Nathan Drake gives us one last epic adventure before officially retiring.
Title: Uncharted 4
Release Date: May 10th, 2016
By now, many of you have already played Uncharted 4. You know how it begins, what happens, and where every treasure is hidden. You’ve mastered the tricks of the trade, and you’ve climbed the ladder in Multiplayer. Uncharted 4 is a technical marvel in graphics, story, and video games as a whole. Naughty Dog has once again proven they belong at the top of the invisible development ladder everyone knows about, but rarely discusses. There is a reason they are the heads of the internal Sony ICE team. Uncharted 4 will, and in fact has already taken players on a trip around the world to find Captain Avery’s long lost treasure. Perhaps learning something about Nathan and company they didn’t know, and growing to love him and his games even more.
The game starts out in a beautifully rendered night storm as series protagonist Nate and someone named Sam are in a boat being chased. Running for their lives as you’re forced to ram into the smaller boats, and swerve in between grenade launcher rounds trying to protect your boat from sinking. A larger boat comes out of nowhere and rams yours so hard Nathan goes flying overboard. As you are narrowly diced between the larger boats engine blades, Nate resurfaces and makes a break for Sam and the boat. As you make it back Sam exclaims the engines are busted, but he can fix it, and you must cover him while he sees to the task.
In come both the enemies, and the tried and true cover and shooting mechanics the series has employed since the second entry. A few smaller boats ride up and stop in front of you to take some shots, and hopefully finish the job. With the press of a button, Nate grabs cover behind the inside of the boat, and you pop up to take aim and get a couple kills. Blind fire is always an option, but it’s one of the few games to use it realistically in the sense you will miss almost every shot, and besides, it’s generally never a good idea to use when your only weapon is a pistol. After you take a couple out, the bigger boat shows back up, and the enemy with the grenade launcher makes his appearance. Taking him out causes him to accidentally shoot his own boat and it takes off in a cloud of smoke and fire.
Just in time, Sam finishes fixing the engine, and instructs Nate to jump back into the driver seat and hit the gas (why can’t the NPC ever do anything…. useful?). Getting closer to their destination, an island in front of them Nate must dodge not only the remaining boats, but rocks jutting up from the ocean floor. Suddenly, that larger boat, on fire and out of control comes out of nowhere and hits yours at full speed. The screen goes black, and we see Nate as a child for the second time in the series, this time being chastised by a Nun for fighting another orphan.
After a brief scene, it is here the game reintroduces the cover, and stealth mechanics. She leaves the room, and Nate sees a light flashing through the window. “Sam!” he exclaims, and must find a way out of the building without being caught. You must use cover and stealth so as not to be seen by the Nun as you follow her to your means of escape. Grabbing cover behind a couch, she begins to smoke a cigarette at an open window. Our escape is made, now if only we could somehow get her to move. As you look about for a means to distract her, a man calls for her to open the doors because he forgot his keys before leaving for the night. She curses, and quickly puts the cigarette out and leaves the window ripe for the escapee to take advantage.
Making his escape, our young Nate speaks to himself, something Nate is known for throughout the series. It’s here the climbing mechanics are introduced to ease players into. The game has a way about introducing all of its core mechanics so quickly, yet subtly so as not to be jarring, or too much at once to be overwhelming. Nate, even as a boy, keeps his super human strength and ability to practically fly up walls and cliffs. Jumping from one handhold to another with little to no break between grasps. Naughty Dog banks on the fact this will be the players first time playing, and will thus be so enthralled by the story and graphics to notice the inaccuracies and physical limitations every day normal humans face. It is honestly a petty thing to complain about, but the game just does everything so well, there isn’t much someone can.
Nate finally catches up with Sam, and we quickly find out it’s the same Sam from mere minutes ago, and that he is your older brother. It’s in the little moments like these we get to see the technical mastery Naughty Dog have managed to pull off with this first PS4 game. The way the characters interact with one another, their facial expressions are so lifelike, and the way they speak to each other is almost exactly the way one could imagine if they had siblings. Sony and Naughty Dog joked about one of their previous entries fooling people into thinking the game was a movie in their advertisement of it. This one surpasses that in every conceivable way. Naughty Dog has managed to blur the line between movies, and interactive media, that is video games, even further.
