DISCLAIMER: While I always strive to make my reviews as spoiler free as possible, this review will contain some vague references to the plot and discuss gameplay mechanics. Secondly this article will contain some in game screenshots, these are just landscape images to act as mechanism to break up the text and illustrate the game’s graphical prowess. But as everyone’s spoiler sensitivities are different, you have been warned
DISCLAIMER #2: Though this game contains a multiplayer element, due to my lack of experience with this mode and the fact that the game is single player focused, the multiplayer aspect will not be discussed here.
As one of the most critically acclaimed games series the previous generation, Uncharted finally made its way to PlayStation 4. But the big question is: can Naughty Dog repeat its previous successes and pull off something brilliant one last time and give Nathan Drake the farewell he deserves?
This instalment of the franchise seesand friends on the trail of the treasure of legendary pirate Henry Avery. The player will travel to multiple different locations around the world, allowing the game to showcase perhaps its greatest feature: the visuals. This is by far and away one of the best looking games of the current generation. In comparison to the story of previous games this feels a lot more grounded, it feels like the franchise has grown up a bit. The lighter side of things hasn’t disappeared entirely, the dialogue especially between characters still has that humorous side to it. Nonetheless you can see a subtle shift in tone, in all honesty I feel it was the direction the game needed to go. I have no problem with the suspension of disbelief that many games require, however it’s nice to see a franchise like this become a bit more sensible. In the name of vagueness all I will say is that this game deals with some serious themes and this is not the sort of game where you should ignore the cut scenes and when you reach the end you should come out with a great deal of satisfaction. In particular the epilogue ties everything up in a near perfect manner and despite my love for the series I hope it stops here or they risk devaluing the reputation that the series and developers built over the last decade.
Referring to this game as ‘Uncharted 2.0’ may seem clichéd and unimaginative, yet I think it is a somewhat apt description. In a number of areas the first three games are incredibly similar to each other, however this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many developers after creating one successful game then feel that for the sequel they must completely reinvent the games formula and often lose sight of what made the original great. Naughty Dog however did not do this, they knew they had created a very well-polished game that was pushing the console to its limits and thus fans were happy to get a similar experience in the sequels with just some minor tweaks. But when it comes to Uncharted 4 it seems like this is everything that the developers wanted to make in an Uncharted sequel but simply couldn’t due to hardware limitations. All areas, combat, AI, set pieces have seen a major improvement versus the original games. This is mixed with some brand new inclusions, chief among which is the grappling hook. Tomb Raider comparisons aside, it is a versatile tool with numerous uses. It allows for more complex platforming puzzles which is what the series is best known for. Furthermore it has combat uses, allowing you to quickly traverse the combat areas and catch enemies by surprise. These changes allow for the game to go in slightly different directions with its platforming allowing it to improve upon an already very polished gameplay aspect.
Lights, Camera, Lots of Action
The Uncharted franchise has always considered itself as something of a Hollywood blockbuster disguised as a videogame with huge action set pieces. This was as aspect of these games loved by many and I am happy to say, comes back in a big way for this fourth instalment. One of its most striking moments is the opening title sequence which is incredibly reminiscent of the title sequence of the James Bond film. As with all these games they’re action packed and frenetic but thankfully they don’t fall into the trap of just oversaturating you with action and instead balance it with some slower and more poignant moments. Yet it never feels like you have to get through ‘boring bits’ before you can return to the action. They are a welcome respite from all the action. The inclusion of much more open vehicle sections is another great change of pace. Thankfully these vehicles control very well, responsive with the correct amount of weight. If nothing us the vehicle sections give you a chance to step back and appreciate the stunning environments. Lastly I won’t go into detail here, but the game opens by chucking you straight into the action and in my opinion is superior to the much loved train opening from Uncharted 2. Not least because it doesn’t make the mistake of making you play an identical sequence twice at different points in the game as Uncharted 2 did.
Who Are You?
To say the Uncharted series didn’t always make character development a focus, is slightly harsh and inaccurate. The approach was just slightly different, it just gave some basic ideas that allowed us to imprint on the character of Nathan Drake making him enjoyable to play as. Contrast this to the approach to Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot, much of her arc focused on the idea of “A Survivor is Born”. You the player see her adapt and grow over the course of the game as she is forced to come to terms with her experiences. I’d argue that Naughty Dog have looked at this idea and taken some inspiration, that’s not to say the character of Nathan Drake has changed though. He’s still the wise-cracking adventurer we all love but now there’s just another dimension to him. In Uncharted 4 we see a conflicted man torn between the allure of adventure and the family he’s taken so long to find. Yes it sounds clichéd as I write it , but it’s nice to see the character having grown up somewhat. This was a push the series needed or it ran the risk of the characters seeming two-dimensional, especially in contrast to Naughty Dog’s previous game The Last of Us.
