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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Uncharted 4 Reviews

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

For a worrisome amount of time, Uncharted 4 feels like little more than a familiar, obligatory sequel, existing the way Mario Karts and Halos do to continue bolstering one faction in the ongoing console wars. Excellent, fresh ideas for these kinds of automatic sequels are not a prerequisite.
Thankfully, after nine chapters, Uncharted 4 dramatically improves and hits a great stride for much longer. By the end, it justifies the creation of a sequel in this nearly decade-old series beyond the need to check off the box betweenRatchet & Clank and Wipeout on the PlayStation platform franchise list.
The early levels on Uncharted 4 have what we’d expect. We play as Nathan Drake in a third-person, world-spanning quest to find treasure. We explore ruins and fight thugs. We climb walls, shoot guns, and take cover from streams of enemies. We solve some puzzles and banter with a buddy character who sometimes helps us boost up to higher ledges. We do this in beautiful locations. The levels are linear, the action dramatic.
The opening hours are mostly familiar, though the series looks a lot better than it ever did before. Plus, there are now a few rare moments when you can choose Drake’s lines.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Introducing Nadine Ross, one of the series’ newest nemeses.

High-quality game series generate high expectations. Simply serving a prettier dish of comfort food would have been a waste of a studio that most recently made 2013's emotionally wrenching survival adventure The Last of Us. Naughty Dog could have moved on and arguably should have, having been so successful with something new the last time out. But they’re back, Drake is back, and we’re back, for what they swear is their last treasure-hunting score.
Uncharted 4's slow start is initially worrying, a sign that the franchise’s well may have dried. An opening speedboat chase is a weak intro in the wake ofUncharted 2's climb through a dangling train car or even Uncharted 3's bar brawl. A couple of levels later, we’re in familiar shootouts in new, gorgeous locales. The enemies absorb fewer shots, it seems, so that’s been improved, but the first quarter of the game largely feels routine and safe, like a top actor coasting through a role they’ve done so many times before. In previous games, Naughty Dog had already pushed things in the first act. They did the love triangles and major fake-out deaths. They had us climb in every climate and discover multiple lost cities.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Sam Drake with younger brother, Nathan. image via Sony.

Enter Sam Drake, long lost elder brother to Nathan. Since the events ofUncharted 3, the younger Drake retired from the life of illegal treasure hunting. He settled into a routine of menial salvage work and dinners with his longtime romantic partner Elena, who seems glad to be finally living like a normal person. Sam shows up, a new character who left Nathan’s life before the series began. He explains that his life is in danger from an angry drug lord and that he’ll survive only if Nathan helps him find some great pirate treasure. Nathan is drawn back in, and Sam becomes the newest buddy to accompany Nathan through levels of climbing, shooting and treasure hunting.
Sam is not the injection of new blood the series needed. He’s bland and more of a plot device for others to react to than a compelling character on his own. His return into Nathan’s life is well expressed in cutscenes, but as a companion in many of the game’s levels, Sam mostly mutters forgettable lines from the background. The best new things about the game, it turns out, come not from a new character (the new villains aren’t so hot either) but from new gameplay.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

The top designers in gaming all perform a specific, great magic trick. As you start their games, they sneakily teach you new things and seed their long-form stories until you’re past what was really just a prologue. Only then can you handle the real game. In this case, Uncharted 4's designers hang back for nine chapters, past several major multi-level set-pieces, teasing tiny bits of new or improved gameplay. They’re training you to be ready when the game finally opens up, which it does when Nathan Drake and friends get to Madagascar and begin driving around in a fully controllable jeep.
By the game’s 10th chapter, officially called The Twelve Towers and the start of the Madagascar section, you’ve been sufficiently prepped. In earlier levels, Drake got a rope that the player could sporadically use to swing across gaps. The game also introduced the concept of hiding in tall grass and springing forth to stealthily disable enemy guards, though enemies were seldom so abundant that this was more efficient than starting a gun fight.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
A stealth lesson early in the game. Hide in the tall grass, and you can take out an enemy without making a ruckus, though the yellow outline on the other guard indicates rising suspicion.

