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Uncharted 4’s Unexpected Best Minute

Uncharted has some of the most cinematic and memorable scenes in the history of video games. But my personal favourite Uncharted moment is a quiet, introspective drive through the Madagascan wilderness – thanks in large part to the soundtrack.

NOTE: I call the cue “For Better or Worse”, which is track 17 on the Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End OST. It may actually be “A Normal Life”, which is track 3. The two tracks are very similar and share the same central motif. I really think they are more discernible for their parts that AREN’T the motif. Or it may not be either of them, but a different cue entirely that isn’t on the soundtrack. I chose to use “For Better or Worse” because a) it’s the name of the chapter in the game that the scene is in and b) it is more relevant to my argument.

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Thank you to Perc Upgrade! for his assistance. Check out his great percussion covers of VGM! I really love this one of Thunder Plains from FFX.

Game footage used in this video, in order of appearance:

0:00 – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
0:09 – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
0:11 – Uncharted 4: Drake’s Deception
7:54 – Streets of Rage
7:58 – Super Mario World
8:02 – Mega Man 2
8:08 – Donkey Kong Country
8:13 – Chrono Trigger
8:18 – Final Fantasy VII
8:23 – Final Fantasy X
8:31 – The Legend of Zelda
8:33 – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
8:37 – The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
8:41 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
8:55 – Nier: Automata

All music used in this video is from the Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End OST and scored by Henry Jackman, unless otherwise stated. Tracks in order of appearance:

0:00 – In-game score (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, composer: Greg Edmonson)
0:31 – A Normal Life / For Better or Worse (in-game score)
1:15 – Reunited
1:30 – Lure of Adventure
2:04 – in-game score (not on OST)
2:53 – in-game score
3:46 – A Normal Life / For Better Or Worse
4:23 – in-game score
5:00 – For Better or Worse (in-game)
6:11 – For Better or Worse (OST version)
7:53 – Uncharted Worlds (from Mass Effect, composed by Sam Hulick)
9:13 – For Better or Worse (in-game)
9:58 – For Better or Worse
10:19 – A Normal Life
10:41 – in-game score (not on OST to my knowledge?)
11:14 – same as the one above.

Game Score Fanfare is a show that celebrates music in video games, an aspect so overlooked as that’s often the point: to work without you even realising it’s there. I look at games through the lens of its score, discovering the unique perspective and roles that music can bring.

Video transcription:

