REVIEW – In my 25 years of playing and reviewing games I have rarely been so impressed with a video game, then Naughty Dog’s fourth Uncharted adventure. An epic story about two brothers and their last treasure hunting expedition, hair-raising action sequences and gunplay which would put Hollywood movies to shame and truly breathtaking graphics with gorgeous environments and characters so lifelike, that I swear, you’ll forget that you are looking at a game and not a real movie.
Naughty Dog’s long-awaited fourth Uncharted game took a while to produce. The developer team was reportedly complaining, how hard it will be to raise the bar, which was set in the previous Uncharted games. They said to the press how difficult was it to push the limits of the PlayStation 3 – and their own limits as well – to look and feel Uncharted 3 the gorgeous blockbuster it was and to surpass that so that the next game would feel a true next-gen title would be tough.
Perhaps that was the reason that we had to wait so long for Uncharted 4 to be done, but now we can all say, that it was well worth the wait.
An old dog who is still learning new tricks
Like in Uncharted 3, the game starts with a younger Drake, but this time around he is even younger, lives in an orphanage and we meet his older brother, Sam as well. Years later, the two brothers are grown up, and teaming up with a shady character called Rafe; they take part in a dangerous mission, which involves an infiltration to a Cuban prison system. Without spoiling too much, the mission goes wrong, and the two brothers get separated.
Years later we find again our Nathan Drake (after the events of Uncharted 3) who is probably in his early forties and enjoying his retirement alongside his lovely blonde wife, Elena, who was also her partner in the previous Uncharted games.
Still, Drake doesn’t want to part with his retired life, until Sam suddenly shows up and asks him to join him on Henry Avery’s pirate treasure finding adventure.
I won’t spoil more story here, let’s just mention that good old Sully will also adhere to the team, and Elena won’t be missed either. But the real show stealer this time around is Nate’s brother: Samuel Drake (voiced by an excellent Troy Baker here): a brattier Drake, who – while he has a true “bad boy.” Attitude, he is even more of a fanatic treasure hunter than Nate and also a very complex character.
Thanks to Naughty Dog’s superior story-telling and the top notch character animation we’ll root for those two miscreants and their treasure hunting adventure – so much like maybe never before in any video game. In fact, Nathan Drake’s own character will be a lot stronger and interesting thanks to the addition of his brother who was thought long-lost. I was a bit afraid that the addition of Sam’s character will be a bit forced, but thankfully Naughty Dog made an excellent effort to insert him in the already rich Uncharted lore.
The story will also shed light on the brother’s past; we’ll learn a bit about their parents, especially their mother. (Not too much, unfortunately, I would love to learn even more about their heritage. Perhaps in a DLC…)
While the actual story (after Nate’s is again in the present) starts a bit slow, it becomes truly excellent as we go deeper into the game. Some new characters are also introduced: besides the villain Rafe, we’ll also meet Nadine Ross (voiced by Laura Bailey), the female leader of the mercenary organization, another treasure hunter, Rafe’s partner in crime.
Each character is perfectly written, and same goes with the relationship between the old and new characters. And to add the world of the living, the presence of long-dead legendary pirate Captain Henry Avery is almost palpable.
I liked the stories of the previous installments as well, but what Naughty Dog achieved here is the state of their story-telling art.
Concerning the core gameplay there are few surprises, still, what was excellent in every Uncharted is on the top here as well. Gunfights never felt so intense, and playing at Hard difficulty, they caused quite a challenge as well. Hard difficulty is, in fact, the level you’ll want to play a Naughty Dog game if you are a real fan. You will need to sneak as much as you can to avoid and silently take down patrolling enemies. That sneaking gameplay element is always a tricky one, but again, Naughty Dog developers were on top on their game on that one. I enjoyed it much more than the one in any Assassin’s Creed game, which is funny because sneaking and backstabbing are more akin to the world of assassins.