As the levels expand, you’re getting into big, roomy outdoor fights in areas filled with beams from which you can grapple. You can spot a distant enemy, swing to them and tackle them (or shoot them while in mid-swing). You’re getting into fights set on both sides of a chasm. You can swing back and forth as the bullets fly.
At other times, you’re in a jungle thick with enemies and tall grass. Your most viable bet is to creep and climb and jump guards from the weeds. Even the game’s roomier levels are still largely linear, but they are wider. They have more paths, more ways to flank bad guys, more ways to attack them from below, behind or above. This alleviates some of the tedium that made the previous games’ shootouts melt into monotony. You’ll still fight a lot of enemies, but you can mix up your methods for taking the bad guys out. And as scripted as these games tend to be, the tweaks to combat in Uncharted 4 allow you to be more expressive, to feel like you’re playing in your own style.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

The climbing becomes more complex, too, another area where the series has greatly improved. There are now more red-herring edges that lead you to dead ends. You gain a new climbing tool, a piton, that lets you stab any part of porous wall that is within arm’s reach and then pull yourself to it and up or over to another developer-placed ledge. As with combat, the player is being given more agency, more of a stake in how things will play. In small but appreciable ways, the game feels less scripted.
The added control doesn’t undermine one of Uncharted’s most beloved features. The game still feels like a thrill ride when it funnels into linear, more scripted sequences involving collapsing buildings, vehicle chases, and more. The ones in Uncharted 4 are the caliber of the best levels of any Uncharted. Take, for example, the chase with the crane, which is even more exciting to play than it was to see when Sony demoed it last year.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

Deeper and deeper into the game, the subtle design improvements steadily accumulate. These feel like the right advances for a series that always explored new gameplay on the back of improved technology and an attempt to recreate mundane real-world matters rarely seen in games. The earlier Uncharteds, for example, used better in-game physics and scene-staging tricks to present playable fights on top of unsteady trains or inside wave-tossed boats. That ethos is apparent throughout this game, with every death-defying swing of Drake’s rope, every well-staged set piece and every tweak to the climbing and combat.
Sony’s public demos of the game have shown some of Uncharted 4's excellent middle. Gawking at the game, as stunningly beautiful as it is, is no replacement for playing it. The game feels terrific, especially during its scenes of breathless spectacle. Its visuals, though, have undeniable allure. Artistically unconventional games such as Journey and Wind Waker HD may have their partisans who say one of them is the medium’s best-looking game, but in the category of photorealistic graphics, Uncharted 4 is now the champ.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

The game’s impressively deep photo mode, which can be accessed at any time, will doubtless result in some of the best real gaming screenshots ever seen. It became one of my favorite diversions as I played.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Photo mode activated, camera pulled back.
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Filter and white frame added.
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Among the photo mode’s many features, a simple but useful option to hide the characters. You can choose to hide buddy characters or civilians, too.
Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

Even more impressive are the faces of Uncharted 4's characters, especially the scene-stealing expressions of series regular Elena Fisher, who has her own struggles with supposed retirement bliss. Their marriage is compellingly imperfect. Elena’s smirks, sighs, incredulous stares, playful grins, and bitten lower lip support that and improve a script that superbly presents the undulations of a restless union.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
Image via Sony.

Games mark technical progress at a weird pace. The phenomenal facial expressions in Uncharted 4 are a landmark achievement. So are the game’s winch and rope technology, which produce the (no snark) incredible ability for us, as Nathan Drake, to manually wind a cord around a metal bar or tree trunk by moving him around said bar or trunk. This is an action as simple as wrapping a thread around a pencil, and yet it has rarely, if ever, been presented in a major game before, presumably because the physics of it are so complex.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review

See how the cord wraps around? That happened manually by swimming around the axle. Here’s a video of another sequence involving the same physics:
All of the game’s technical improvements do not blot out some faults. The more conventionally-designed stealth system, for example, might be an improvement in combat vocabulary for this series, but feels under-developed. It begs for Drake to be able to attract or distract guards with a whistle, a tap or a tossed rock. Such options are standard in the better Assassin’s CreedSplinter Cell and Metal Gear games (as well as Naughty Dog’s very own The Last of Us) and are key for guiding patrolling guards into a stealth death. It makes no gameplay sense for Drake to have to squat silently in the grass hoping a guard will come near him. That our expert survivalist never makes a noise to trick an enemy breaks the illusion of reality the graphics are engineered to create.