The Uncharted series is king of the set-piece.The games are built around these exhilarating,
impeccably choreographed scenes, each onea new way for Nathan Drake to cling to falling
objects, moving vehicles and his life.They are among the most memorable moments
in all of video games, but my personal favouriteUncharted moment is not one of these grand
spectacles.The one part that I remember most is a quiet,
single minute of driving through the Madagascanwilderness in Chapter 17 of Uncharted 4.A melancholic moment of reflection while a
musical cue plays out called For Better orWorse.This scene particularly sticks in my mind
because it does something quite rare for amodern AAA video game.It pulls back everything in order make space
for its score to speak.Before we talk about how it does this though,
we should know what it is that the music issaying.In A Thief’s End, Nate has retired from
his adventurer’s lifestyle and settled downwith his now-wife Elena.He lives a normal life and keeps a normal
job, promising that his globe-trotting, treasure-huntingdays are over.But of course the lure of adventure beckons
him once more, this time in the form of hislong-lost brother Sam who, in typical Drake
form, has found himself in some trouble whichcan only be solved by chasing hidden treasure.So before running off with Sam to the Scottish
Highlands in search of antique pirate booty,Nate calls Elena up and instead tells her
that he’s off to Malaysia for a work-trip.This scene is scored by a violin playing a
somber version of Nate’s famous musicaltheme, which is accompanied by a simple piano
ostinato.That piano melody is basically just four ascending
notes in the key of E-minor.This is the first time that we hear this musical
phrase, the second being when Nate’s journeyunexpectedly takes him to Madagascar and he
follows-up on the lie.I love the way it creeps in right at the end
there, similar to how guilt does after beingdishonest.This reinforces that melodic idea as a leitmotif
representing the lie.Considering it doesn’t play in other scenes
such as the initial set-up of Nate and Elena’shome life, I don’t really see it being a
general theme representing them as a couple.When Elena inevitably cottons on and flies
out to Madagascar to catch Nate in the lie,we hear that motif for a third time, and again
it’s towards the end of their confrontation.It plays for longer and more prominently here
than it has previously, now that the lie hasbeen uncovered and blown up, so by this point
the player should have made a connection betweenthe motif and the lie, even if it is subconsciously.After this scene the motif doesn’t appear
for a while, not until Elena finds Nate injuredand reveals how close he was to losing her.This quick re-introduction serves as a little
reminder of the situation, of them and ofthe melody, and it’s soon followed up by
finally, my favourite scene.During an elevator ride the couple have a
brief conversation, with Elena telling Natethat he should’ve been honest with her so
they could work out the problem together.For once the charismatic Nathan Drake is at
a loss for words.When you get to the top, you gain control
of the car and drive off, but there’s somethingdifferent.The sound of the car engine is muffled and
the couple sit in silent contemplation, pullingyour focus toward the music – a fully fleshed-out
theme based around the lie leitmotif, whichplays out for an entire minute completely
uninterrupted.This creates a space for you to dwell on the
situation and share in the emotions of thecharacters.Because the game took the time to build a
link between the lie and this piano motif,the music is able to represent the unspoken
thoughts on the characters’ minds and itallows you to enter their same headspace.You can feel the tension between Nate and
Elena, the guilt and the disappointment.It’s obvious that this section of the game
was designed to encourage this introspectivemood.The simple road you follow carefully winds
through the jungle and while the scenery isno-doubt beautiful, there are no incredible
vistas that catch your eye, or secondary pathswith hidden collectables to distract you.As someone who likes to scour every corner
of the map that I can, during this sectionI didn’t stray from the road once, or stop
and leave the car at all.This is also a rare instance for a Naughty
Dog game in which the characters shut up formore than 20 seconds – in fact they go a whole
minute without any funny quip, short storyor subtle guidance that would remove you from
that intended frame of mind.The very moment the music cue finishes, you
get an info dump from Sully and hit a rockyshicane in the road.This scene wouldn’t work nearly as well
if it weren’t for the other elements ofthe game fading away to let the music take
control.You can tell because it was actually only
implemented on the day one patch: if you playstraight from the disc and don’t update
the game, the car engine is at a normal volumeand the moment doesn’t hit quite as hard.And this actually highlights a trend in modern
AAA games that I’m not in love with – veryrarely do they give their musical scores the
opportunity to do their job.Music was once the primary auditory component
of a video game – there was almost alwaysa constant loop of music playing in the background
and it didn’t have much else to competewith in the audio mix, outside of the occasional
sound-effects.It played a vital role in delivering the intended
emotion and atmosphere of the game, and that’sanother part of the reason why we remember
the old soundtracks so fondly.But as games grew more complex, music became
less important to them.The audio space had to make room for voice-acting,
which replaced music as the primary emotiveperformance in the game.As graphics improved and environments became
more detailed, less imagination was requiredto understand where you were.Environmental noises were needed to match
the detail shown on screen and sell the atmospherein a much more immersive way.The existence of any musical score runs the
risk of obscuring that ambience.As a result of these developments, I feel
that music can often be ignored or forgottenabout nowadays as the powerful storytelling
tool that it is.So to pull back the environmental sounds and
voice-acting and let the music dominate isactually kind of a brave choice to make in
2016.It’s putting faith in the score, trusting
not only that it won’t break immersion orremove the audience from the moment, but also
that it’s able to achieve the same atmosphereas environmental ambience, the same emotional
punch as the actors’ performance, and tellthe same story as scripted dialogue.And I think For Better or Worse is a success
on all these fronts.The developers trusted the music with the
space to work, and it turned what was potentiallya forgettable minute of nothing much into
one of the most poignant and memorable momentsin the entire series.But this isn’t the final time we hear that
leitmotif.A little bit later you briefly hear a variation
of it, when Elena accepts Nate’s apology.Afterwards it appears in a quick scene with
the couple joking around, seemingly suggestingthat they are moving on and returning to normality.And then finally it plays twice during the
ending, once when they’re talking abouttheir inability to lead a normal life, but
more interestingly right here.You might’ve noticed that it sounds a little
different this time though.The second note of the phrase, G, is shifted
up just a semitone to G#, which actually changesthe piece from an E-minor to an E-major.This gives the motif a positive spin, providing
a sense of happiness and hope for the couple’sfuture.But what’s interesting to me is that it’s
using the same leitmotif that is so stronglyassociated with Nate’s lie.It suggests that while the couple have forgiven
and moved past it, they have not forgotten.That that moment is ingrained in their relationship
now.I am reminded of the Japanese practice of
Kintsugi, in which broken pottery is repairedusing gold.The philosophy behind this art is that the
breakage is an important part of the object’shistory, that scars of the past should be
remembered and embraced rather than hiddenand forgotten about.Using the leitmotif in a major key at this
moment recognises that Nate’s lie, thoughwrong, was an important part of the couple’s
shared history together.It’s not that their relationship exists
in spite of it, but rather was shaped andpotentially even strengthened as a result
of it.Something better came out of their worst.Thanks for watching!A quick announcement: Game Score Fanfare finally
has an official Discord server!Everyone is invited to join using this code,
or you can just click the link in the video’sdescription box.If you pledge $1 or more per video on Patreon,
you also get access to exclusive Discord channelswith dedicated spaces for discussing video
games, music and video game music.I hope to see you there and look forward to
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