All good things…
Naughty Dog turn their attention back to Nathan Drake, and give him a final outing on the PlayStation 4. After providing us with some of the finest action moments ever seen on the PS3, do Neil Druckmann, Bruce Straley and their crew manage to bring their magic to Sony’s latest hardware?
Well, the short answer is yes. Playing through Uncharted 4, you get the feeling that everything Naughty Dog has done has been leading up to this game. A culmination of years of hard work and experimentation have led the team to this point, and feel comfortable enough to give their leading man a fitting send off.
I’ll stay away from spoilers as much as I can in this review, but safe to say that Uncharted 4’s story is a tale worth experiencing. Another Drake is brought into the fold in the shape of Sam, Nate’s long-lost brother, and it’s the lure of a lifelong obsession that drags the two of them into a swashbuckling adventure that, inevitably, isn’t quite as simple as it first seems. The narrative is superbly paced, mimicking Uncharted 2’s pitch-perfect delivery of massive action set piece followed by some time to reflect, before being launched into another “Ohhh shit, no no no no no” moment. It’s as typically Uncharted as a half-tucked shirt, but it’s a more mature story that’s clearly been written by a team who have grown up with this cast of characters. Nate and Elena feel like a couple who have settled into their married life just fine, and Sully is… Well… Sully. The antagonist in the piece is a former friend of Nate’s by the name of Rafe, who is driven by the same obsession as Sam, to the point where he has hired a mercenary group headed up by the ruthless Nadine Ross to help him achieve his goal.
Much like the story, the gameplay still feels like an Uncharted game. Every element of the previous games has been refined and polished to within an inch of its life. The climbing, the traversal, the gunplay, it’s clear that Naughty Dog have taken on board feedback and have not only tweaked the defaults, but given the options to make things a lot more comfortable for whatever your play style is. At the same time, though, A Thief’s End feels fresh thanks to a couple of new mechanics that will have even the most seasoned of adventurers feeling thankful. The first (and most widely used) of these is the rope. Nate can now throw a grappling hook to latch onto points in the environment that will allow him to swing, wall-run, climb or abseil into areas previously unreachable. It’s a really handy new trick that opens up some of the environments that would previously be unattainable. The second of these big new mechanics is the driving. Yep, you can finally take control of a small range of vehicles and have a bit of freedom in how you approach things. Of course, this is a linear game and there’s more often than not only one “right” way of doing things, but the illusion of a much more open playing field does wonders for Uncharted 4’s sense of exploration. Combat has been refined too, with the shooting mechanics being tweaked in all the right ways. If you want to though, you can take the stealthy approach and avoid encounters entirely. It’s a really nice implementation of stealth that doesn’t feel forced, and provides you a viable “Plan B” to sneak by unnoticed, or lose your foes if you find yourself getting overwhelmed. Finally, it wouldn’t be an Uncharted without a few puzzles along the way, would it? The majority of them shouldn’t be too taxing for people, but there were a couple of areas that I found myself scratching my head or just standing still and looking around for a bit in.
If I’m honest though, that “standing still and looking around” bit? Sometimes I just did that because everything looked so pretty. Uncharted 4 is, quite simply, the best looking game I have ever played. From the lush, green jungles to the dusty city streets and beyond, there isn’t a developer in the world who can create environments as unique, as detailed and as mind bogglingly gorgeous as Naughty Dog. I swear, they’ve gone beyond the ability to code and have just crammed magic into A Thief’s End’s source. From the environments to the character models, there’s not a poor texture in the game. Faces crease and wrinkle in ways that I didn’t think would be possible in a game, as sweat and mud cake themselves onto clothing, which then clings to Drake as it gets increasingly more wet. It’s a magnificent technical achievement as well. I can count the issues I had with the game on one hand, although that does include one hard crash to the dashboard. The frame rate is solid, with only a couple of hitches toward the beginning of the game, and the motion blur is absolutely perfect. It doesn’t feel overwhelming but goes some way to add that “cinematic” touch and helps paper over any cracks that may otherwise be on show. Remember how previous Uncharted games had a few of those moments where things got slowly revealed as you reached the peak of a hill and made you go “Oh wow”? Well this game has those moments by the bucket load. It is, quite simply, astonishing.
The same thing goes for the audio. Drake’s theme has been subtly reworked into a minor key throughout, which bleeds into the background seamlessly and adds a dab of melancholy to proceedings. Action sequences are highlighted with a typical pounding of drums and high tempo music, whilst sweeping, gorgeous orchestral moments complement the visuals at just the right points to add to those “holy sh…” moments. Nolan North gives a sterling performance, as ever, and is joined by the other ubiquitous name in voice acting, Troy Baker. Baker’s performance is a world away from his gruff, world-beaten turn as Joel in The Last Of Us, giving Sam a playful yet cautious feel with every line he utters. There was some fuss made last E3 about the introduction of dialogue options, but truth be told these don’t have an enormous impact on the game – they’re used as neat little mechanics to add a touch of variety to conversations and nothing more.
It would be remiss of me to skip the multiplayer, which makes a welcome return. It’s not necessarily the thing that everyone will come to this game for, but it does enough to hold its own and prove itself as more than simply a distraction from the campaign.
With everything above being said, it’s really the little things that tie Uncharted 4 together. Whether it’s the short one-liners or the optional conversations, or the way that someone scrunches up their face if you shine a torch into it, there isn’t much that’s been overlooked, if anything. It’s evident that this is a game produced by a very special studio, who have given it their all in every possible area. There’s a point midway through the game in which Sam says to Nathan “We’ve spent so long doing this that we haven’t taken a moment to appreciate how far we’ve come”, before handing our hero a beer. Whether this is the creators speaking through their creation, I don’t know. But if it is, then they should take more than a few moments to appreciate the progress that Uncharted 4 represents, and then maybe have a few more beers to celebrate.
Uncharted 4 is an exceptional game. Naughty Dog have knocked it out of the park in pretty much every area, and this truly does feel like the sequel they’ve wanted to make for years. They have taken elements from the previous Uncharted games as well as The Last Of Us, honed and refined them, and created quite possibly the best action game I’ve ever played. A tight story with superb pacing, incredible set pieces and simply unbelievable visuals, Uncharted 4 should be mandatory if you own a PS4.