Uncharted 4: The Kotaku Review
The game has several puzzles and numerous optional opportunities for Nathan Drake to find extra things to jot in his journal.

What should happen in a fourth major installment, especially in an entertainment culture that fetishizes trilogies? By his fourth major appearance, Han Solo was killed off. Die Hard’s John McClane was a parody of himself by movie number three and still continued to a fourth. Wry, beleaguered Nathan Drake is more or less an amalgamation of those two action heroes and seemed largely tapped of potential going into this game. His marriage difficulties in this game make him more interesting, more so than a lost brother does, though the game’s creators find some good friction in colliding those plot developments.
Nathan Drake is mostly in his sunset as he chases this final treasure. We’ve all been here before, and the story is regularly reminding us that it’s time to move on. It’s even in the title. Perhaps it fits and even works as meta-commentary, then, that Uncharted 4 stumbles near the end. Final gameplay sequences feel rushed or at least less cleverly laid out than the hours of action that preceded them. Characters make odd exits, some perhaps being saved for an expansion or some non-Naughty Dog sequel or spin-off. The game’s very last playable sequence and cutscene help clarify what Uncharted 4's real themes were and will provoke some lively discussion. Some of the dissatisfaction the game’s oddly-paced final quarter presents may be a product of deadlines. Some is hopefully intentional. No spoilers about what becomes of Nathan and Sam’s quest, but us real-life treasure hunters don’t always get everything we want.
Thankfully, Uncharted games are more than their beginnings or endings or multiplayer options, the last of which will provide its own odd coda to Naughty Dog’s saga. Like a full-cast dance number at the end of a Bollywood movie,Uncharted 4's competitive multiplayer is an affair for every major (and many minor) member of the series’ cast. Nathan, Sam, Elena, Sully, Chloe, and many more will adventure on in competitive modes designed to be expanded for a year for free (read: please keep playing and don’t trade in the game!). The multiplayer is stuffed with optional, unlockable cosmetic items that the developers say can all be won in-game if you don’t feel like purchasing them with real money. The game’s PvP modes have been largely unavailable to play prior to the game’s release, so an assessment of its quality will have to wait.

The original Uncharted emerged in late 2007 as an alternate, Sony-exclusiveTomb Raider that starred a man and as a thematic maturation from the studio that brought us Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter. It was born at a time when it was aspirational for games to feel like interactive movies. It was designed initially as a solo experience and an homage to pulp adventures. It arrives now as something of an anachronism, in a gaming scene filled with more punishing, unscripted sandbox survival adventures and amid a rising tide of games designed to borrow storytelling styles not from movies but from TV.
What Uncharted proved most effectively to be for nearly a decade was a showcase for an ambitious game studio that was determined to push the possibilities of graphics, virtual acting and thrill-ride gameplay. The series reliably delivered that three times on the PlayStation 3 under former creative director Amy Hennig and does so again with studio veterans Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, who helmed this newest one on PS4. Uncharted 4 may have problems at its edges, but its middle is phenomenal. It is a sufficiently wonderful finale for a studio that has made its own case that its next great step should be somewhere new.

One more day in paradise.

"We receive the due reward of our deeds." So reads the inscription on an artifact discovered in the early hours of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. It's a passage from the Bible, spoken by Saint Dismas, a man crucified on the same day as Jesus. He spent years robbing and murdering innocent people before being sentenced to death for his crimes. And with those last words of revelation, Dismas earned the title of the Penitent Thief.
This anecdote sets the tone for a powerful game about loss, betrayal, regret, and redemption. In both its momentous set pieces and its intimate, personal moments, Uncharted 4 drives its narrative forward with a rare understanding of its characters, its world, and the gameplay tying them all together. It's a stunning combination of disparate parts. It's a breathtaking marvel of a game.
By this point in the series, developer Naughty Dog has led us across the globe in search of famous treasures from equally famous legends: we unearthed El Dorado in the Amazon rainforest, found the Cintamani Stone deep in the Himalayas, and entered Iram of the Pillars, a sandswept city with a religious history of its own. In Uncharted 4, however, we find protagonist Nathan Drake leading a quiet life with freelance journalist Elena Fisher, who happens to be his wife. They live in New Orleans. They have a three-bedroom house. They play video games together.
But this all changes with the return of Nathan's older brother Sam, who was presumed dead for 15 years. Not only is he alive and well, but he's fallen in with criminals, and needs help paying a debt. He also has a lead on one of history's greatest treasures: the loot of the pirate Henry Avery, which the brothers have sought since their early days of treasure hunting. Now, with Nathan forced out of his calm life, they set off to chase their elusive white whale.

