Uncharted 4 Review

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Posted May 18, 2016 by Sean Capri in Video Games

Uncharted 4

Developer : Naughty Dog

Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

Release Date: May 10, 2016

Platforms:  PS4

Mandatory

Uncharted 4 is the best game I’ve played in 2016. Feel free to read on but you should really just go play it.

A different brand of sequel

The elevator pitch for A Thief’s End is cliché. Handsome but aging adventurer quits the game to settle down and live a normal life. It’s nice, making an honest living. No more killing or running for your life, and taking turns washing the dinner dishes. That is, until a long-lost brother convinces said adventurer to go after “one last treasure.” The thing is, unoriginal as this sounds – Uncharted 4 completely caught me off guard. This is the poster child for now-generation consoles. A Thief’s End is the most beautiful, the most complete, the most polished game available on consoles.

It’s a marvel, really. How so much can stay the same yet feel completely different. Nathan Drake, Elena, and Sully are all back. The combat and acrobatics feel like riding a bike. But don’t be suckered into a false sense of familiarity – A Theif’s End is much more than a prettier version of Drake’s Deception. This is a different brand of sequel. Uncharted 4 doesn’t outwardly try to be bigger or bolder with crazier set pieces, more enemies, bigger weapons. The difference can’t be captured in a back-of-the-box bullet point. Instead, Naughty Dog focused on elevating the series to a new standard of story telling. The characters have evolved beyond their PS3 archetypes and are now three-dimensional, real people. The emphasis on the fierce bonds Nate has with his family and friends gives me chills to think about.

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I have never discovered a lost city. I’ve never been stranded in the desert. And I’ve never climbed up a train dangling off a cliff. Heck, I’d be lucky if I could do a single pull up. Yet somehow, Nathan Drake is completely relatable in Uncharted 4. Naughty Dog took this character from “the guy girls love and guys want to be” to “the person we all grow up to be.” This isn’t achieved accidentally and its a strange balance to describe. Directors Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann slow things down but only on the cinematics, really. They are long but I hardly minded. Particularly in the beginning, plenty of effort went into setting the tone of the entire game. This pays off because before I knew it, Nate’s older brother Sam felt as part of the Uncharted series as Victor Sullivan. It’s no small feat to introduce a brand new character so seamlessly and I wholly acknowledge Naughty Dog and the performance by Troy Baker for this achievement.

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Four previous games (yes, I count Golden Abyss) and this is the first time we’re hearing about Sam? It should feel strange but it doesn’t. Sam and Nate’s relationship is…real. They are brothers. They love each other like brothers and fight like brothers. They know each other, stand up for one another, feel disappointment and pride to the greatest extremes – as only brothers can. I never, not once, not for a single moment, questioned or doubted the authenticity of the bond between Sam and Nate. Without this, the entire game is lost.

The same goes for Elena. I’ve never cheered for her and Nate like I did in Uncharted 4. Their relationship is so mature, I couldn’t help but think about how my wife and I would react in the same situation – which is outrageous because I get horribly dehydrated in the heat and have zero grip strength. Elena and Sam are intense, and opposite, sources of stress for Nate. Watching him struggle to satisfy everyone, all while dealing with the series’ greatest villain (name redacted, enjoy) and chasing after the series’ greatest treasure causes me empathetic discomfort. Uncharted 4 explores the concept of unconditional love from the perspective of a marriage, friendship, and family. And this is an “action-adventure” game.

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The Hallmarks of Uncharted

I have been waiting for this moment since the PS4 launched in 2013. The first game in a generation that takes your breath away. On the PS3, naturally, it was Drakes Fortune. Up until Uncharted 4, there have been a few close calls (The Witcher, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Ratchet & Clank come to mind) but this is truly the first time I’ve gasped at a game’s beauty on PS4. If so inclined, you could easily use the Photo Mode to create a set of “Wish You Were Here” postcards and send them to anyone who has yet to play it. What sticks out for me is how the characters look and how they look at each other. We’ve finally escaped the plastic-skin, zombie-eyes from the previous generation. When Nate and Elena look at each other, I felt the emotion between them. Caring, tolerance, or tension – it all works.

