After several delays, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is finally upon us. Its fair to say that it certainly delivered but not in all aspects. Like any game out there, it doesn’t matter how much marketing hype it’s had. Or perhaps a solid legacy of prior games; it is still never going to be perfect. Many reading this review are probably here out of curiosity. Perhaps to see if you can find an article that doesn’t blindly sing the game’s praises from start to finish. After all, love is blind and there are many reviewers out there in love with Nathan Drake.
I’ll say it early on – I am not going to give this game a 10/10. Not only would that be hideously predictable but it would also be…unfairly biased. So, here, I’ll do my best to remain objective as any good reviewer should. Bear in mind, all three prior games have been played.
The Icing On The Trilogy
As anybody would expect, Naughty Dog has done their utmost to ramp up every aspect of the game. Uncharted 4 has taken a leaf out of The Last of Us when it comes to story telling. By this, I mean the script is fantastically banterous, emotive and tense. Cutscenes are realistically presented to us as characters converse in a way that is believable. The story itself will finally reveal unanswered questions about Nate’s past which justifies one last entry in what was originally supposed to be a trilogy.
We see the questions presented to us in a flashback near the start of the game. Then answered in another, near the end of the game. This cleverly teases at Nate’s beginnings and, while we don’t forget the first sequence for the interim between the next one, when it does finally show up you’ll be wringing your hands, thinking ‘this is what I’ve played three and a half games to learn’. Not that Naughty Dog need to rely on intrigue alone to keep us playing. But a smattering of it only serves for extra character depth and player immersion.
Welcome To The Family
Speaking of character depth, there are two relationships on the line in the story. Nate is now married to Elena. While his brother Sam, presumed dead for the last fifteen years, has returned out of the blue. Uncharted has gone from a bond in friendship to bonds of more gravitas in familial matters. This creates more emotional investment in characters as they narrowly defy death time and again. Previous Uncharted titles never quite harnessed this level of character depth. So I suddenly found myself caring for their wellbeing.
Yet, regardless of the blatant leap in storytelling after The Last of Us, Uncharted 4 still follows the same formula. I think you’ll know what I mean when I say we’ll still see the badguy going ‘Aha! Drake, you’ve saved me so much time’ (Drake grimaces and mutters ‘Dammit’ under his breath whilst being held at gunpoint). We’ve seen this all before and as it becomes apparent that Naughty Dog have opted for the same formula again, you may let out a little sigh of tedium. This minor gripe was soon redeemed by a very cool ending that definitely took its time for the fans.
Expect More Of The Same
When it comes to gameplay most of you know what to expect. But if we boil it down, what you have is simply stealth/action, puzzles and lengthy climbing sequences. When you’re not running and jumping through gloriously designed set-pieces, you’ll usually get a ‘heads up’ to alert you to nearby enemies.
Once you’ve got a lay of the land, you’ll be able to mark enemies, keeping track of their movements. The stealth element is nothing new. Previous titles have attempted it but the mechanics seem to have been polished to a fine sheen. There is added emphasis on taking your time to understand the opportune moment to strike.
This makes for a welcome, more realistic experience. Nathan Drake is still a one man army. But this time around, you’ll be far more aware of his mortality. If you go loud before taking in the situation properly, you’ll bite it pretty quickly. That said, there are still a few scenes that’ll subject you to an ambush. Harken back to the ship at sea in U3. A lengthy wave survival that was difficult for the sake of it. I always felt like these were lazy filler design choices. They only served to string out the game for a bit longer. Thankfully, there’s far less of that going on here.
There’s also far more puzzling going on in Uncharted 4. These puzzles are more intricate and ingenious than ever. Which is great fun but still feels a little extreme for a rag tag band of pirates to have come up with. The puzzles are never too spoon-fed either. You’ll have to apply brain and genuinely engage with them, while using Nate’s trusty notebook for hints.
Of course, this being a videogame focusing on a fast paced movie style, the momentum can never let up for too long so they’re never too difficult. There’s enough challenge there, however, that you’ll still have that ‘aha!’ moment when the elaborate door slides open.
Lastly, you have your climbing sequences. There’s a heck of a lot of them in Uncharted 4. I’d venture to say the game would be less than half the length it is without these. I feel the same way here as I did about Assassin’s Creed. You’d have to be inhumanly strong to do even one of the vertical jumping ledge grabs that Nate does. He just isn’t built as well as you’d expect for stuff like that. Talking gameplay, though – as you move the stick around, Nate will reach out with his arm until he grabs something. It’s all very fluid.
Even if these climbing segments are a little excessive, the ease of movement from one place to the next only serves to bolster the stealth element. Players can find wonderfully obscure angles to get the drop on their foes. The grappling hook, while elastic and endless, is fun to use and the game allows use of it in an intellectual way when combined with puzzles.
Uncharted 4 Is A Graphical Masterpiece
Let’s take a look at the graphics and sound design. Both are excellent. I found a cave where there was never going to be a gunfight and squeezed the trigger to hear my gunfire echo all around me. People sound as far away as they look and the gradual increase in volume of their voices as you approach is bang on. All this, complimented with wonderfully accurate surround sound. The same attention to detail in sound design can be said across the board. Although the soundtrack is unfortunately forgettable.
Graphically, this game is the most impressive thing I’ve seen on my PS4. With Killzone: Shadow Fall coming in as a close second. I was able to spot some tricks Naughty Dog used to allow processing power in more important areas, like character models and foreground textures. There is no texture snapping in wide angle distance shots, but that’s because the distance textures are very soft with low levels of quality. The softness of these great landscapes still look great, though. I’m sure Naughty Dog used lots of other tricks to get this game to working on a PS4.
With Attention To Detail To Boot
Foliage bends around you as you walk through it, shadows are wonderfully dynamic, especially when mixed into smoke particle. Most impressive was…Nathan’s ears. With a lit backdrop in a claustrophobic environment, take a look if you get the chance. His ears glow red as you would expect in real life! As the for the rest of his face and any other characters’ for that matter, this game brings the most detailed motion capture I’ve ever seen in a game. Make no mistake, when it comes to character models, this game is the next boundary pusher after L.A Noir.
None Of It Makes Any Sense! But Who Cares?
There are all kinds of things in Uncharted 4 that don’t make sense. Nate’s inhuman strength to do all the climbing he does. His indestructible bones to take all the tumbles that he does. The elastic grappling hook that never runs out of rope. Getting things to make sense was never Naughty Dog’s priority.
Instead, Uncharted 4 reeks of huge amounts of money and developer talent. Like every good thing in life, it has to come to an end eventually. The ending for Uncharted 4 definitely took its time for the fans as the momentum slowed and credits rolled. My run through of Uncharted 4 was a brief yet consistent thrill ride, oozing with sumptuous spectacle.
If you enjoy action adventure platformers, you owe it to yourself to experience this game. While I feel the asking price is a little high for a linear experience, the overall quality is the high bar that PS4 owners have waited for since the console’s release.