Elena and Nathan are leading a quiet life at the beginning of Uncharted 4.

Sam's arrival not only upends Nathan's newfound domestication, but complicates his emotional life as well. Uncharted 4 gives us insight into his past, and the way it shaped his psyche: how he despises authority; how he uses humor as a shield; how he long ago accepted violence as a justifiable means to an end. Uncharted 4 tells this story with affection, showing an expert attention to detail in the way Nathan's voice falters when discussing his childhood, or how he stares at Elena when she's not looking. These details are painfully human. They bring the characters to life.
This nuanced take on Nathan's personality is reflected in Uncharted 4's gameplay, too. As with previous titles, Uncharted 4 revolves around third-person combat, climbing, and puzzle-solving. But, unlike its predecessors, this game often lets you sneak past enemy soldiers without doing any harm at all. This is a clear influence from The Last of Us, developer Naughty Dog's darker take on a third-person adventure. Stealth requires a patient, measured approach--but it feeds into the idea of a more reserved Nathan. Uncharted 4's action flows seamlessly alongside its narrative. It's a fluid, believable experience when it all comes together.
There are minor mechanical problems: the cover mechanic can send you to the wrong obstacle or wall in the middle of firefights, and rarely, Nathan will grab the wrong ledge when climbing. But these observations wash away within the grand scheme of things. There's always something incredible around the corner to erase the momentary annoyances.
Uncharted 4's action flows seamlessly along with its narrative.
The game borrows from The Last of Us in terms of structure as well. Much like its cousin, Uncharted 4 embraces a more open approach with much of its level design. There are small sandboxes where you climb towers, learn the layout, mark enemies, and choose to fight through them, or circumvent the group in the interest of a quiet escape. These areas would hurt the pace of a lesser game, but Uncharted 4 keeps tension alive even in its calculated moments, transitioning from open areas to action sequences without halting the momentum.
Speaking of: Uncharted 4's set-pieces are the best in the series, and among the best-coordinated stunts in the medium. There's a heist in Tuscany. There's an acrobatic escape along the cliffs of Scotland. There's a chase through a busy marketplace, and it opens onto farmland as you leap between trucks, slide through the mud, and crash through shacks in the Madagascar countryside. Just when you think Uncharted 4 might settle into a steady rhythm, it throws something new at you with high velocity and incredible power.

One of the game's massive puzzles.

