See that fetching young lady up there? That’s Marisa Chase. She’s your sidekick/guide/reason for killing dudes in Uncharted: Golden Abyss. She’s an archaeologist, like her grandfather and like her grandfather she’s looking for a link between a secret sect of Spanish friars and a city of gold hidden in the Central American jungle.
Uncharted wouldn’t be Uncharted without a plucky female there to act as the straight woman to Nate’s jokes, as well as point out obvious things like ledges and bullets and murderous henchmen. She can shimmy and jump like Nate and she knows as much, if not more, about the lore of the region as Nate and she drives a mean canoe. She’s a pretty valuable asset as you make your way through the jungle towards a reunion with the slimy Dante and his ally turned enemy General Guero.
There is one important difference between her and Nate though, and it’s one I wish the writers would have stuck with. Unlike the other ladies in Drake’s life, Marisa doesn’t use guns. Right up until when she does.
We’re going to get into Golden Abyss spoiler territory here, so I won’t be offended if you hold off on reading this until you play the game. As launch games go, I liked it, although it pales in comparison to Uncharted 2, what I consider to be the high water mark for the franchise. Sony has a pretty good track record with bringing their exclusive franchises to their handhelds and Golden Abyss sits firmly in the middle of these efforts. It’s not as good as the God of War PSP games, but it’s vastly better than Special Agent Clank. Among Uncharted games, I’d say it’s on par with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, way below Uncharted 2 and way above Uncharted 3.
Marisa has a hard road to walk in that she’s going to be compared to Elena yet she can’t live up to being Elena. It’s not her fault, nor is it the fault of the people at Bend Studios. They have to make a side character that you care about, in order to make the player understand why they’re risking Nate’s life, but at the same time, they’re making a character that is never mentioned in any of the other Uncharted games. Basically, she’s Willie Scott.
Marisa is bright, attractive, headstrong and not at all afraid to go tromping through the jungle, so she’s easy to like. Bend Studios makes the same unfortunate writing and voice direction that Naughty Dog does and makes her and Drake turn every simple action into a conversation but not to the point where Marisa becomes annoying. On a somewhat related note, Bend did get rid of UC3’s incessant need to have Drake touch something every five minutes like the game was a Very Special Episode of Uncharted where Drake finally owns up to his crippling OCD.
Where Marisa differs from the women in previous UC games is that she doesn’t use guns. At various points in the story, usually right before your’e attacked, Marisa makes it a point to mention that she doesn’t do guns. Doesn’t use ’em, doesn’t like ’em, wants nothing to do with ’em. As defining character traits go, it’s not the most original thing in the world, but it makes sense for the character in a way that the opposite choice made in previous games do not.
Look, no one loves Elena Fisher more than me, however her transformation from reality TV show host in Uncharted to gun toting murderess in Uncharted 3 makes absolutely zero sense to me. I understand that from UC2 onward she is an investigative journalist and as such needs to protect herself and yes, she did see her camera man brutally murdered in front of her, but the flippant manner in which she kills bad guys in UC3 did not sit well with me.
To be completely honest, I’m not really sure why Drake is so comfortable killing guys other than he’s the hero and in these games, the hero kills people. I get that murder is the most common form of expression in games lately, and there are plenty of people trying to kill Nate over the course of these games, but why is he so comfortable with killing them? In UC3 we see Nate as a street urchin. Fast forward to Golden Abyss and he’s comfortable with all manner of arms, as well as capable of snapping a guy’s neck with impunity. In fact, if you want to get every kill based trophy in the Uncharted series, Nate has to kill at least 2800 people. In comparison, the highest number of confirmed kills in military history is 160. What happened to Nate to make him OK with blowing someone’s brains out and then switching to making a charcoal rubbing like he’s in third grade art class?
So yeah, I was really happy with the idea of making Marisa uncomfortable with and unwilling to use guns. My wife is extremely uncomfortable around guns, and will not allow them in the house, which isn’t a bad choice given that we have two young kids. Still, I would love to pick up target shooting as a hobby, but her edict makes it somewhat impractical. So again, I understand Marisa’s choice and I thought it was an excellent one. Realistically speaking, she’s an archaeologist. What does she need a gun for and when would she have learned to use it during a childhood spent accompanying her grandfather to dig sites?
All of this made the decision to have Marisa start using guns towards the end of the game all the more infuriating. Without getting too much into it, Drake catches up with Dante, they fight and Dante makes a comment about Marisa letting Drake get his hands dirty while she manipulates him. At this point, I thought they were going to do a big reveal and make Marisa the villain, something I would have hated. They didn’t, but I hated the alternative just as much. Marisa takes this speech to heart, as most people would do when confronted with the ramblings of a lying thief, and decides to start pulling her own weight. Never mind that she helped Drake get to the city of gold and has helped Nate every step of the way except for when gunfire broke out. No, she needs to start helping out at this very minute and the way she’s going to do that is by killing people.
Come the eff on.
With that, Marisa, who had been a genuinely interesting character became yet another Uncharted sidekick, peeking out from behind cover and ineffectually shooting enemies. Worse, by giving her a gun, her AI went from defense to offense and she would frequently venture up the path too much, taking fire and making me expose myself to save her. Making a character uninteresting with a shitty personality shift is one thing, making me have to restart a checkpoint multiple times because she can’t hit the broad side of a barn is something else completely.
I don’t know if Bend felt they needed to drop some female empowerment stuff on us, or what the thinking was behind this, but I wish someone had sat them down and explained that sticking to your morals when it is incredibly difficult and/or inconvenient to do so is the stronger choice. Knowing that you were able to stick to your code would be far more empowering than throwing your belief system away just because some asshole said some things that made you feel bad. Sure, Nate offers the token “once you do this it changes everything” line, but it’s not like he seems all that upset at having murdered several hundred people so why should Marisa care?
It didn’t sour me on the game entirely, but it did bug me. It also made me think that we’ve gotten about as much out of the Uncharted franchise as I think we can reasonably expect. I’m glad that Naughty Dog is moving on to The Last of Us and I hope it energizes them creatively because between this UC game (which I know they only supervised) and the creatively bankrupt Uncharted 3, I think Nate et al should take a cue from the old Marisa and swear off guns for a bit.