The Uncharted series began with a bang back in 2007. A surprise hit by one of Sony’s exclusive, first party developers, Drake’s Fortune breathed life back into a genre that was becoming a little short of originality and led to a string of blockbuster movie style sequel hits to Playstation gamers everywhere. With Uncharted 4 being rumoured to be the last we’ll see of Nathan Drake, does Naughty Dog deliver the same sense of adventure we’ve seen in the past?
The answer is yes. Despite Nate’s greying temples, familiar gameplay and some hiccups in the writing department, Uncharted 4 is one of the most essential games on PS4 this year. While Amy Hennig and Justin Richmond left the team in 2014, Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley of The Last of Us took over direction, and have both managed to freshen things up and sustain the spirit of the originals.
The adventure begins in the past, with Drake, his previously unmentioned brother, Sam, and partner, Rafe, on the hunt for infamous pirate Henry Avery’s treasure in a prison in Panama. Instead of holding back on the plot twists and building up to spectacular action, Uncharted 4 hits you full in the face with an absolutely rip-roaring introduction that brings everything round to the present, and Nathan, retired from treasure hunting and working for a salvage company eventually gets drawn back into the murky world of adventuring in a story of obsession, betrayal and family. But that’s enough of the plot, as if you haven’t had the experience spoiled already, you’ll want to experience it all first-hand.
Typical to the series, you’ll be doing a bit of globe-trotting. From misty Scottish ruins in the Highlands, to underground caves and an island paradise in Africa, the setting is as varied as it ever has been, and my is it beautiful. In fact, I’d have to go as far to say that Uncharted 4 is possibly the best looking game on console ever. Creeping through a jungle cave, complete with it’s own waterfalls and wall-climbing vegetation, you’ll see an opening into the world above, the sunlight hitting the rock and greenery and giving a whole sense of awe and heat as you move below it. I honestly felt my journey, rather than just playing through as an average gamer would.
The magical, lucid blue of the sea as you travel in a boat from island to island, the radiant glow of a wooden torch, casting long, unsettling shadows in the inky black of catacombs and the stunning way that a tower on top of a hill looks like every brick has been placed individually, rather than made from one large piece and then the details painted on, really make the world of Uncharted 4 pop and give you a sense of reality in your journey. So much so that my own play through had a few extra hours added on due to stopping so many times to take screenshots. Trust me, I have a folder on my hard drive with over 400 pics.
Speaking of reality, Uncharted is well known for it’s animation. Drake is not some super-powered hero that can leap hundreds of feet without fail. Each movement he makes shows the clumsiness of actual human flaw. When being chased, you’ll stumble and trip. When you swing, climb and jump, you’ll lose your footing and grip, fumbling for a handhold to save you from falling a couple of hundred feet to the hungry rocks that beckon below. Drake and his companions curse and shout one-liners as enemy gunfire peppers your cover and you scrabble to roll to new sanctuary. This looked amazing in previous titles, but in high definition with the fidelity of the graphics combined and the immersion of sound, speech and movement, it all rolls into one huge ball of belief in the story, environment and characters.
You’ll also realise that Uncharted 4 doesn’t try and hit you with a stupid amount of action. Yes, there are huge, explosive set-pieces and gun battles, but the focus on the hunt for pirate treasure is firmly set on exploration. You will spend long periods of the game just walking, taking in the sights, searching for clues and looking around for a path that will take you forward. If the scenery wasn’t so amazing, then it would otherwise be boring, but just about every structure and vista tells a story about the history of the area. Don’t get me wrong, the pacing of the game is spectacular and I never got to a point where I thought that I wanted to quit due to boredom… Naughty Dog have perfected the art of knowing when to change things up to keep the excitement there, from exploration to battle to the brilliant mental and physical puzzles that are thrown at you on regular occasion.
On the subject of gunfights, it’s entirely viable to stealth your way through most of the action encounters, either killing from the shadows or just sneaking your way around an enemy encampment without the need to actually get hands-on. There are so many routes through the deadly playgrounds that have been created that it’s viable that you’ll return after a play through to try it all in a different style. Of course, you can strap on an assault rifle and pistol, trying to pick off your enemies with head-shots and leaving the pretty stonework plastered in gore after a well thrown grenade, but the joy of being able to choose is liberating, especially after the forced firefights of other games in the Uncharted series and last year’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, which felt like you were forced to shoot, murder and demolish everything in sight.
To back up the action is a perfect soundtrack from Henry Jackman, well known for his musical styling in many of the recent Marvel movies. They pick out the perfect beat for the changes in pace. Peaceful and almost curious pieces while rummaging around new locales and pounding, heart-stopping crescendos when you get spotted by a troop of soldiers and fight for your life, punching, shooting and swinging to safety. The music is as professional as the rest of the production gone into the game.
Similarly, the casting for Uncharted is spot on, with the usual suspects, Nolan North, Emily Rose and Richard McGonagle, returning with the perfect tones for our heroes and bringing back Troy Baker in his second Naughty Dog role as Nate’s brother, Sam. Each manage to weave a perfectly believable story through both voice acting and motion capture. Naughty Dog and their role choices always seem to have the trump card when it comes to delivering a script in credible fashion, more so than some of the recent Hollywood flicks with much bigger budgets. The acting is as immersive as the world itself with drama, humour and passion delivered in every sentence and grunt.
There is also the multiplayer, that while not the focus of any of the Uncharted games is quite good in it’s own right. It doesn’t try to be something that it’s not and instead, draws from the best of the action in the campaign. You can sneak around, taking out the enemy from behind with a choke or wade in with the rest of your team on a face-to-face shoot-out. You can swing from creepers and land a killing blow with a jaw-breaking punch and summon the spirits to give you a little magical help when you’re team is falling behind a little. Despite the lack of reviews with information on it, I find it refreshing to play a multiplayer game that doesn’t rely on kill-streaks and overpowered guns to carry the action. While not as original as The Last of Us’s sneaky online multiplayer, it’s still good fun. It’s just a shame there’s no co-operative mode from old Uncharted games… Maybe it’ll be part of the season pass?
If you’re a fan of the adventures of Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4 is not to be missed. It’s possibly the best in the series and in my eyes, overshadows UC2 in many ways. If you’re new to the series, maybe a convert from Xbox, then you should really play it too to see how action adventure should be done and it’s easy enough to pick up the story and play and maybe grab a copy of the Nathan Drake Collection to see how far the series has come over the years. My final word is that Uncharted 4 is the definitive in adventure gaming. Nothing comes close to capturing the excitement, beauty and mystery of treasure hunting in the modern world. It’s a fitting farewell to Mr. Drake and my, what an ending.