These sequences give you agency, but also enough guidance to maintain the euphoric rush of a car chase without constantly dying. I'm reminded of Half-Life 2's escape from City 17, where you sprint through apartments and over rooftops, controlling your character while the game directs you without sacrificing tension in the process.
The key difference with Uncharted 4 is how it directs you with its camera and lighting, guiding you to the correct ledge or doorway or crumbling wall as you leap through explosions and plumes of smoke. Audio cues also aid you--characters shout over the din of gunfire, telling you when to fight and when to keep running. The dialogue makes sense within the moment.
And then there's the presentation of it all. The cinematography, both in-game and during cutscenes, amplifies the wonder of this gorgeous world. It's not enough to call the jungles lush. They're vibrant. It's not enough to call the game's version of Scotland vast. It's majestic. There's also incredible animation at play, and it sets a new watermark for games in the way it can illustrate subtle emotions like distrust and yearning.
Sweeping camera shots and intimate close-ups tie the characters to the beautiful locales, as Drake gazes toward mythical places he only dreamed of as a kid. Uncharted 4 doesn't root its visuals in the hues of realism, but rather, paints the world as it might look to someone intent on exploring every inch of it--someone intoxicated by the prospect of adventure.
Uncharted 4's cinematography, both in cutscenes and out, amplifies the wonder of its gorgeous world.
Uncharted 4's multiplayer, though, ditches grounded storytelling in favor of all-out chaos: Nathan Drake clones swing from grappling hooks. Victor Sullivans pistol-whip each other. The villains of past Uncharted games lob grenades and fire RPGs and beat one another into a pulp.
This all plays out in multiplayer mode staples such as team deathmatch and zone control. But then there are Mysticals--attacks that make use of the artifacts we've become familiar with throughout the series. El Dorado summons aggressive spectres to attack your foes, the Cintamani Stone revives fallen teammates, and the Djinn lets you teleport short distances, blinking from spot to spot for a tactical advantage. In addition to these fantastical elements, you can earn gold through kills and revives, and find it scattered across multiplayer maps. It lets you add Mysticals to your inventory, but also lets you summon AI snipers and medics to aid your team's efforts. Uncharted 4's multiplayer exhibits the necessary creativity to elevate its already fluid third-person mechanics.
But although the multiplayer works well, and features a progression system that can keep you playing past your first few matches, it is not the primary draw.

The world is bathed in vibrant hues and gorgeous detail.

The draw of Uncharted 4 is its remarkable single-player journey. How each of its parts feeds into the same cohesive whole. This is a narrative that continues in its gameplay, as Nathan places a reassuring hand on his brother's shoulder, or mutters a joke in Elena's ear. Uncharted 4 is so meticulous, you get the sense that its characters are thinking things we'll never hear out loud. "We have a lot of ground to cover," one person says. Is that in reference to the journey, or the first uncertain step toward forgiveness? We can read it however we want.
Uncharted 4's gameplay pushes the narrative forward, the narrative feeds off its gameplay, and every detail coalesces to create something bigger. Uncharted 4 bounces between set pieces and personal moments with such grace, with such skill and poise and affection for its characters, that you don't mind when the guns stop firing, and the smoke clears, and Nathan gets a moment to breathe.
Yes, this is a thrilling adventure through exotic locations, with spectacular action sequences and a pacing that pulls you through with ease. I had a smile on my face the second it began. But it's also a story about family. It's a story about self-examination. It's a story about making sacrifices for the ones you care about.
And most of all, as its final moments make clear, this is a story about storytelling--the importance we lend our idols, legends, and myths. How we pass down the ones that inspire us. How an old photo of three friends sitting on a pile of gold can unleash a flood of memories. Uncharted 4 is a challenge to the medium. In its writing, in its design, in its understanding of what makes games unique, Uncharted 4 is something to aspire to. It's a shining example. And we'll be talking about it for years to come.

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     Stunning action sequences
     Nuanced, emotional characters and story
     Gorgeous world, animation, and cinematography
     Gameplay and narrative form a spectacular whole
     Inconsistent cover system
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    Uncharted 4: A Thief's End' Review (PS4): The Legend of Nathan Drake

