Decoding the Uncharted 4 Teaser

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Naughty Dog has officially released a teaser for Uncharted on the PlayStation 4. However, if you’re hoping to see Drake, Sully or Elena you’re out of luck – instead, the teaser features an unknown voice actor swearing vengeance over an old nautical map of East Africa.

Who is this man, and what is he after? Is it Sir Francis Drake? An old associate Nate betrayed? That will remain a mystery for now. But the clues all point to one place – the pirate republic of Libertalia, the Mughal treasure, and possibly a hint of the mystical.

Libertalia: A Pirate Utopia

The island circled at the end of the trailer is the Île Sainte Marie, off the coast of Madagascar. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the island was a haven for pirates that preyed on European ships returning from India and Southeast Asia. Legend also holds that the island was part of a pirate republic known as Libertalia – and wouldn’t you know, the republic’s motto “For God and Liberty” caps off the teaser.

According to legend, pirate captain James Mission founded Libertalia (also known as Libertatia) as a pirate colony in the late 17th century. Mission began life at sea as a fervent Catholic and faithful officer on the French warship Victoire, but a visit to Rome changed that. Witnessing Vatican excess crushed Mission’s faith, and he fell in with a radical ex-priest named Caraccioli who seemed the only one speaking out against papal opulence. The two became friends, and when Mission left, Caraccioli signed onboard the Victoire too.

But Caraccioli wasn’t merely a lapsed Catholic – he was an outspoken Deist. He preached radical doctrines to his shipmates, including human equality, religious tolerance, abolitionism, and that aristocracy was a sham. “He fell upon Government,” says Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, “and shew’d, that every Man was born free and had as much Right to what would support him as to the Air he respired.” Mission became the priest’s most devoted convert.

These ideas might’ve remained academic if not for a twist of fate – months later the Victoire met the HMS Winchelsea off Martinique, and the ships mauled each other until the Winchelsea exploded in a magazine accident. Mission, the only surviving officer onboard, found himself at a fork in the path. He could either return to France, or as Caraccioli suggested, “Bid defiance to the power of Europe, enjoy every thing he wish’d, or reign Sovereign of the Southern Seas and lawfully make war on all the world.”

Mission put the question to the crew. They chose the latter.

But Mission and his crew didn’t consider themselves pirates – they saw themselves as sailing revolutionaries. Instead of a black flag, they flew a white one with lady Liberty painted on it to show they were “no pyrates, but men who were resolved to assert that liberty to which God and nature gave them, and own no subjection to any.” Like many pirates they equally distributed prize money, voted on all decisions and had a measure of equality. Unlike pirates, they forbid swearing and drunkenness, outlawed capital punishment, and treated prisoners humanely. Most notably Mission and his crew were fervent abolitionists, with Mission declaring that he had not thrown off the yoke of his own slavery only to enslave others. Whenever the Victoire captured a ship carrying slaves, the crew would strike off the men’s irons and take them aboard, then teach them French and absorb them as equal members of the crew.

After taking several prizes and intervening in an inter-tribal conflict in Madagascar, Mission decided that his crew needed somewhere to call home, retire and raise the families they’d started with native women. In accordance with his politics, Mission named the new colony Libertalia and its citizens the Liberi. The colony had full equality, no property distinctions, and citizens held all goods in common – a bit like a hippie commune, but with overwhelming firepower and a plunder-based economy. Eventually this anarchist commune proved too chaotic though, and Mission brought in other political ideas like real estate ownership, a democratically elected executive and laws. Mission was chief executive and his allied pirate captain, Thomas Tew, served as admiral.

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Physically, Libertalia was your standard 17th century colonial outpost: It started out as a wooden fort and grew until it had a dock, farmland, a town and several cannon batteries to defend the town – think one of the smaller pirate settlements in Assassin’s Creed IV. Not exactly impressive compared to Uncharted‘s lost cities. In fact, the entire place was destroyed not by cataclysm, but because local tribes raided the town and killed everyone while the pirates were away. Mission himself died shortly thereafter, when his remaining sloop sank in a storm.

