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Is there a nicer guy than Nathan Drake? I know of no other character, in the annals of games, that one could reasonably expect to encounter in a Panamanian jail—slugging it out with his fellow-cons and slumped in solitary confinement—while remaining utterly convinced of his virtue. He is, as it turns out, a thief, but he retains our fondness for two reasons: one, the title of his series, “Uncharted,” suggests that he is, in fact, providing a valuable cartographic service, mapping those murky spots that have eluded the glare of G.P.S.; and, two, he mostly fails, going home with a priceless story and vacant pockets. Meanwhile, Lara Croft, who, when it comes to our good will, has the bad fortune of being designated a “tomb raider”—despite her noble intention to vouchsafe any findings to the proper authorities—and also of being born into a fortune. She is, after all, Lady Lara Croft, 11th Countess of Abbingdon; whereas poor old Nate can scarcely extract a “Mr.” without it sounding as though he were being told off.
In recent years, it’s been curious to chart the course of these two series. Both have felt the need to conduct archaeological digs into their protagonists, hoping to unearth riches—or, at the very least, to create depths. In the 2013 Tomb Raider (which we might regard as a deboot), we no longer found Lara ensconced in the luxury of Croft Manor, with a crumpet-bearing butler and a baying Range Rover out front; instead, we found her on a freezing beach, clutching a wounded shoulder and shooting at mercenaries. Likewise, in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, we see Nate chafing against the gunless demands of domesticity, in possession of a pair of greying temples and a long-lost brother who puffs on enough cigarettes to power his own private cloud cover.
What is going on here? There is a compulsion, in games as in movies, to hold our lighter pleasures up for interrogation. The 2018 God of War (note the reversion of the titles, as if one were dinging back the carriage on a typewriter) was lauded for the depiction of its star, Kratos, as a pained and past-haunted figure. And Tomb Raider, which was co-written by Rhianna Pratchett, seemed to prize grime above all else—in an effort, maybe, to convince us of gravity; its heroine was battered, covered in cuts, and dragged through the boot-caking mud of an origin story. Where A Thief’s End succeeds, in a way that Lara’s recent travails (Rise of the Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider) fall short, is in its knack for scraping off the darkness before it dries. Call it Drake’s deception: our hero may, over the course of his journey, lie, cheat, steal, and kill as many men as Lara, but he will remain, against the odds, a nice guy.
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That niceness is up for fresh inspection, with the release of Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection, which brings A Thief’s End and its spin-off, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, to PlayStation 5. Both games have been buffed to a 4K finish; their action unfolds in sixty frames per second (though you can switch this to thirty, should you wish); and they now crunch in accordance with the DualSense controller. But perhaps the most intriguing thing this bundle does is invite us to consider these games together, to notice the way they change in each other’s company—the adaptive feedback, so to speak, that comes of their bundling. The latter game features Chloe Frazer, whose relationship to thrills resembles that of a vampire to haemoglobin. “I’ve been up to my usual shenanigans,” she says, in a letter to Drake. “I’m always on hand for a quick getaway.”
He finds that letter cached in his loft, where, brandishing a toy pistol, he fires at imaginary foes amidst the coffin-like luggage of his old exploits. Indeed, there is a definite hint of Dorian Gray to the Drake of A Thief’s End. Is it any surprise that, after remaining physically unchanged in the first three games, on the PlayStation 3, he would start to age the moment he stops living fast and confronts the spectres in his attic? He breaks free of one cell and enters another. As for Chloe (who wouldn’t be caught dead slowing down), her usual shenanigans this time round entail a trip to the Western Ghats with Nadine Ross, a former antagonist—tossing Drake out of a window in A Thief’s End—now turned agonist. She clashes with Chloe throughout, and the resultant sparks fire the plot—something about a sacred tusk, coveted by a man named Asav, a calm, bespectacled creep, whose façade cracks during spells of anger.
I can never quite remember the storyline of an Uncharted game, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. They belong to that genre of matinee adventure whose images grab hold and hang in your memory as the details crumble and slip away into the afternoon. All those crucifixes and astrolabes, the blue gunk that burns like a halogen headlamp, the Nazi U-boats marooned in the rainforest, and the slushy clink of spilling dubloons. The best thing about these games is that they give rise to moments, and this collection is home to several of the series’ best. In A Thief’s End, Drake and his brother find the lost pirate city of Libertalia, and nothing is quite so winsome—so potent in its mix of visual wit, sadness, and wonder—as the sight of the two boys sitting in the shell of a pirate pub, toasting each other with tankards of dust.
As for The Lost Legacy, I shan’t forget the sight of Chloe, being chased in the thick of a thunderstorm, using a string of lights as a zipwire between rooftops, with each bulb bursting in her wake. Or, later on, as she stands atop the quiet peak of an ancient tower and takes the time for a spot of yoga, slipping into tree pose as though she could have sprouted from the scenery. These games are always about the struggle to uncover something forgotten by time—a tusk, a city, a brother—but their abiding pleasure is the ease with which they reaffirm the joys of the known. By the time these two games were released (in 2016 and 2017, respectively) the developer, Naughty Dog, had reached a kind of mechanical-cinematic nirvana. The combat, the platforming, and the puzzles were nothing new, but they were so laughably intuitive that you knew at once the infinite, painstaking sweat that went into every moment. And the way these elements locked, without the merest scrape or scuff, into the drama of the cutscenes was a tonic. It still is. Naughty Dog may be finished with the series, but it has bequeathed us a string of treasures that remain without match. Not all legacies are lost.