Somehow they are able to push the boundaries of what you’d think is possible in a graphics engine. You can’t help but stop at every new location and vista and just stare, taking in every sight as if you were there yourself. The inclusion of a picture mode only emphasizes this all the more with custom shaders, frames, and even options to completely remove the characters from the shot so you can take that perfect screenshot, and maybe even fool some of your friends on Facebook to where the picture really comes from. Yes, some areas of the game look THAT good. Without spoilers, you are taken on a trip around the world, every place with multiple gorgeous backdrops. From beach sides, cliffs, forests, caves, islands and more, this game practically has it all, all the while keeping up the same standard of quality the studio is known for throughout the entirety of the game.
One thing that’s evident throughout the game is how every area is connected the way you would expect it to be in the real world. Nate, Sam, or someone else will point off to a new location you need to make your way to, and instead of feeling disconnected, you will slowly make your way over, via climbing, jumping, and the occasional gun fight. Once you make it through all obstacles, and to your final destination, you will be able to turn around and see where you were before. You may not always be able to see your route, as you’ll go inland sometimes, or through caves, or another piece of the landscape is in the way. Although often you can turn back, and see the miles you have covered, and it adds that level of realism grounded in reality that the paint (graphics) can’t do alone. It’s a feeling of actually being there many, and in fact most games lack.
Much of the background story, that is of Avery and company, is told vaguely through letters found, and through Nate’s observations and guesses based on what he stumbles across, which is typical for the series, and to be fair, just about the only way it could be done. While in this games case, it’s amazing to think so many letters would last 300 years, and Nate even mentions it one time, which is a little odd considering it’s not until near the end of the game. There is another party of pirates that were going after Avery’s treasure who ran into many issues, but they add another layer to the story that’s only 150 years old or so instead of 300, the Nathans and Sams of their time. They’re completely optional, but if skipped, players will miss out on a lot of explanation for what and why Avery was doing what he was. Sure it can all be understood through the main, un-missable story scenes, but you’d be better off finding as many as you can.
Nate even has a couple new tricks up his sleeve this game. Most notably the grappling hook, which not only allows him to climb otherwise un-climable spots, but it can also be used to swing over gaps where a jump would be impossible, or to rappel through a window to a lower edge, or even to use it in combat to take down enemies from above. This is also usable in the multiplayer component of the game, and fits in beautifully with the competitive nature of the game mode. Another new addition would be a climbing pick seen in many other games, most notably in the recent Tomb Raider reboot and its sequel. It allows Nate to jump from one ledge and stab it into the wall as a makeshift handhold for him to then leap from and grab a previously out of reach ledge, and continue on his arduous climb. It’s less used than the new grappling hook, but it is used in high risk moments you’d be crazy to try yourself. Such as a long jump away where you’d certainly fall to your death unless you had the pick to stab into the wall in order to stop your descent.
Uncharted 4 managed to finish the series off on such a strong high note it’s almost not upsetting it’s the last entry in the series for the developer. We as players have grown so attached to Nate and company we just want to keep playing his ridiculous adventures across the globe nonstop. However, as with all good things, they must come to an end. Which is a bitter sweet moment, as the game ends in such a way that it’s clear this is the last entry for Nate. With beautiful backdrops, a gorgeous graphics engine that leaves you speechless almost the whole time you’re playing it. A story you won’t likely forget, and one you’ll want to recommend to friends, or experience again and again yourself. Controls that are tight, responsive, and intuitive without ever getting in the way, and in fact make the game a blast to play, that has a multiplayer component that will keep you playing until the single player DLC finally comes out.
Nate, it’s been a great 9 years, I wish you the best, and will cherish the memories I’ve made with your games over that time. Naughty Dog you’ve done it again, and I can’t wait to see what you have in store for us next.