I've always liked Nathan Drake as a character. However after playing Uncharted 4 I'm not sure why I had a soft spot for him, it's not like there was much to him. He was just your average cobbled together white male protagonist that liked nothing more than murdering thousands of people to get to whatever it is he wanted to steal that week.
I guess because when Uncharted 1
came out he was the only character that spoke like an actual human. It was the simple technique of Drake not shutting up while I was controlling him, yabbering away at whoever had the misfortune to fight alongside him or even to himself because he doesn't need anyone listening to talk their ear off. However it's been a long time since Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
. Nine years, in fact, and the videogame industry has moved on in terms of character development.
Naughty Dog isn't a stilted development studio. Rather than resting on what it knows it's good at the company has not only kept up with what gamers now expect from characters but with The Last of Us
raised the bar.
In The Last of Us
characters interacted with each other by way of expression and body language. The final moment of that game left me stunned as it wasn't a plot reveal or a cliffhanger that ended the adventure but a simple look from Joel that told the player more than any line could.
With Uncharted 4
it's clear that Naughty Dog has taken what it has achieved to this point and piled it into the final outing for the series. As memorable as the previous games are for me, none of that memory is devoted to the story itself but in this I was gripped from the start.
The opening few hours are spent jumping through a timeline. From a fight in the ocean to a significant night in a young Nathan Drake's childhood to somewhere in-between. Each scene feels relevant in setting up the hours ahead, the motivations behind the character's actions and their relationships with one another.
They feel slow for a fast-paced action game, but they're important. Without them the weight of the scenes towards the end is non-existent and if that's the payoff for losing some of the pacing that made Uncharted 2
feels so good then so be it.
The visual upgrade certainly helps in this area too. Uncharted 4
is the best-looking game I've played to date and although the stunning locations and backdrops the game provides made me stop and mutter "Holy Shit" to myself, it's the facial expressions that added more to the experience than anything else.
Each twitch of an eyebrow or forced smile helps us connect with what a character is really thinking and you feel connected to your on-screen personality. With this amount of fidelity in facial expression it's important that the performances from the actors are of a high level which, thankfully, is an absolute staple in the series.
It's not the overblown pantomime of LA Noire
nor the robotic stilted line reading of dialogue in Resident Evil
. It's acting that was once only worthy of the big screen that can now be embraced by a medium still struggling to convince the world that it can achieve the same levels of drama.
By the time you finish you'll have re-evaluated what it is that draws you to Uncharted
and strangely enough there will be a part of you that hopes that Naughty Dog never returns to the series.
That might sound odd, but as a whole Uncharted 4
feels like it's taken Nathen Drake and co as far as the series can. It feels like a full stop and that Naughty Dog has finally achieved what it set out to do when it first introduced us to the jive-chatting killer.
In terms of gameplay you should have a fair idea of what you're getting into at this point. A bit of shooting, a lot of climbing and the odd puzzle here and there and, well... that's what you get.
The shooting is a little better than it was in the first three outings. Aiming isn't as wild any more, although it may be a little sticky for some tastes. It does the job without offering much in the way of thrills. Enemies are ripped straight from the past and you're very rarely tasked to do something that you've not done before in an Uncharted
Melee combat is as good as it was in 3
but again lacks a push to offer anything new. The stealth, on the other hand, has been tweaked far enough to be a viable option and, in some scenarios, outright fun. It still feels like a shooter with stealth added in, but when you're crawling through the long grass, watching your enemy's patrol routes and slowly taking them out one by one, it's satisfying.
Climbing has always been an issue for me in the Uncharted
games. In the first it was thrilling and felt genuinely genre-defining. The second played around with that concept in different environments, adding a few tweaks and new ideas here and there. By the third climbing sections had become a tad tiresome and it was clear that Naughty Dog had started to run out of ideas.
After a short time away from the series I was expecting to get back to the exciting clambering about that initially drew me to the series but instead started to sink back into my chair hoping that the climbing sections would hurry up so I could see what would happen next.
The problem is not with what the developers have done with this portion of the game, more the question of what else they could do. Naughty Dog has tried to shake things up a little here and there with a rope claw and climbing spike and even adding stealth climbing into the fray. But it's not enough to take you back to the innovation of the first game and I have to admit, I have no idea how they could achieve such a task.
In open world games the satisfaction comes from looking at the top of a building, wondering if you're able to get up there and setting off to hit your mark. The goal is in the player's
head and it you discover that there is indeed a way to hit it then the satisfaction is there the moment you arrive.
, however, there has to be a path to the next point. So instead of questioning whether something is possible, you know it is and you're just trying to find the next rock that sticks out from the cliff edge.