For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked by friends, colleagues and family members “what is so good about Uncharted 4?” Unfortunately, saying “absolutely bloody everything” doesn’t really help inform anyone about what’s actually so great about it, or more specifically why they should play it. But, they definitely should. And so should anyone who enjoys cinematic, story-driven action games.
The game opens with the quote; “I am a man of fortune, and I must seek my fortune”. This quote nicely sums up what has driven Uncharted’s protagonist, Nathan Drake, throughout this series since Uncharted:Drake’s Fortune first launched on PS3 in 2007. Since his debut he’s explored ancient ruins, discovered long lost cities, and taken part in some of the most explosive action-set-pieces in recent video game history; Climbed up a de-railed train whilst hanging from a cliff? Check. Escaped a sinking cruise ship as floods and capsizes? Check. Been flung out the back of an airplane as it crashes over the Sahara? Again, check. And it has all been in the pursuit of treasure and fortune.
This entry, said to be the last from developers Naughty Dog, starts with a different Drake, one who has given up the globetrotting, treasure hunting life. He works a legitimate job for a marine salvage company, and spends his evenings at home with his wife Elena. He’s finally out, that is until his long lost brother, Sam shows up.
Without giving too much away, they soon embark on one final adventure, to find the long-lost pirate treasure which they both obsessed over since childhood. I’ll leave the rest of the story for you to discover for yourselves, but rest assured it’s well told and gripping stuff.
The characters have always been a large part of what makes Uncharted resonate with gamers, and you’ll be pleased to hear that in this instalment they really do continue to outshine those found in other games. Obviously the big new addition is Drake’s brother Sam, played by Troy Baker. Sam is a pretty interesting character, seeming like a portrayal of what Drake could have been like if he had looser morals and nothing to lose. He gels well with the rest of the cast and his relationship with Nate is really endearing at times, although I couldn’t help but not trust him at times. Drake, played by Nolan North, is still every bit as charismatic and likeable as he ever has been, and Sully and Elena are still there to balance him out and to keep him from doing anything too reckless or stupid.
With the exception of Sam, this is a dynamic that fans have seen built up over the core games in the series, and the result is that you have a cast of characters that you genuinely give a shit about. You weirdly care when they upset each other or when one is in danger, and this is down to the combination of the stellar writing from Neil Druckman, the engaging vocal and mocap performances from the cast, and the (quite literally) insanely believable character model witchcraft that Naughty Dog have somehow managed to cook up in their Santa Monica studio.
The presentation in Uncharted 4 is out of this world. This is without a doubt the best looking videogame I have ever seen. From the lighting to the art direction, to the colour palettes, to the way the mud wells up around your feet, it’s bloody gorgeous. Just look at the screenshots in this review; all taken from actual gameplay during my own playthrough. There is a stat which tracks how long you have spent stood still whilst playing, and mine was nearly two hours by the end, purely from stopping to gawk at the scenery or examine the detail on the character models. The clothes ripple and crease as you move, hang off you dripping when you’re soaked and get dirty when you’ve been rolling or sliding around, it helps to make this feel like a truly believable and organic experience.
The gameplay found here is a continuation of that found in previous entries, with the series signature climbing, shooting and puzzle solving all intact. The difference here is how well refined these mechanics are, and how well it all flows. The pacing between gunplay, climbing and puzzles just makes sense, and that’s really saying something for a game of this length.
My initial play through took me just under 17 hours, which is considerably longer than any of the others, making it pretty much as long as Naughty Dog’s other powerhouse The Last Of Us, and the fact it managed to engross as much as that game whilst still encompassing everything that has made the Uncharted games so great is a real achievement.
For as much as Uncharted does for videogames in terms of it’s action, it’s gameplay and it’s beautiful graphics, it does so much more that you may not even notice at face value. There are so many subtle details, like when you’re driving in a jeep and the characters are in conversation, if you decide to pull over and leave the jeep Nate will interrupt and say that he has to go check something, which they acknowledge, then when you return Nate will say something like “sorry I though I saw something over there, what were you saying?” And whoever was talking will take a moment to try and remember before continuing with whatever story or anecdote they had started. Further to this, they comment on things that you see in the environment, interact with their surroundings and each other in subtle ways, and it just adds to the feeling that you are taking part in a seamless story rather than just passively playing through sequences that are only loosely tied together.
So if anyone asks me again what’s so good about Uncharted 4, I’ll just start by telling them that it’s all in the detail. No other game on PS4 even comes close to this level of quality, and it’ll probably be a long time before any can even try to contend for it’s crown as the best console game of this generation.