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Uncharted 4 Review

by William Schwartz

It feels like a lifetime ago that Naughty Dog released a new Uncharted game.  Sure, the stop-gap remastering of the original trilogy helped with some of the wait when it released last year, but Uncharted is one of Sony’s fabled system seller exclusives and many have been waiting patiently for one of these to arrive.  Regarded by many as the very best in Sony’s first-party stable, the developers set a precedent for action/adventure games with Uncharted 2 that has yet to be toppled to this day.  Many have tried to mimic the over-the-top action of the Uncharted series.  Some have come incredibly close in its absence, like Crystal Dynamics’ reboot of the Tomb Raider series and the couple of titles that have arrived since Uncharted 3 released back in 2011.  Many called for the series to be done, for Naughty Dog to close the book on Nathan Drake’s adventures, and put the series out to pasture to tackle other topics like they did with The Last of Us a couple of years ago.  I’m glad they didn’t.

Despite shake-ups at the studio that saw Amy Hennig and Justin Richmond leave the developer, two key parts of the teams that released previous iterations of the series, Uncharted 4 stays the course, delivering exactly what you come to expect from an Uncharted game — Amazing visuals and jaw-dropping moments wrapped in a competent third-person cover shooter which also relies heavily on traversal, exploration, and progression by way of climbing your way through levels.  If you were expecting Naughty Dog to completely veer off course here, it didn’t happen.  Instead this game doubles down on all of the things that made the Uncharted games so loved by the PlayStation faithful.  We see the more human side of Nathan Drake, more of this character’s history revealed and family introduced, with his brother a treasure hunting companion for much of the experience. Uncharted 4 delivers another globe-trotting, treasure hunting adventure with some of the very best visuals to grace consoles this generation.

Uncharted 4 Single Player & Multiplayer Gameplay w/Commentary

Since we’ve last seen the treasure hunter, Nathan and Elena have settled down.  Domesticated is a good word for what Nathan Drake is in Uncharted 4 — a man that’s allegedly seen his last adventure though it’s clear he still pines for the action.  When his brother Sam, who was thought to be dead, shows up out of nowhere to offer up an irresistible opportunity to hunt down a long lost pirate treasure, Drake jumps on it.  Tied to the treasure hunt backdrop is a story in which his brother’s life is at stake, so there’s good reason for him to come out of retirement.  Uncharted 4 certainly has a more serious tone than previous games, with Nathan Drake being a character that is more easy to relate to than the plucky Indiana Jones-type action hero character we’ve seen him as in previous games.  With twists and turns along the way, this new adventure takes players to numerous locales across the globe.  For those that have played an Uncharted game before, you kind of know what to expect at this point.  Eventhough there are some meaningful changes that we’ll talk about later.  The PlayStation 4 certainly offers up the opportunity for Naughty Dog to spread their wings a little bit in terms of broadening the scope of levels in terms of size.  They most certainly are beautiful, but at its core Uncharted 4 relies on many of the things that made the series so popular in the first place.  Each location you head to will test your third person shooting prowess, make you do some light puzzle solving, and have you take in the incredible art style, fidelity and details that each environment holds.

nathan-elena-home

Drake may have been working a mundane job for the last few years, but he doesn’t have a spot of rust on him.  He gets right back to climbing and shimmying his way through cliffsides, buildings, and more.  His gun-wielding skills haven’t diminished either.  He’s as stealthy and capable as he’s ever been and there are plenty of encounters for players to explore to verify that.  Gameplay has been tweaked somewhat, but it still relies heavily on the tried and true mix of stealth and straight-up action that the series is known for.  Uncharted 4 has bigger gameplay areas that allow for the mixing of tactics and a stealth system that allows you to play the game how you choose.  Stay hidden from enemies, and Drake can silently dispatch his enemies.  Alert them to your presence and things can get a bit hairy with intense firefights.  I’ve always thought that Uncharted was an OK shooter, not the best in its class, but competent enough to get the job done.  Uncharted 4 hasn’t changed my opinion on that, but the variety of ways to tackle some of the bigger levels in the game rival that of sandbox titles and can offer a moderate amount of replayability.  Add in one of the new features of the game with Drake’s new grappling hook, and both the exploration elements and combat elements get even more interesting.  Not all environments offer the ability to swing from a rope and dispatch enemies with death from above melee attacks or swinging machine gun fire, but when it does occur, it’s a lot of fun.

Area to area Uncharted 4 is as linear as they come.  The magic of what Naughty Dog has done here is in that they’ve made a linear game feel less linear than it actually is by offering choice of path.  You’re going to same place, but you have options on how to get there.  You aren’t just following a predetermined path, and many times, you’ll be travelling with a companion who takes an entirely different route to get to the same spot.  You’ll ultimately end up heading down the same paths, it’s just a little something to make the game feel less linear than it actually is, and you can chalk that up to bigger environments in general.  The rope swinging mechanic is also used often in the traversal elements of the game.  Whether that is used for hooking up and climbing your way to the top of rock face or building, using it to wall run across chasms, or just jumping and swinging across divides.  There’s also been a pick given to Drake on this adventure, which allows him to traverse rock faces that have no holds to latch on to.  If this sounds familiar to what we’ve seen from Tomb Raider, it totally is.  That’s OK, it works well in this game, as it did for Lara Croft.  There are some overused mechanics here and there in Uncharted 4 that can make the game drag on at times.  There are only so many situations where you can do a ‘buddy boost’ or ‘a wait for them to drop something down’ or the old ‘help me move this thing by repeatedly pressing a button’ before it gets a little long in the tooth.  That said, I don’t think the story is paced as well as the previous games.  Better than the first certainly, but not quite as good as Uncharted 2 and 3 in shuffling you between big moments and plot points. I personally think that it’s because of these bigger environments that the pacing suffers, but there’s still no shortage of big moments in the game.

