fans have had time to let the ending of the series sink in. But what happens if it’s not really the end?
Not unlike Disney and Indiana Jones, Sony is facing down the problem of what to do with a timeline-impaired series, whose popularity has never been higher. Steven Spielberg confirmed earlier this year that Indy would ride again, as had been suspected since Harrison Ford officially joined The Force Awakens; conversely Uncharted 4 co-director Neil Druckmann has stated on numerous occasions that, as far as Naughty Dog is concerned, this is Nate Drake’s last adventure.
But money has a way of talking, and Uncharted 4 sold nearly-3 million copies in its first week. The on-again, off-again film project allegedly remains in development, despite no fans actually wanting it. Druckmann himself said that Sony could possibly make a fifth game using another first-party studio, as Sony Bend did with the Vita’s Uncharted side-entry, Golden Abyss. Drake’s voice actor Nolan North similarly said he would be happy to come back for a fifth game.
So, apart from a slight potential loss of artistic integrity, there doesn’t appear to be anything stopping Sony from giving Nate another journey to take. Though Uncharted 4’s ending isn’t as dire as the marketing led fans to believe, Naughty Dog did scorch the earth to close the cover on the series; it’s not Nate’s life that goes in the end, it’s what he does with it. From a tonal standpoint, it would be very difficult to make another story that takes place after the events of the fourth game.
That’s the thing about pulp genre – at its best, it’s serialized. Golden Abyss was technically a prequel to Drake’s Fortune, the sole outing without Elena’s involvement – something Sony could easily port to PS4, if they really wanted to. Any theoretical fifth Uncharted would probably have to follow a similar idea, jumping back into Nate’s past, perhaps in the space between one of the first two games.
Pulp storytelling should generally strive to work as standalone, even if Uncharted 4’s flashbacks and interweaving relationships would make threading any narrative additions into the existing timeline a somewhat tricky proposition. (The idea to “continue” the series without any of the principal characters, or only using them in diminished roles, is ridiculous).
The bigger question seems to be whether forging ahead with Uncharted is actually a good idea. A Thief’s End is as much a story about Nate growing up as it is a yarn about pirate treasure. His character arc over the course of the tale isn’t stagnant; he emerges a changed man. The consequences may not be mortally necessarily, yet there’s a finality attached to them, regardless.
Whether you like it or not, Naughty Dog has somewhat spoiled any future for Uncharted. Sony could put a great development team, like Sony Santa Monica (already quite busy with God of War), to work on a fifth game, no problem. With the supervision of Naughty Dog – an insistence from Druckmann if this happens – it could work. But consider the options. If the game was set after Uncharted 4, it would undermine what was supposed to be closing the chapter.
Nate can’t come out of retirement for a second time without it seeming pretty incongruous to the overall narrative of the character or the world of the series. If it was set in the past, Nate wouldn’t have gone through the experiences of the fourth game yet; it would again present a huge challenge to maintaining the right tone, emotional balance or lack of growth of his more carefree days.
Unless, of course, the next game just didn’t worry about Uncharted 4 at all. While rollicking enough on its own, A Thief’s End has too much baggage to be pure pulp, rather than telling a larger story within the genre’s framework. Maybe it would be a better note to end on, letting Nate chase one more MacGuffin, the stakes being as high as they may be within the context of that particular story.
After all, pulp heroes don’t die, and for as much as I loved Uncharted 4, purposefully framing the marketing around the idea that, perhaps, they do feels like a mistake. In any case, Sony will need to plan their next move for the series – assuming they have one – if it wants to make sure to really stick the landing. If Uncharted 4 is Nate’s last hurrah, though, it’s an admirable way to go out.