Shooting from cover and setting world records for grip-strength are hallmarks in the series but Nate has a few new tricks up his sleeve. The best, of course, is his new Spider-Man rope mechanic that had me swinging from chandeliers. It’s particularly special when strung together with a series of sliding down a cliff, leaping, swinging, and juuust snatching a centuries-old windowsill. Yes, Uncharted continues to set the gold standard for traversal and acrobatics in third-person action. In fact, the controls felt a bit tighter than in previous games but are still forgiving enough to allow for less-than-pinpoint accurate jumps. Shooting felt better but, in my opinion, is no better than most games in the genre.

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Without having counted each encounter, Uncharted 4 seems to rely less on combat and more on a balance of exploration, stealth, puzzle solving, and exposition. Sneaking by armies of mercenaries is slightly reminiscent of The Last of Us  but it isn’t emphasized quite as much because there is no imperative to conserve ammunition. Clearing a section without being detected is challenging and correspondingly satisfying but it’s never required. However, alerting some of these hordes will, at times, prompt a battle so difficult, you may be inclined to improve your sneakiness. Unless you love diving away from an infinite supply of enemy  hand grenades…

The puzzles, on the other hand, are some of the easiest in the series and if anything, are the weakest aspect of A Theif’s End. On a few occasions, I had solved the puzzle in my mind before the game would allow me to execute it. This would be more disappointing if everything else about Uncharted 4 wasn’t so engrossing and I think most will hardly recognize this as a bad thing at all.

Multi-Pass

The campaign passed my litmus test for an incredible experience. After the credits, and a picture-perfect Epilogue, I wanted to start it all over again. Thankfully, this review forced my hand to give the online play a try. Now, I’m torn between a second playthrough and an excellent multiplayer.

Without a boatload of multiplayer modes, I wasn’t sure there’d be a whole lot to talk about with regards to online play. But after plaything through every single player “trial” I came to appreciate the fun and complexity of Uncharted 4‘s multiplayer. The first thing I look for in multiplayer is if there’s something for players who aren’t in it to play competitively. Are there ways to feel like a winner even if you don’t have a stellar kill-death ratio? In Uncharted 4, your score is determined by a mix of offensive points, objective points, and support points. So if you can’t hit the broad side of a barn, you can stay back and revive your more aggressive mates for serious pay off.

Customizing loadouts is a breeze and mercifully comprehensible. Choose a few weapons and then round out your armament with magical Mysticals – spellcaster-like powers such as the Wrath of El Dorado or Cintamani Stone, or my personal favorite Side Kicks – an AI specialist character like Brutes or Saviors can help overload the enemy or give your team the defensive advantage.

Uncharted has a slew of characters to unleash upon an online arena and half of the fun is in the characters who take the field. Running around as Chloe and tossing a grenade at Katherine Marlowe reminds me of Xenia Onatopp chasing down Natalya Simonova from Goldeneye 007 on N64. Skins, swag, taunts and other customizable items can be earned over time or through micro-transactions and I am completely hooked on  gambling Relic points away in the Vanity Chest lottery.

All these little tweaks make Uncharted 4’s multiplayer feel fresh, approachable, and addictive. Admittedly light on modes, it’s a nice bonus for anyone walking into this game expecting to only play the campaign.

Final Verdict

There likely is no real-life analogy to describe the transformation this series has just undertaken. Uncharted 4 is the realization of every single aspiration set out by Naughty Dog with the original and the culmination of each lesson learned along the way. This was a risky move. A Thief’s End is tonaly different from the original four adventures but Straley and Druckmann pull it off as if this is how it’s always been done.

What else can I say? My heart swells when I think about this game. So what are we really doing here? Let’s get back to A Thief’s End, shall we?

 


About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.