Lair of the Geek

Bringing you all the geek stuff

Christopher Golden    Titan Books:£6.99       Out now
Review by David Stonehouse

PS3 gamers will be very familiar with the name Nathan Drake from Naughty Dog’s acclaimed Uncharted games. For those not in the know (where have you been?) Drake is a globetrotting adventurer and treasure hunter in the style of a modern day Indiana Jones with a healthy dose of Lara Croft’s tomb raiding and puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. The games have been a massive success on PS3 and the third instalment, Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception, has just been released to rave reviews so it is not surprising that fans are hungry for new adventures for their hero.

Some game tie-ins aren’t very successful because it is difficult to translate the episodic structures of the gaming world in a way that is satisfying in other media. Fortunately that is not the case here and Christopher Golden has succeeded in capturing the spirit of roller-coaster action into an exciting and pacy adventure novel that compliments the source games very nicely.

The book kicks off by throwing the reader into an appropriately adrenalin fuelled action sequence set in the jungles of Ecuador. Nate has stolen something or other from some ne’er-do-well villain and is escaping through the jungle in a jeep. There is a beautiful girl he just rescued complaining in the passenger seat and a load of machine-gun toting bad guys hot on his heels. Having got himself out of that scrape with the help of some angry tribesmen Drake is soon on a plane back to the USA where the real adventure starts.

On landing Drake is contacted by his old friend and mentor Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan, a familiar face to anyone who has played the games, and asked to meet him in New York. From there we’re into the mystery proper. There’s the body of Sully’s friend Luka Hzujak, dismembered and abandoned in a trunk on a platform of an underground station, and the certainty that he was killed to keep an ancient secret from coming to light. The victim’s daughter Jada joins the ride looking for justice and their investigations quickly lead them to another dead body and a better idea of what they’ve stumbled into.

Before very long Drake, Sully and Jada are jetting off to Egypt looking for ancient labyrinths shrouded in the myths and mystery of the legends of ancient Greece about the Minotaur and King Midas’ hoard of gold. To add to the fun there are competing treasure hunters on the same trail and ambiguous characters who could be friends or foes, not to mention an army of hooded ninja-like assassins who make a habit of turning up out of nowhere and wreaking unexpected havoc.

There is a lot of action and Golden manages it all skilfully. There’s also plenty of variety and the pace rarely drops, making for an exhilarating page-turner of a book that replicates the non-stop incidents and encounters of the games very effectively. The mythological element is fun too, all based on myths and legends that most people will be vaguely familiar with. It’s enough to hang a satisfying and plausible plot on and provides an excuse for our heroes to go on a whistle-stop tour of many of the ancient world’s most famous locations. It all gets a bit far fetched towards the end but by that point you’ll be so caught up in the adventure that it won’t matter too much.

On the whole it all works very well, although there are one or two misfire moments such as the incident early in the book where Drake, Sully and Jada steal a boat for no apparent narrative purpose other than to create another big action set piece. Such a digression works well in a game, where plausible explanations aren’t really necessary as long as the gamer is having fun, but in a novel it feels a bit clunky and forced.

As far as characterisation is concerned, Uncharted fans won’t be disappointed with the depiction of Drake and Sully who are both consistent with their counterparts in the games. There’s plenty of the wisecracking and good natured banter familiar from the cut scenes and the two are fleshed out into three dimensional characters with a believable friendship. Jada provides both a feisty heroine and the love interest and the sparky flirting gives some welcome breaks from all the testosterone.

Golden has wisely chosen not to add to Drake’s back story. He’s descended from Sir Francis Drake and looks to Sully as a sort of surrogate father but beyond that he remains suitably mysterious and there’s very little reference even to his adventures and relationships in the games. This ‘clean slate’ approach allows Golden to spin a new story without getting bogged down with references to the plots of the games but, even so, it would have been nice to have a little more connection to the other adventures. Elena for example, a central character in the games, is notably absent here, which seems a bit of a shame.

This is a book to please the already converted. This novel probably won’t tempt many people who haven’t heard of Nathan Drake already, but fans of the games won’t feel short-changed by The Fourth Labyrinth, it captures the spirit of adventure of the games very successfully and remains faithful to the hero we all know and love. With a two year gap between game releases Drake addicts need any fix they can get, and while a novel is never going to be able to offer the immersive interaction of a really well-crafted computer game it will certainly help to keep Uncharted fans satisfied and entertained during the long wait until the next instalment hits the shelves.

One thought on “Uncharted: The Fourth Labyrinth”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *