I did it. I finally did it. As my aching thumbs come creaking and groaning into the harbour of completionist elitism, ravaged from what might have been millions of hours of gameplay over the course of an amount of months I won’t divulge because ‘elitism’ (remember), I have finished the entire Uncharted series; 1, 2, 3, and at last, 4. Of course, I’ve already scribbled hedonistically, wildly, insipidly, about The Nathan Drake Collection; the remastered PS4 release of the first three games that I recently embarked upon due to having never played them before, and the incessant need to get all washed away in the fourth installment’s hype. So here I am. Hooray for me.
Let’s get this out in the open right away shall we; Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the best looking game I’ve ever played. Ever. EVER. Perhaps that’s because I’ve only played old Uncharteds for the last few months, or because I haven’t picked up another new PS4 release since maybe The Phantom Pain, but even so, perspective and all, this is a truly astonishing visual achievement.
Staring at Walls
As someone prone to finding lovingly textured walls and staring at them for hours on end, my progression through UC4 was somewhat inhibited. My Nathan Drake was a doe-eyed lunatic, darting about the place taking in every inch of his environment with mawkish, child-like wonder and enthusiasm, overjoyed to be alive. Like an insufferable Aunt who’s just come back from ‘finding herself’ for six months in Thailand, and now feels that she is intrinsically connected to the natural world, that we are all one being existing on multiple vibrations, and that inter-species relationships are fine if you’re on the right sort of ketamine. Or something.
You can sit and dribble at screenshots of Uncharted 4 all day, but it’s not until you see it in action, till you get behind the sticks and feel it, that you truly appreciate its visual splendor. Working in perfect harmony with the mechanics; you feel so present as Nathan Drake, so, solid. A real being that moves through the world, affecting it with an authentic, tactile zeal. It’s evident in everything, each little touch; from the newly weighted and balanced movement controls, to the animations that see Drake insisting on touching all of the walls and rocks and furniture, leaning on his front foot before shifting his body round as you demand he turns a perfect 180 degrees. It’s a joy to maneuver your way through the world, to watch Drake scramble and scrape and run and dive.
Gunplay is similarly entirely improved. Reminiscent of its forebearers but again, weighted, impactful, you feel that ring of your gun with much more charisma than in previous efforts. Sound design is clever here too, pitching the drum-perforating battery of sound that comes from each differing weapon louder and with more drama than before.
The grappling hook is the biggest gameplay addition, allowing you to, at specific, clearly labelled points, Spiderman your way across a cavernous drop, or scale a dilapidated building, or swing far beyond the 4×3 piece of scenery on which you intended to land. Like the rest of the game’s core mechanics, it’s fun. Lots of fun. I might even go as far as to say it makes me partially interested in that new, E3-announced Spiderman game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
The driving sequences should get a mention, because, y’know, they happen. They’re largely forgettable but do serve as an effective splicing up of the run-and-gun, climb-and-find formula once or twice. Traversing the environment in a jeep or speedboat is certainly novel at first, and it gives you a slightly different angle from which to gawp at the stretching, crafted landscapes.
From a level design standpoint, I’m unsure as to whether A Thief’s End is a similarly uproarious success. Beautiful expanses of scenery have been present throughout the series, and while they all look like they could have been referenced straight from the real world (and they probably were) some of the snaking, inner paths that lead you through the more central parts of the game don’t make quite as much sense. Uncharted has always been a pretty linear experience, and it appears almost as if, with 4, Naughty Dog wanted to expand the exploration aspect, but were never too sure how to go about it. The areas of play are bigger, but seemingly always involve a single alternative route that either leads you back on track, or leads you nowhere.
Like its previous iterations, Uncharted 4 also still suffers from Repetitive Strain Injury. As was the case with the Collection; I again found myself a number of hours in, realising I’d seen all I was likely to see from the game, and that drive for the finish line became more a little more hurried. It’s something I was really hoping they’d managed to alleviate from this release entirely, but once again, despite not being the longest game, it didn’t half seem to go on at times.
Story-wise, the game ebbed and flowed like the rest of them, meekly pawing from one wild-goose chase to the next, with a few pleasant twists and turns, and plenty of that quippy Nathan Drake charm. This time though it, quite rightly, finished on a wonderfully intoxicating, sentimental tidal wave. Emosh, the kids would call it. Certainly after playing through the entire series in such quick succession, the writers find a way to tug at all your heart strings at once, most poignantly through the Epilogue chapter. They trick you into casting a hazy, amiable glance back at your adventures with Nate and Elena and Sully, recalling big moments from the previous games with an affectionate nostalgia that is bound to send those who haven’t played in many years reaching for their dusty copy of Drake’s Fortune.
It’s a fitting finale for Drake, as is Uncharted 4 as a complete experience. I often find myself finding nice angles and well polished pieces of scenery in games, whooshing the camera around to observe them in their full glory, but I cannot recall thinking with such incessant frequency; ‘goddamn this game, this thing is so beautiful’. Every new area, every sweeping vista, every piece of scenery teeming with detail. Coupled with that exciting, weighted feel to the controls, to the movement and shooting, and how good the whole thing looks in motion, and Uncharted 4 is simply the perfect generation leap for one of Sony’s mastheads.
It won’t change history, and has carried some of its flaws from its first game to its last, but it does round off an undeniably spectacular, staple gaming series that is, as much of the gaming community will tell you, entirely worthy of your time. I’d still say play the others first, because the pay-off at the end will be ten times better, but if you haven’t and can sneak a go on 4 beforehand, it’s really worth finding out what this thing is all about.