The problem is James Mission, Caraccioli and Libertalia probably never existed. The best source for them is Captain Johnson’s A General History of the Pyrates, a book that shaped pirate lore, but is also full of errors and fabrications. For example, Johnson states that Mission died before Thomas Tew in 1695, but Mission was supposed to have begun his career by sinking the HMS Winchelsea in 1707. Given the evidence, it’s likely that Mission and his crew are probably composite characters used as a prop to discuss political ideas. Early modern writers frequently discussed revolutionary politics this way, since pirates, castaways and stories of foreign lands let them explore political or religious ideas that might be too seditious if they were set at home. Both Sir Thomas Moore’s Utopia and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe made use of the structure, (Defoe was long thought to have written The General History of the Pyrates too, but historians how reject this.)

But Naughty Dog has never been a slave to history – in reality Uncharted 3‘s Ubar probably was a tiny stop on the silk road – and they could easily scale Libertalia up into something epic.

Henry Every

So now that we have a place, we need a treasure – and the trailer hints toward one of those too. Most of the clues in the Uncharted teaser are little more than vengeful scribbles, but among the frantic handwriting lurks the phrase “Every betrayed us all.” This might look like bad grammar at first glance, but it’s a reference to Henry Every, a notorious pirate with links to Madagascar.

Henry Every (Evory or Avery in some records) has been called the most successful pirate in history for two reasons. First, he made the single biggest score in the history of piracy. Second, he actually managed to survive and retire – at least we think he did, since he vanished shortly after his greatest triumph.

Historians know little about Every’s early life except that he served in the Royal Navy, traded slaves off the coast of Africa and by 1693 had landed a job as the first mate aboard the Spanish privateer Charles II. Unhappy, unpaid and having languished in port for almost a year, in 1694 the Charles II‘s crew mutinied and installed Every as captain. Every renamed the ship the Fancy and made for the shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean.

After a year raiding, Every was an established captain with a half-dozen prizes under his belt. Still unsatisfied, he shifted his focus to the Arabian Sea. Every year, the Islamic Mughal Empire sent a convoy from India to Mecca, not only as a religious pilgrimage, but also so the merchants could trade spices and cloth for gold and coffee. That year, the convoy was particularly ripe – 25-ships, including some owned by Emperor Aurangzeb himself. Every smelled gold.

But the prize was so enormous and its route so predictable that every pirate in the area hove into view. Five other ships – including Thomas Tew’s Amity – were already lying in wait when Every arrived. The pirates decided to join forces. The six ships formed a squadron, elected Every leader, and gave chase.

The pursuit was a mess. One ship fell behind. It had to be burned after the crew abandoned it and piled aboard the Fancy. Tew engaged one of the escorts and got his belly ripped in open by a cannonball, causing the Amity to drift, leaderless. The squadron finally took the Fateh Muhammed, but the £50,000 of gold and silver amounted to little after dividing it among so many crews. But a few days later Every sighted the Ganj-i-Sawai, which was the largest ship in the convoy and personally owned by the emperor. It had 40 cannons and 400 rifles – Every, on the other hand, had luck.

A fluke cannon shot from the Fancy dismasted the great ship leaving her unable to maneuver her guns in defense. The Indian crew managed to hold off the pirates until one of their cannon barrels exploded, forcing the defenders to abandon their posts and fight the fires. Every’s men saw their opportunity and swarmed aboard. The hand-to-hand battle stretched for two hours before the ship belonged to the pirates.

That’s when the slaughter began. According to several firsthand accounts, the pirates started a multi-day sack as the ships sat becalmed in the Arabian Sea. They murdered crewmen and tortured merchants to find hidden valuables. Pirates gang-raped the women aboard, causing several to commit suicide.

Once the carnage was done and the survivors sent on their way, Every counted coin. Records differ about how much he got – the East India Company likely tried to lowball the ensuring insurance claim, whereas Emperor Aurangzeb probably inflated it – but all agree it was somewhere between £350,000 and £600,000. The question then becomes: What happened to all that treasure, and what happened to Henry Every?

