Although more recently I’ve moved to a much more neutral ground in the whole console war, consoles vs PC, handhelds – whatever you want to war about, I honestly couldn’t care less – as a kid I was always firmly on the side of Sony and PlayStation. Whenever a new console was announced, or a new exclusive hopped along, it was always those that I anticipated most. Now, having a tidy selection of near enough everything ‘current’ nestled under my TV, I’m not so fussed, but PlayStation and its unique selection of games have always been a bit special for me, and of these exclusive titles, perhaps none more so than the Uncharted series. I’m not here to preach how they’re the best, most innovative, well written and amazing games ever. They’re not; I’ve seen and played superior titles. But not many other games, I suppose, spoke to me personally like Uncharted did. I wanted to BE Nathan Drake. I mean, I sort of look a LITTLE bit like him and I’ve studied archaeology and all forms of history since probably 2006, so it was easy for me to imagine myself having that kind of adventurous lifestyle. I mean, come on! It’d be the tits (implying that as a heterosexual male, I find tits to also be the literal tits). So imagine my excitement when, after 5 years of waiting, I was finally able to get my filthy hands on Uncharted 4 on May 10th 2016 – just as I started my own career in archaeology. Did PlayStation’s biggest exclusive thus far live up to the hype? Do you care? Time to find out.
Nathan Drake (Nolan North) has retired from chasing treasure following the events of Uncharted 3 and has settled in with Elena Fisher (Emily Rose), holding down a regular job and leading a ‘normal life’ in New Orleans. He finds something’s missing though and that he’s still craving adventure, which unexpectedly rears its head once again when his brother, Sam Drake (Troy Baker), presumed dead, reappears seeking Nate’s help in finding the lost treasure of pirate captain, Henry Avery. Naturally, with the help of Victor Sullivan (Richard McGonagle), this leads them around the globe from Italy to Madagascar as they uncover the mystery of Avery’s sudden disappearance while contesting with the sinister Rafe Adler (Warren Kole) and tough-as-nails mercenary leader, Nadine Ross (Laura Bailey). Ultimately, this return to adventure and danger forces Nate to consider whether it’s all worth it and if he’ll even survive this final round.
Obviously, I had high expectations for this game, but I certainly had many reservations as well. The team responsible for the prior trilogy had been severely shaken up, most notably perhaps with the departure of creative lead, Amy Hennig from Naughty Dog. Additionally, I wondered how they were going to work a brother into this story-line after 3 adventures where he is not even slightly hinted at once. I was also concerned that Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann, the new directors and the pair responsible for the ludicrously successful (and depressing) The Last Of Us, would take this final chapter down a much darker route and lose some of the playful charm of the past games. Fortunately, they didn’t screw this one up at all.
Being a PlayStation exclusive, and Naughty Dog being one of the top developers for the console, expectations for presentation were extremely high given that they know this system like the backs of their hands. These are guys who push the system to the limits in terms of graphical detail, and yeah, they’ve done it again here. All of the environments are unique and pretty stunning to look at whether at a distance or up close; the lighting is spot on and used to great effect in some scenes (notably in Scotland); the animation is also fucking superb, making Nate look and feel more real than ever. Most importantly, perhaps, Naughty Dog have once again raised the bar for motion capture performance within a video game – now able to capture not only body movements, but also facial expressions down to a minute level of detail. This works to great effect in the cutscenes where these characters now legitimately look and act like real people. The overall effect of this, and something that has been commented on in the past, is that this game looks and plays like an adventure movie. And I love me some good movies, son! Whether you like this style or not is up to you, but if anyone’s going to try and make a game into a cinematic experience, then this is how you do it.