    Paul TassiPaul Tassi, Contributor
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Uncharted 4 seemed like a sure thing for ages, a next-gen version of one of PlayStation’s greatest exclusive franchises. But after a number of delays and a series of high-profile departures, including series architect Amy Hennig, it seemed possible that Naughty Dog could drop the ball on Nathan Drake’s final adventure, if they weren’t careful.
    They didn’t.
    Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End fully lives up to the legacy of the series. It retreads familiar ground (sometimes a bit too much), but overall is a drop-dead gorgeous, engaging, and thrilling experience. It’s a worthy send-off for Nathan Drake, and possibly the series as a whole.
    In this fourth installment, we find Nathan Drake (Nolan North) “retired” at last, attempting to live a normal life with his former partner in adventure and current wife, Elena (Emily Rose). But when his long-lost brother Sam (Troy Baker) turns up, he reunites with Sully (Richard McGonagle) and the trio head off to rekindle an old treasure hunt, the two brothers’ very first, which they abandoned over a decade earlier.
    The Hardy Boys title for all this would be “Captain Avery and the Case of the Missing Pirate Fortune.” It was a mystery the two men explored in their younger years along with a rich partner, Rafe (Warren Kole), who has become their present day adversary as the search for the treasure resumes. He’s hired an army of mercenaries run by the menacing Nadine Ross (Laura Bailey), and they all guest star in the coveted role of “guys you will be murdering by the dozen.”
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    As the story goes, famed pirate Captain Henry Avery pulled off a heist worth $400 million, and stashed the treasure in some secret locale. The boys exhume clues they abandoned years ago, and their new adventure takes them from the rocky hills of Scotland to the lush island jungles around Madagascar. As the plot progresses, more and more famous pirates are pulled in, and the legend, and the amount of potential treasure, grows even larger. But so do the risks, naturally.
    Uncharted has a reputation of pushing the graphical envelope on PlayStation with every new installment, and certainly did so in all three of its entries on PlayStation 3. Given that great-looking games are dropping left and right on PS4 these days, I wasn’t expecting it to have quite that same level of impact today with Uncharted 4, but I was wrong.
    I have not seen a better looking game on consoles. Only rarely do I ever come across a game where I just want to sit and stare, but Uncharted has produced that feeling yet again with A Thief’s End. It’s strange, I enjoyed taking in these sweeping vistas and fiddling with camera mode more than I did actually playing the game, much of the time, which might be one of its faults. But every single area in this game is worth just sitting and looking at. Yes, there are the obvious landscapes like towering mountains or lush islands surrounded by crystal clear water, but the man-made structures, from Italian mansions to lost pirate cities, are what really catch the eye. At one point, I even just sat and stared at a bunch of stacked folding tables in a dimly lit basement, because that’s how well they were rendered. It may be old hat to say an Uncharted game is good looking at this point, but honestly, it’s its best feature.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    This new age of animation also helps out with storytelling as well. Uncharted has always had colorful characters and a solid script, but now that we’ve gone into full-on performance-capture mode, the characters are more alive than ever, and I think it’s helped create a more compelling story than what we’ve seen before.
    There are two ways the story works really well in Uncharted 4, the first being through the characters’ relationships with one another. Nathan’s relationship with his brother Sam, despite being someone we’ve heard almost nothing about previous to this, is the centerpiece of the game, and one of its strongest aspects. Their bond feels real, and changes in believable and logical ways as the events of the game unfold. I like that Sam isn’t a stereotype of a ne’er-do-well older brother, and though he has his secrets, almost everything he does is for the love of his family. I was not wild about how Nathan treats Elena initially, namely by lying to her about this new treasure hunt for reasons he’s never able to effectively articulate. Thankfully, it’s made explicit eventually that Nate was just being an ass, and as Elena rejoins the cast, the mending of her and Nathan’s relationship is well-written and endearing. These are all great characters, and once again, they work really well together.
    The other success of the story is the tale of the pirate treasure itself. Without going into too much detail, this is one of the most compelling “lost fortune” type stories I’ve seen, and the rabbit hole of the story of Avery’s treasure keeps going deeper and deeper when you think it’s going to be a relatively straightforward arc. This is the first time I remember being truly impressed by the telling of a “legend” in a game like this, be itUncharted or Tomb Raider, and I’d almost put the concept up there with Raiders orLast Crusade, truthfully. If they ever get around to making that Uncharted movie, this is certainly the best storyline of the bunch.
