WARNING: the following piece contains spoilers of a relatively early section of the game. It doesn't involve any major plot points, but if you want to go into Uncharted 4 completely fresh, come back and read it later. You can read our full review of the game here.
As much as I've enjoyed the Uncharted series, the characters that inhabit its world never grabbed me (my colleague Stephen, who reviewed the game, would disagree with me on this point). Drake's irreverent, derring-do attitude makes him a perfectly likeable hero, but there's never been enough for me to latch on emotionally despite some great voice acting - less so any of a supporting cast. Put next to the heavy themes of The Last of Us, Uncharted has always been easy entertainment.
In number four, something about that changed. I started caring about Nathan Drake. It's partly testament to how far Naughty Dog's storytelling (among other elements) has come since Drake's Fortune, but partly because, as Nathan's story arc was finally coming to a close, I was acutely aware this was the end of my journey too.
When we first meet again with present-day Drake he is, quite literally, all washed up. In true Uncharted style you start in medias res, searching for sunken treasure at the bottom of a vast ocean. Only we surface to discover it's not an ocean at all but a river, and a treasure that's not gold or ancient artifacts but boxes of copper wiring, fished out for a contract job. We're a long way from El Dorado.
But the highlight of this early segment takes place moments later when we're taken to Drake's house in New Orleans, which he shares with Elena. It starts in the attic, a museum of photos and mementos - a Spanish doubloon, a photo from Shambhala - from Drake's glory years. Picking up these relics prompts him to reminisce about more exciting days. "Not really my style any more," he jokes, admiring the belt buckle he wore in Among Thieves. It's a quiet yet fitting celebration of a series better known for grand spectacle.
Eventually we discover Drake's old gun holster hanging up, but now it holds a toy pistol. Pressing triangle to take it out triggers the dramatic music: we're Nathan Drake the great adventurer once again, hiding behind boxes and taking fire (with soft foam bullets) at the enemy (crudely painted targets that hang from the rafters). It's a nice touch.
And then - back to reality. An attic in the middle of New Orleans. All washed up. A thief's end.
It's no spoiler to say that real adventure soon beckons, but the unshakable sense that Drake has already lived his glory years lingers throughout Uncharted 4. He's a man settled down, earning an honest living, playing it safe. To some extent he's outgrown his days of carefree adventure. The subtle signs of ageing on Nathan's face remind us we've probably outgrown him too.
Uncharted 4 is a hugely enjoyable game and a technical marvel, but for me its crowning achievement is in how it brings Nathan's - and our - adventure to a close. It's the small human moments that give weight to this ending chapter, and none more so than when I was pretend-shooting in an attic in New Orleans.