I can’t believe that Naughty Dog, the developers of The Last of Us and 3 prior Uncharted games came back to make another Uncharted again. Nevertheless, here we are for Uncharted 4. It’s almost like they’re running a business of making excellent games and then selling them for money but have locked onto this one idea of climbing and third person shootering and will keep going until it is no-longer making money.
Like the final season of a favored television series, all of the beloved characters have reached their final form by the time this game is done.
Nathan Drake is still our protagonist, he’s been wedded with Elena, I must have missed that when I skipped out on Uncharted 3. Nate has a normal-ish job these days, you’ll see what it is if you play the game. Sully (Victor Sullivan) is still old as dirt and this time won’t participate much in the action but is happy to lend a hand or fly everyone around. New to Uncharted 4 is a surprise guest appearance by Nathan’s older brother, Sam. I can’t remember ever hearing about him before, but here he is complete with flashback sequences to Nate and Sam’s childhood together throughout the game.
Sam is reunited with Nate for one last adventure to save Sam’s bacon over a debt that could cost him his life if they don’t quickly recover Henry Avery’s pirate treasure to pay off a drug lord.
Early on I was incredibly bored with Uncharted 4’s gameplay. The style of the climbing and third person shooting is still good, but was so similar to previous games that I thought I might not make it very far in. This is one of the best looking games I have ever seen, but that alongside the exact same adventuring from the Playstation 3-era wasn’t going to be enough to keep going unless there was something more to it.
Thank goodness there are changes to the gameplay as well as the story.
Everyone knows that Nathan Drake is kind of an ass. He straight up murders hundreds of dudes in each game’s beautiful set pieces, usually in places that he doesn’t really have an excuse for being in. The witty remarks he makes about straight up murder seem to indicate that he doesn’t seem to be losing any sleep over it.
The most important thing upgraded in this sequel’s story is that while Nathan Drake is still a compete ass to everyone around him, finally, in Uncharted 4 the consequences for his behavior are found in his rapidly dissolving marriage and through witnessing his brother’s impulsiveness impacting the lives of those around him.
He isn’t constantly a jerk to his wife, Elena, but he certainly isn’t upfront and truthful about the work he needs to do in order to liberate his brother from the drug lord to whom he owes his life. Those moments with Elena and Nate upset with each other aren’t necessary fun, and it can be awkward to watch Nathan’s “real life” crumble, but watching their life unfold at home before he leaves for another adventure is very relatable to anyone who has been in a long term relationship. Not that normal people are going out to find pirate treasure, it just humanizes the characters in a way that isn’t typical for big action games.
This story is what carried me through the otherwise same-y climbing and terribly implemented one on one fist-fighting introduced early on in the game. That part of the game’s combat just isn’t fun, thankfully it isn’t something that you’ll be forced to play through much before going back to ducking behind cover and shooting in set piece areas that you can decide how you want to approach. Stealth options are present, and it is fun to kick a dude off a cliff, snap his neck and drag his corpse into the bushes, or pull him over a ledge that you’re hanging below, but you’re going to end up breaking out of it before long when a more distant enemy who has slightly better vision than Metal Gear Solid goons spots you grabbing one of the other guys.
There are gameplay improvements as well. Since this is an adventure about pirating Nate is now equipped with some magic grappling rope that can attach itself to any grapple point at a distance. This can be used to quickly get up over an obstacle or more often the rope is used for swinging around between chasms, buildings, and everything, like Tarzan. It is a fun as hell addition and you can use this in combat to move quickly between vantage points as well as shooting while swinging which works amazingly well. It’s completely ridiculously implemented, you’ll always attach to the appropriate point as long as it is on screen. After playing around with it I would love to see a Spider-Man game from Naughty Dog.
The new climbing piton, the spike that mountaineers drive into walls when there otherwise isn’t a handhold, allows Nate to climb along a little bit more organically into points that are specifically designated for it. It’s not as great an addition as the grappling rope, but any positive change to a climbing mechanic that has been brutally beaten into us in every Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed is an improvement. I wonder how different it would have been if you could have combined the piton with the grappling rope and attached one to the other, swinging across larger gaps between handholds in rock faces more easily.
Due to the success of Call of Duty 4’s laser-like focus on a critical path through a single player campaign, other action games tend to focus on a very limited path through the environment, to the detriment of exploration. The reasoning behind this decision has been “why spend a game’s budget on something the player might never see? Also, we don’t understand pacing at all.”
In a very few open-world games you do have a bit more freedom to explore but it’s usually not worth spending the time to do so. What’s the point of exploring if the world doesn’t have any detail to it outside of where the major story beats take place?
Uncharted 4 gives you a few open areas that are very detailed, a Jeep with your buddies in it, and says “have fun.”
Driving that Jeep and watching as it attacks the terrain is super fun. Attaching its winch in order to solve puzzles in the environment is fun. The chatter from your passengers and how they switch seats to help you out instead of the game making you backtrack to the jeep in order to artificially lengthen the experience is fun.
Your reward for exploring those open areas is more information about the quest you’re on as well as more quick sketches of what the characters are looking at and thinking about in Nate’s journal.
Those sketches feel like Nathan, and the designer’s, notes to the player. While playing I was unexpectedly excited every time I got the prompt for Nathan to write or draw in his journal. You can tell that Naughty Dog knew what a great thing they had made since you can access Nate’s journal directly from the main menu of the game.
There are still puzzles, just like previous Uncharted games, and they are fun. The way they integrate with the journal is nice and the puzzles are still best when you have an audience of friends or family locally to help you solve them. Not that they are any kind of serious challenge, it’s just fun to have the input.
Multiplayer is still included and is still incredibly well put together. It isn’t why you would buy an Uncharted, but it feels like something that could be packaged up on its own with a different name and compete for the multiplayer shooter players’ attention with Overwatch and other recent games. The multiplayer package is far more than you might expect to be bolted onto a series that is regarded only for its single player campaign just to keep people from trading the game in.
This time Naughty Dog have wisely decided to not lock the additional levels they’ll make to their multiplayer after the game is released behind a season pass or another additional charge. You can buy cosmetic items that change the look of your characters but the game isn’t going to be less fun when 10 identical Nathan Drakes are running around the map. That is sometimes pretty hilarious.
The only real fault with the game is that it waits until chapter 10 to give you access to the Jeep and open areas. It should be inexcusable to hide the best part of the game until then.
So many people have already spoiled some of the great parts of this game, and I’ve tried to avoid doing so here. it is a surprisingly great sequel to a series that could otherwise have stopped at the second game in it and been fine.
Before this game came out, I couldn’t name an exclusive for the PlayStation 4 that made the console worth recommending. If you have never played an Uncharted before, or if you have and gave up on the series’ repetitive nature, you should come play Uncharted 4. Those in the first group, well, I imagine that you’ll enjoy the first ten chapters even more.
4 out of 5 Pyrate Adventures for Uncharted 4.
Here’s an extended snippet of gameplay, without commentary, I recorded while I’m putting my recording studio back together. This features almost everything I’ve talked about in this review that makes the game great but does contain some story spoilers if you’re concerned about plot details.