These characters might look fantastic, but they wouldn’t have any character at all without the people behind them, and everyone here does a great job bringing these people to life. Nolan North returns on great form with a little more gravitas to Nate this time around as he deals with more serious personal conflicts both externally and within. Finally we get the depth of character and the ‘origin story’, if you will, that we’ve been trying to piece together for years. Richard McGonagle is also as great as ever, even more crusty this time around. Troy Baker, like North, is a voice acting staple these days and obviously delivers a great performance as Sam, who seems more naive than Nate in many ways, despite being the elder brother, yet you never know if you can fully trust him or not. The villains are pretty good too. I would have liked to have seen more of Nadine Ross, personally, as damn can she kick some ass! Perhaps slightly under-used compared to Rafe Adler, but Warren Kole does a great job here and really makes you hate this guy because honestly he’s just a twat, but I liked his motivation. Finally, Emily Rose absolutely kills it as Elena in this one. The intimate scenes between her and Nate are perhaps the best in the game, hinting at a greater depth to their relationship than we have ever seen before and this may be the best acting of the ‘disappointed’ emotion I’ve ever seen. You totally get her character and her frustrations with Nate. Just awesome.
The soundtrack is pretty good as well, however, I was disappointed to learn that Greg Edmonson was not returning to compose. Henry Jackman fills in this time round, a veteran composer from such films as Kick Ass, Wreck-It Ralph, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and X-Men First Class among others. He’s got some pedigree for sure, and his score here does a good job of bringing a level of cinematic, action movie-esque style. I do miss Edmonson though… Something about his scores for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Among Thieves in particular made them feel more.. I dunno… adventury I guess (not a word, I know, but I couldn’t think of anything better). While Jackman’s is still pretty great and definitely has some epic tracks (New Devon, for example), something about it feels a touch generic at times. But this is hardly a big issue.
Now for the big ones: Story. Does it work? For the most part, I actually thought they nailed it. I liked it a lot and most of it made sense. It’s a little slow to get going, but once it does, it definitely kept me playing, wanting to unravel the mystery of Avery’s treasure and, more importantly, the mystery of Nathan Drake as a character. The big issue for lots of people I’m sure would be the ending. This is (allegedly) Nate’s final adventure, so I was expecting a pretty big send-off and I for one was totally happy with it, though I’m sure there are those of you who weren’t. Tell you what, that final confrontation in Crushing mode… genuinely felt rewarding once I’d done it. Such a great FUCK YOU moment with much fist-pumping.
Finally: gameplay. What good would all these trappings be if the thing wasn’t a good time to sit down and play? Whilst it retains a lot of what made the past titles great fun (why fix what ain’t broke?), this game introduces new features, like the grappling hook and piton, that are welcome additions – the grappling in particular, which is very Indiana Jonesy! The AI is also a cut above what it used to be, especially on tougher difficulties, and stealth mechanics FINALLY work! You can actually make your way through large sections of the game without killing anyone if you so choose (but why the hell would you, except for the sweet, sweet trophy?) and, while it’s not perfect, it’s definitely great to have the option. I would have perhaps liked to have seen the grappling hook have more use in combat and stealth. Swinging over and performing an epic jump-punch on an enemy sure is cool, but how about hooking them and tugging them off ledges, setting a trip-wire of sorts or using the rope to suffocate goons for a bit of variety? What’s there is great, but I kind of wanted them to do a little more with it – though you’re still wondering at times why the HELL he never had one in any of the other games! There’s also a nifty photo mode in this game, which I’ve been experimenting with at length while trying to compile an album of Uncharted awesomeness.
The crux of these reviews always comes down to the same thing though: Should you buy it? I’m pretty sure you guessed already that the answer is yes; I think you probably should. I know I’m a bit weird and not everyone likes the history stuff… or wants to be a video game character (#loser)… but regardless, this is a game worthy of appreciation. It looks great, runs great, plays great and has a satisfying story for the most part. This is a fantastic single player game, and yeah, you get some decent multiplayer modes included in the package as well! I haven’t played a great deal of it, but it runs well, encountering no server issues myself, and I had fun with it. All of this is perhaps a greater achievement given its troubled development, but the fact that it was delayed several times goes to show that Naughty Dog really do care about their consumers and their product. They don’t want to put out anything that they believe is below par, and this is certainly anything but. If you own a PlayStation, you pretty much need to own this game. “So, are you ready to seek your fortune?”.
So that was my review for Uncharted 4! I may well tackle the others soon and give you the lowdown on which I’d rank from worst to best… As always, any constructive criticism or comments are very much appreciated. Follow me on Twitter @snakeintheplane for updates on whatever other bull-slop I might be writing about and I’ll see you guys when we take a look at the next Snake in the Plane!