uncharted-4-combat

And these are the real stars of the show.  For anyone that’s been keeping up with Uncharted trailers that have been released, we saw one of the very best sequences in the game already.  You know the one, where Nathan Drake is swinging from a cable, dragged through the mud, fending off motorcycles, in an insane gameplay sequence that looks like something the likes of which had been reserved for cinematics in the past. There are plenty of others, but they’re better left to be experienced on your own, rest assured you won’t be disappointed if you’re coming for those holy shit moments that can’t help but a smile on your face.  The problem might be for this game is that they’ve done so many cool things, that their previous efforts are pretty hard to top.  It’s almost like being desensitized to the awesomeness that they’ve managed to pull off game-in and game-out.    Make no mistake, Naughty Dog is still at the top of the food chain when it comes to these set-piece moments.  We’ve seen some competition as developers have caught up in the action adventure genre, leaving us a little less starry-eyed than, say, 5-6 years ago.

For most people you’re coming for the story in Uncharted 4 and it totally lives up to the billing even if you only play it once.  It’s self-contained, but it’s also helpful to know who’s who as you’ll be seeing plenty of familiar faces.  It’s not a must that you’ve played other games, though it’s probably helpful.  Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that Naughty Dog once again has wrapped-up another Uncharted game in a fashion that’s respectful to the player.  But, there are numerous difficulty levels to tackle, as well as a number of bonus features that allow for some interesting modifications to be made to the game. These include things like bullet-time where time slows when Drake shoots.  There’s a low gravity mode that makes things kind of wacky and a few other gameplay tweaks that can be earned for completing the game.  A Thief’s End also features the popular Photo Mode, as well as filters that can used for different graphical effects at the click of a button you can go from a cell-shaded adventure, to an 8-bit version of UC4, and then back to the stunning regular-ass mode.

uncharted-4-multiplayer-review

Of course, there’s also the multiplayer.  Many have already gotten a chance to play this in the beta, and probably have formed an opinion one way or another on whether this is something worth sinking their time into.  I still haven’t.  It’s a pretty divisive mode, I think people are either going to love it or hate it.  For those that do love it, there seems to be plenty of meat there.  Plenty of unlockables and customization options, load-outs, perks, purchasable items — and of course, the way that it attempts to capture the essence of Uncharted single player.   However, there are a lot of moving parts here that are really hard to wrap your head around.  Furthermore, it feels like more of a sideshow to the main story more so than a multiplayer suite does for a game like, say, Call of Duty, Battlefield, or a more comparable game like Gears of War.

There’s certainly been plenty of work put into it, and it’s changed quite a bit from Uncharted 3.  Mostly in the addition of rope swinging mechanics that allow you to quickly zip around the map, items available for purchase in-game, and destructible environments (albeit only here and there).  Like the single player experience there are incredible moments possible, but it is, in the end, a game that is centered around a shooter experience that I, personally, haven’t ever really appreciated all that much.  The good news is, you can go full Tarzan if you want, swinging from grapple to grapple looking for an unsuspecting target to swoop down on and insta-melee kill.  Or, run around collecting cash to purchase magical power-ups or support characters to help your team, alongside the shooter action.

Matches ranged from incredibly chaotic, frantic affairs, to concise well plotted team work in the multiplayer sessions that we attended.  It’s worth noting that we played the game in a pre-release environment so there’s no telling just what will happen when the game goes live on May 10th.  That said it’s a good time of the year for a different type of multiplayer experience with the biggest multiplayer-centric shooters still months away.  If you simply must have more Uncharted 4, the multiplayer here is totally competent, though I’m not convinced on the longevity of it.

The Verdict on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Sony’s catch phrase for the PlayStation 4 has been “Greatness Awaits” for the last few years.  While there have been some hits here and there, none (barring Bloodborne) have lived up to the hype so much as Uncharted 4 has.  There’s a special element to games from Naughty Dog that offer the type of single player experiences that can stand on their own, offering the perfect blend of story telling, visuals, and gameplay — everything else I just consider a bonus.

"loved"
loved

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

  • Available On: PS4
  • Published By: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developed By: Naughty Dog
  • Genre: Action Adventure
  • US Release Date: May 10th, 2016
  • Reviewed On: PS4
  • Quote: "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is one of the few PS4 exclusives that lives up to the "Greatness Awaits" slogan. There's a special element to games from Naughty Dog that deliver the type of single player experiences that can stand on their own, offering the perfect blend of story telling, visuals, and gameplay -- everything else I just consider a bonus. "
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