The Name’s Croft, No Wait Ezio, No Definitely Drake
The previous instalment in the Uncharted series came out all the way back in 2011, 5 years is a lifetime when it comes to game development. I wondered when the game was first announced would the developers take cues from games like Tomb Raider or would they stay isolated believing their approach to be superior. The short answer is that they’ve opted for the latter in quite a big way, even beyond the aforementioned deeper character depth. There’s more button mashing than I recall and a love of sliding down hills that feels like it’s straight from 2013’s Tomb Raider, and the inclusion of the grappling hook is another big Tomb Raider nod. But it goes further , the stealth system has expanded to include some very Assassin’s Creed-esque elements such as hiding in tall grasses to perform stealth kills. There’s even an enemy marking system that feels straight out of Metal Gear Solid. In all honesty these inclusions make me feel conflicted. I understand the need to innovate of course, if this game had turned out to be little more than Uncharted 3 HD then sure people would play it but it may not have gained the praise that it has. Nevertheless these features do improve gameplay, giving it a much needed improvement in the depths of the mechanics. But to my mind at times it feels like the game has had a bit of an identity crisis and for better or worse has perhaps strayed from the Uncharted path.
To anyone reading this, it might come across as a little one-note constant praise and nothing bad to say about it. However I do have some minor issues with the game that I will group into one segment. My biggest issue stems from the game’s stealth elements, stealth has always been present in the series but it was always secondary. If you got detected you could always fight your way out, but this time around it feels like they’ve inverted the relationship between the shooting and stealth. In a number of the big areas full of enemies it is often geared towards stealth, with large amounts of tall grass to hide in and dialogue hints from allies. To many this may not be a drawback, but in my opinion it once again feels slightly out of place here. This stealth emphasis is seemingly linked to the improved AI in this game. In the original 3 games the AI was somewhat limited, often just moving between 2 or 3 pieces of cover meaning that you could survive most firefights by staying in one place. This time around however enemies are much smarter and outflank you meaning you have to constantly be on the move. Whilst this does give firefights a frenetic element, most of the time I found if you got detected you be surrounded and killed within moments. Thus the only way to survive is to try and learn where enemies will come from and intercept them and make sure you hit as many headshots as possible. This meant frequent deaths which in turn hindered the fast pacing that the game wants to create.
My next complaint is more minor, namely a subtle change in the melee combat. In the original games you would attack by pressing square and you could counter incoming attacks by pressing triangle. This time around however instead of being able to directly counter attacks, triangle is now used to escape when an enemy has you in a hold. Whilst this might seem immensely minor I found myself going into melee segments expecting to be able to counter and struggling to adjust to the change. Speaking of the melee combat, personally I felt that the beginning few hours of the game featured a few too many scripted fight sequences. You’ll find it’s impossible to respond to certain attacks purely because the sequence is supposed to go a particular way.
I’m very happy to say the Naughty Dog pulled off what was a very ambitious goal, they’ve improved in every way one of the defining franchises of the last generation. This has perhaps been the best gaming experience I’ve had in a number of years; nonetheless I think Naughty Dog should close the book on Uncharted series once and for all. Just end it on a massive high and don’t fall victim to the endless sequels that have destroyed the reputation of many AAA series. The epilogue will perhaps divide fans but personally if left me with a smile on my face and a sense of satisfaction that the series has ended at the right time. This feels like the peak of the franchise and thanks to The Nathan Drake Collection if you’ve yet to experience the franchise at all then you can see it at its best.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End takes an already stellar franchise and improves all aspects of the game, Naughty Dog has crafted yet another must-own masterpiece for any existing fans as well any fans of the action adventure genre.
+ Deep and engaging story
+ Absolutely gorgeous visually
+ Perfected existing gameplay mechanics as well as bringing in new features
-Loses its way in places
Congratulations for reaching the end of this review. I’ve been away for a while, but I’ve got some more time on my hands so I’ll hopefully get more content out. But the biggest announcement since my last article is I’m very proud to announce I’ve started my own podcast. It’s called Gamers Without Borders, you can find it here: http://gamerswithoutborders.podbean.com/ we’re also on iTunes.