According to Captain Johnson, Every swindled his crew into letting him serve as custodian for the treasure, then ran off with it. Considering that the Uncharted trailer has a reference to Every betraying a shipmate, this is probably the path Naughty Dog will take. But historians have discredited this as fabrication. Records indicate that after the battle, Every distributed the treasure amongst his crew, then took shelter at New Providence by bribing the governor with £1,000 worth of ivory tusks. But a score that big made Every a marked man. The Mughal Emperor was furious that English pirates had desecrated his subjects and property, and he threatened to expel the British from India if nothing was done (in hindsight, this would’ve been wise in the long term). The only way the English could repair the damage was to either find Every or make reparations themselves – they chose the former, and began the first worldwide manhunt in history. The governor of New Providence, fearing he’d be held accountable for sheltering the culprit, warned Every that he had no choice but to alert the Royal Navy to his presence. By the time the Navy showed up, Every was long gone. Though authorities eventually caught and hanged six of Every’s crew, their captain was never seen again.

Some sources claim he went back to England, where merchants swindled him out of his fortune. More embellished tales like 1712 play The Successful Pirate cast Every as a buccaneer king ruling over Madagascar. So there – in addition to Thomas Tew – is another link to Libertalia.

Let the Speculation Begin

That’s really all we know at this point. Lacking a full trailer or even a proper title, we can’t even confirm whether Drake will make an appearance, or whether this is a Black Ops-style offshoot set during the 18th century. What the game will be about is anyone’s guess.

And well, I’m anyone, so I’m going to guess.

Neither Libertalia or Every’s treasure seems grand enough for Uncharted – a ratty pirate republic isn’t exactly El Dorado, Shambahla or Ubar. But following Every would be a great adventure hook for something greater. Uncharted adheres to a strict formula. The team recovers an artifact owned by a famous person. That artifact then leads to more clues, allowing the team to follow the trail of its owner to a lost city – and a pseudo-scientific reinterpretation of the legend.

So where will Every lead us? Based on the trailer, I suspect a more religious location this time around. “For God and Liberty,” isn’t the only biblical language in the trailer. There are also two references to hell, and the Latin phrase Hodie Mecum Eris in Paradiso, or “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” It’s probably the only time you’ll see Jesus Christ quoted in a triple-A trailer.

While the quote refers to heaven, I’m guessing Uncharted is more interested in the fabled “Earthly Paradise,” better known as the Garden of Eden. And it just so happens that one reputed location of the garden lies just up the African coast from Madagascar, in Ethiopia.

Between the 12th and 17th centuries, Europeans fervently believed in Prester John, a priest-king descended from one of the Three Wise Men. According to the legend, John ruled over a Christian land rich with treasure and exotic wonders, defending his territory from the Muslim and Pagan kingdoms surrounding him. Belief in the priest-king skyrocketed after a forged letter surfaced in 1165, claiming to be from Prester John and describing his kingdom. His lands were full of amazing animals – not only red lions, giraffes and elephants, but also cyclopes, giants, griffons, satyrs, horned men and cannibal tribes. In addition, John had a mirror that let him see anywhere in his kingdom, stones that cured blindness, the fountain of youth and jewels beyond counting.

His kingdom was also “scarcely three days journey from paradise, out of which Adam was driven.”

Originally John’s kingdom was supposed to be in India, but as that subcontinent became more familiar to Europeans, the legend changed to place John in then-unexplored Ethiopia. Strangely enough, scientists believe Ethiopia is where human life originated. That’s a pretty heady mixture of myth, science and magical artifacts – just the stuff Uncharted trades on.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. I have a bad record when it comes to speculation. But here’s what we have for sure: A lost pirate utopia, an unimaginable treasure horde, revenge and some hints of mysticism.

Sounds like an Uncharted game to me.

Robert Rath is a freelance writer, novelist, and researcher currently based in Hong Kong. You can follow his exploits at or on Twitter at @RobWritesPulp.

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