The lights are on
The empty footprints in the sand trailing after Nathan Drake are only the beginning, as he trudges away from the fallen plane he barely survived. The plane crashed in the Rub' al Khali Desert, the place where he knows Sully is being held captive. Naughty Dog’s desert scene is memorable with vast sand dunes and an unsettling feeling of being lost.
The camera in the desert scene is cinematic and placed in a particular way. It zooms out so that Drake’s tiny frame cannot measure up to the infinite expanse of the desert. It feels like I am not playing a game, but controlling a movie.
While walking through the desert, which lasts a good five minutes, night turns to day and day to night so much that even I begin to lose track of time in the sands. I can almost feel the dusty thirst of Drake as he barely crawls across the dunes. Drake’s exhaustion from the heat is palpable as his feet drag, and there’s no way my analog stick can make him go faster. It’s almost painful watching Drake drag himself through the desert. It’s an incredible communication of thoughts and feelings with the absence of words.
The blowing of the sands across the Rub' al Khali Desert twist and funnel in the distance as Drake nears what he thinks is an oasis filled with water. Even I get a little hopeful; excitement is buried at the bottom of my throat ready to burst once Drake sips the clear water. Unfortunately, it’s a mirage, melting away as he steps closer.
These are seemingly small, insignificant scenes that actually grow to be imperative moments in the creation of your relationship with the main character. In these scenes, you become one with the protagonist. You feel what they feel, experience what they experience, and become more attached. The scene in the desert made me empathize with Drake for his lost confusion and terrible thirst. Most of the game, Drake is traveling and fighting with a partner, but in this scene he is alone and that realization slowly settles in. For a second you wonder: Will he ever get out?