It would be hard to fault Naughty Dog if Uncharted 4 didn’t quite live up to expectations. There we major staffing changes, lofty expectations, and the unfortunate task of trying to outdo themselves after The Last of Us, one of the highest rated games of all time. In spite of all of this, Uncharted 4 is not only the best Uncharted game to date, it is hands down the best game of this generation.
As story driven as Uncharted games are, they are nothing without their varied gameplay. Climbing has received notable improvements. Drake is more likely to go where you expect him to go and moving the stick gives more feedback on where he will end up even before you make the move. Animations are clean and smooth; there is almost no jankey movement as there was in previous games, though it does crop up one in awhile. New in Drake’s tool belt is a grappling hook. As a general rule, grappling hooks make almost any game better, but Uncharted limits its use to specific structures and most combat zones. It allows Drake to reach otherwise unreachable locations, both in navigation and combat. It is a nice addition, but seemingly unnecessary. The game would be no worse without it so it can feel like forced innovation. Luckily the mechanic itself is fun so you won’t have anything to complain about. In all, the act of playing as Drake is better than it has ever been, even if more of it is visual and technical refinement than actual mechanical changes.
Gunplay too is refined with few changes. The arsenal is updated with a bit more variety, though weapons don’t always seem to pack the punch you expect. In general though, gunplay is no worse for wear. Quality cover becomes increasingly sparse as the game progresses as you shift from city streets and rock formations to old wooden ships and the like. It makes sense the hundreds of years old wood would quickly fall apart when struck by bullets or and RPG. Being quick on your feet and proactively moving from cover to cover is the key to late game survival. Many combat zones can actually be completed in stealth, which has seen major improvements. More in common with Metal Gear Solid V than previous Uncharted games, Nate can effectively dispatch a dozen or more bad guys without firing a single shot, so long as you mark enemy positions and pay attention to visual cues.
Unfortunately, and the same was true of The Last of Us, Uncharted 4 has a few gimmicky elements that take you out of the moment. I’m not even referring to how seemingly everything Nate touches disintegrates, but come on. For a guy who finds a lost city like it is going out of style he has the absolute worst luck. Much as Joel had to guide Ellie across water with pallets, a decent amount of the navigations puzzles rely on finding impossibly convenient crates on wheels. Wheels that are in flawless working order after centuries of inactivity and wear. It sounds small, but it happens a lot. It is an unimaginative solution to a problem that exists for its own sake.
Story and Modes:
Much was made of the rather unceremonious departure of long time writer/director Amy Hennig. When her version of Uncharted 4 was scrapped the masterminds behind The Last of Us, Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, took over. Any concerns over the quality of Uncharted 4’s story are entirely unfounded, and with all due respect, the series seems to be in better hands. Nathan Drake’s story is more personal this time thanks to the return of his brother Sam, who he believed was dead for the past 15 years. Sam has been locked away in a Panamanian jail, only free thanks to a crime lord who believes he can find the lost treasure of Henry Avery. Same needs Nate’s help, but Nate has long since settled down. He works a 9-5 job and plays by the books and is now married happily married to Elena.
Though it may pain him to do so he agrees to get back into the game for one last big score, if only to save his brother. The globetrotting treasure hunters pick up the trail of Avery, thanks to the help of our old pal Victor Sullivan. As to be expected with Drake, things don’t go as planned. The two are quickly made the targets of the Shoreline mercenaries and their wealthy benefactor who has devoted his life to finding the treasure and happens to hold a grudge against the brothers Drake. One of the stories most exciting elements is how quickly Nate seems to pick up right where he left off. It is like he isn’t as ready as he thought to give up his dangerous life in favor of starting a family. This leads to some self destructive behavior that leaves our hero on the brink of death, wondering where it all went so wrong. It is far more fulfilling than simply solving the mystery behind the treasure and is full of exciting and emotional moments sure to strike a chord with fans new and old.
Multiplayer hasn’t seen major changes in Uncharted 4 other than running at 60 frames per second at a 900p resolution. Action is plentiful and the same moves available in the single player are present here. One new addition is an in-match store that lets you purchase buddies to assist in combat and other items that can swing a match in your favor. You’ll play in 4 modes across several maps that all call back to story mode missions. Though much more than a simple distraction, multiplayer still isn’t the the focal point of Uncharted 4, and as a result lacks the depth you may find in other competitive shooters, but in this circumstance that is more than okay.
Visuals and Sound:
Uncharted 4 defies expectations of what the PS4 is capable of and is one of the few games that may actually look better now than when it was first announced. This game is stunning, truly a visual masterpiece running at full 1080p at a fairly consistent 30 frames per second. Sun rays pierce through clouds and leaves and the majority of objects have realistic shadows. Explosions are huge and leave behind debris and plumes of smoke. Most objects have realistic physics and will scatter when being blown apart, shot, or hit by a vehicle. Vegetation reacts to character movement in natural ways and even reacts to the passing winds based on the wind itself, not animations.
Realistic character models go a long way to bringing the characters themselves to life in a way few other games can. Facial animations are dead on and would make L.A. Noire envious. Over the course of a level characters will get dirty, bloody, and in general roughed up, but all based on what is actually happening to them. Combined with a best in its class voice cast, the untrained eye may confuse the game for an action flick.
The orchestral soundtrack is about what you’d expect from any AAA action game. It makes the action more intense and emphasizes the emotions you should feel during some of the games more powerful scenes, but where it really shines, as it always has in the series, is making the mysterious even more mysterious. It is difficult to put into words how exactly it does this, but wandering tropical islands and long forgotten cities have just the right ambiance.
I won’t mince words; Uncharted 4 doesn’t have an original bone in its body. Much as the series has in the past, it relies on perfecting a lot of small elements seen in other games and forms of media. Some of the story is predictable, but the team at Naughty Dog manages to make these predictable moments still hit home. Nothing about Uncharted 4 screams innovation. This is refinement after refinement until all that is left is the very best of everything.
A Thief’s End is one of the most complete packages you’ll find in gaming. The stellar story mode and competent multiplayer are worth coming back to over and over. The quality of the game itself is through the roof, as you’d expect from a developer as legendary as Naughty Dog. There really isn’t anything to dislike about Uncharted 4. This is the best game you can play on your PS4 to date, and could remain that way for a long time.