The AI is extremely aggressive as usual – it’s pretty hard to stay alive on Hard level if you get swarmed. What I did found a bit annoying is again the way the enemy doesn’t care about its own safety. Since it’s not a fantasy/horror game and we are talking about humans, it’s pretty ridiculous the way the run at you, while you are shooting at them with a shotgun. Yes, I know: it’s a game, and the AI in almost every action game is the same, but I still – again and again – find this ridiculous. Perhaps that’s my biggest complaint to Uncharted 4.
Fistfights, on the other hand, feel pretty good – even if they feel a bit too easy compared how the gunfight is more challenging. Landing a hit, defending yourself and counterattacking is a bit simpler and more streamlined than in Uncharted 3.
… and adventure
What’s pretty flawless however is the way you have to explore your environment. Besides being gorgeous, the environments – gigantic caves, abandoned, ruined cities, desertic mountains and so on – are extremely well designed. There are often several levels of areas, with sudden traps, several kind of climbable walls and many secrets. The levels are massive, variable, and surprising players in more than one way. I am pretty critical of the level design of video game, but Uncharted 4 has perhaps the best level design ever – in both artistic and gameplay sense.
There are new tools to your exploration as well. The one util you will use the most is the rope with the grapple hook, which you can use to swing trough vast crevices like Tarzan. You have to pay attention too, as it’s not always obvious, which way you need to swing. One bad swing and jump can lead to a dead Nate.
You also have a pick-like tool, which will help you to climb on surfaces, where there aren’t any protrusions to grip. It’s pretty much the same system as with Lara Croft’s pickaxe from the latest Tomb Raider games.
Did you bring the popcorn and the coke?
The gameplay is pretty solid, but what’s takes the cake (in a good sense) in this game are the graphics. Yes, the previews and trailers weren’t lying: Uncharted 4 is not only the best looking PlayStation 4 game so far, but one that easily surpass many good-looking PC titles as well. Environments are so epic and seem so astounding that it begs to use the game’s photo mode. Huge, exotic cliffs on deserted islands overlooks abandoned forests and sun-drenched sea, abandoned, ruined pirate cities with pirate skeletons, and so many details, that you will positively forget that you are playing a game from your seat and not entering this exotic picaresque world yourself. The scenery art is simply the best you have seen in any action-adventure game.
Same goes for the look of the characters, who are much more detailed, than in the previous games. Nathan Drake’s detailed look and skin were already discussed in the previous news, but once you see him in the title itself, you’ll be positively awed again. Every inch of his pores are the witnesses of his past and present adventures with riddles, bruises, old and fresh scars and more.
Elena’s lovely face and expressive eyes are much more detailed as well compared to previous games and makes you root for her more than ever. The relationship between Nate and Elena goes to a level never before achieved in a video game and besides the excellent dialogues, the way they are detailed also adds tremendously to that. Same applies to every other character as well: words cannot describe, how every expression are realistic, you have to see this!
Let’s not forget the animations themselves either: while you are fistfighting with your enemies, sliding down some ravines, swimming or climbing are looking absolutely life-like.
It’s not a third-person shooter; it’s first-person Hollywood
To put it simply: what Naughty Dog achieved here: is pure Hollywood cinematography in a video game. In today’s video gaming world, when every other company is lost in its very own open world, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End shows that superior story-telling and perfectly designed, more linear environments and gameplay is still the king – if it’s made by a truly professional company, that is.
Naughty Dog’s goodbye to the Uncharted saga is its crown achievement, and we can only hope that they won’t retire as Nathan Drake did, and they are already working on their next game.
+ The usual gameplay: gunfights and exploration are better than ever
+ Drop dead gorgeous graphics
+ Excellent story
– I would have like to learn more about the Drake brother’s parents
– Suicidal enemy AI
– Multiplayer with using the game characters feels a bit meh
Publisher: SCEE, SCE Australia, SCEA, Sony Interactive Entertainment, SCEI
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release date: May 10, 2016