    Obviously, none of what I’ve discussed so far has anything at all to do with gameplay, and that’s where the game falters a bit. It’s the same as all the previous Unchartedgames with only minor tweaks. Shooting feels chaotic and loose in a mostly good way, and there are some fun combat “puzzles” to be solved, trying to take down loads of enemies in creative ways. But in terms of the kind of high-flying “cinematic” combat you’ve seen in the trailers, it doesn’t quite play out that way in practice most of the time. Swinging in on a rope and clobbering a guy with a leaping punch is well and good, but suddenly you’re in the middle of five other enemies getting riddled with bullets. Most encounters are a blend of a few stealth kills, and then getting spotted, and then everything going to hell as you scramble around trying not to die. It’s fun, but even the “creatively” laid out arena areas don’t produce much of anything you haven’t seen before in this genre.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Another issue is that combat is probably only 20% of the game, with cutscenes and puzzles making up another 10%. The other 70%? Climbing. Oh god, the climbing.
    Look, back when Uncharted debuted and Nathan Drake was scaling cliffs with silky smooth animation, and your heart would leap in your chest whenever a ledge crumbled, a climbing-focused game was all well and good. But since then, after three totalUncharted games, two Tomb Raider reboots and an infinite number of Assassin’s Creeds, I’ve just about had it with climbing.
    It isn’t fun. It isn’t a puzzle. It’s just a mechanic to push the game along at a snail’s pace, yet make players feel like they’re doing something.
    I understand that a certain amount of climbing is simply going to be necessary in a game like this, but Uncharted 4, like a few of the past games, takes things too far. There are many chapters (out of 20+) that are almost nothing but climbing. We found a clue here, and now we have to go across the entire island to reach that tower over there, so what follows is 35 minutes of tedious ledge-grabbing and cliff-hopping. Sure, you will die a few times when you make a wrong leap, but it’s not a challenge. It’s not interesting gameplay. The highlight is taking in the scenery itself. Adding a new rope climb/swing mechanic did not make these segments any better, and Far Cry and Tomb Raider have been using that for years anyway.
    It’s here that Uncharted 4 could have used some editing. A few of these climbing only chapters could have been cut or shortened. The game is very, very long for a single player campaign, and if the amount of climbing had been reduced by a quarter or even half, I honestly wouldn’t have minded. More combat, more driving, more puzzles, hell, even more cutscenes, but please, less climbing.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    There are great and not-so-great chapters in Uncharted 4, but thankfully the former dramatically outweigh the latter. My least favorite, besides the climbing-only ones, was one where you’re stuck in a pirate tunnel full of explosive booby traps you have to blunder through, routinely getting blown up through seemingly no fault of your own. It felt weirdly out of place with everything else, and it seemed like it should have been cut entirely.
    But the best chapters? There are quite a few. I loved a sequence where you’re arranging a heist in a gorgeous Italian mansion. I loved exploring (and fighting in) a ruined pirate city. There’s a chase sequence that feels like a (slightly more realistic) variant of Just Cause as you hop from car to car, baking in the heat of constant explosions. My favorite above all else was a peaceful chapter that was more or less open world roaming, as you and Sam have a boat and sail around a chain of small islands looking for clues. It was beautiful, not very linear, and I loved it.
    As for this being the “ending” of Nathan Drake’s story, I won’t say much, other than it seems unlikely that anyone will leave this game horrifically scared by the events that unfold, as this isn’t that kind of series. But neither did I get my dream fantasy ending of Drake doing a Scrooge McDuck dive into a pool of gold either. I wasn’t sure how I felt about the resolution as it began, but there’s a really touching epilogue that ultimately seems like the proper send-off for the series. I’ll explore the multi-layered ending more in-depth in a future, spoilery post.
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    Photo: Naughty Dog
    I also should acknowledge that the game has a multiplayer component, though I will admit that I almost never partake in the mode during Uncharted games, sticking to the main story instead. Multiplayer has been largely offline during this review period, though there were a few scheduled sessions I wasn’t able to participate in. I did play a bit of the beta, and found it well-made, but probably not my cup of tea. I do like howUncharted 4 will be supported by free map DLC, and everything you unlock can be earned in-game, rather than stuffed into microtransactions. If you’ve been a fan ofUncharted multiplayer in the past, and this fits your style of third person action, you will probably find a lot to like here. This review, however, is focused on the story, as you’ve seen. I will probably have more thoughts on multiplayer once it goes fully live.
    Ultimately, I was deeply impressed by Uncharted 4, and I absolutely believe it lives up to the high bar of quality the series has set for itself, meaning all the delays were probably worth it. I think it relies entirely too much on the no-longer-innovative climbing mechanic, but there’s simply no denying that this game is a visual masterpiece with likable characters in an interesting and intense story. In short, it’s an Uncharted game, and once again, that can speak for itself.
    Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
    Platform: PS4
    Developer: Naughty Dog
    PublisherSony Interactive
    Released: May 10th, 2016
    Price: $59.99
    Score: 9/10

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