Gawping at the scenery
HIGH The Lemur event.
LOW The platforming is pretty, but uninvolving. Actually, it’s pretty uninvolving.
WTF Drake somehow survived infancy without being blown up or hurled out a window?
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End begins some time after the climactic events of the previous game, Drake’s Deception. As time has passed, protagonist Nathan Drake has packed in the crazy adventures of his youth—getting shot in the stomach, murdering bad guys by the dozen and surviving entire buildings toppling down around him—and swapped it all for the safe comforts of a somewhat sedentary existence with series mainstay Elena Fisher.
Just when it seems that he’s about ready to put roots down for good and leave all that life-threatening nonsense behind him, Nathan’s older brother Samuel (presumed dead) unexpectedly returns, antsy for the completion of a grand, unfinished adventure from their past. This time they’re after Pirate Captain Avery’s treasure in order to pay off Samuel’s somewhat involuntary debts, and their very lives hang in the balance!
Things are pretty familiar from here on out. Nathan is still so proficient at accidentally destroying things around him he could probably trigger a nuclear holocaust trying to operate a television set. The man’s a menace to everything within a hundred mile radius, and it’s no wonder he’s ended up with almost nothing to show for all his previous exploits—the entire world routinely explodes around him any time he makes any sort of half-decent discovery.
The game presents some incredible character performances, but the plot is weak and never manages to infect players with the same enthusiasm that the Drakes have for treasure hunting. Many of the twists are little more than excuses to have Nathan’s entourage change location to somewhere visually jaw-dropping whilst never shaking the narrative up in an interesting way. And frankly, the ‘Avery’s treasure is still out of reach’ shtick gets old fast, no matter how exciting each new clue is meant to be.
The villains in A Thief’s End are nowhere near as intimidating as series highlight, Zoran Lazarevic from Uncharted 2. This time, one’s an elitist prick with a chip on his shoulder because Nathan continually upstages him as a treasure hunter. The other’s an owner of a PMC filled with employees so ridiculously braindead that they spend most of their time blowing up priceless historical discoveries in a bid to get to the treasure faster. Though I can’t go into detail due to spoilers, quite a few ostensibly-climactic moments end up little more than damp squibs that squander interesting setups.
While Uncharted is known for its attempts to splice action-oriented gameplay and cinematic storytelling into a single cohesive whole, said gameplay is pretty pedestrian when taken on its own merits. Traversal is probably the weakest element—despite some truly amazing visuals on display, moving around often involves little more than some brisk walking while casually chatting with an AI partner before hopping onto some ledges for incredibly simple platforming.
How simple? If Drake’s hand is outstretched when pointing in a direction, he’ll latch onto something safely when pressing the jump button. If the hand isn’t out, he’ll plummet to his death. It’s almost a totally binary system, generally unsatisfying and overused given that these massive traversal sections only serve to pad out the time between major setpieces. No matter how many times a ledge crumbles away in his grip, or how often a building explodes as he’s scaling it, it never becomes involving in a mechanical sense.
The puzzles are such a minor part of the experience now that they’re barely worth mentioning—the only time I got even momentarily stuck was once near the start due to one Roman numeral doing the work of two. The combat fares a little better, but still has a ton of gripes to contend with.
To be fair, Naughty Dog has at least tried to make these encounters more engaging. There are more stealth options than ever before, courtesy of huge bushes or tall patches of grass suspiciously plonked down near potential battlegrounds, but when it comes down to blowing enemies away with assault rifles and the like, Uncharted’s combat remains as substandard as it’s always been.
None of the weapons (except the occasional minigun or grenade launcher) are satisfying to use. Enemies soak up non-headshot damage like sponges and their weird stagger animations make them look as if they’re being hit by bouncy bullets. The worst part is how awkwardly Nathan controls—his aiming is floaty, the melee is some of the worst found in action games, and since the dodge is shared with the cover button, it’s far too easy to snag pieces of the environment while trying to roll away from a grenade blast.
Even with these issues, the normal difficulty level is mindlessly simple to the point where I often zoned out during combat. I almost wish I’d slapped on the ‘hard aim’ option during my playthrough—this improves the combat tenfold by simply locking dead-center onto enemies and allowing players to eliminate foes with a simple pull of the trigger. It’s effective, and the targeting continues to follow them as they stumble and flail around. It takes the hassle out of combat, but it also reduces it (like so much of Uncharted 4) to eye candy. Wooden cover gets blown apart as players cower behind it, and entire structures atomize as Nathan passes through. It routinely looks stunning, but feels hollow.
As for the multiplayer, it comes close to being an enjoyable diversion. Bullet impacts feel more solid and satisfying when enemies aren’t wriggling around like drunkards after getting shot, and there’s a good variety of maps, customization features, and combat abilities to keep things interesting. The problem here is that movement still doesn’t feel as snappy as it needs to, and I encountered frequent lag issues—things like bullets killing players after they obviously made it to cover, or a disconnection icon popping up to interrupt the proceedings even when playing on what was supposedly a near-perfect connection. It’s okay, but not enough to keep me coming back.
If Uncharted 4 played even half as good as it looked, it would be a masterpiece… but it doesn’t. In fact, for all its splendor and all the obvious care taken towards making it look and sound as good as humanly possible, it makes one cardinal sin that’s impossible to forgive—it’s downright boring to play. There are moments when it’s easy to get swept up the visual opulence and bombast, but then the moments pass, and it’s straight back to snarky comments and auto-climbing up mountainsides.
But hey—it sure does look nice, doesn’t it?
Disclosures: This game is developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment. It is currently available on Playstation 4. This copy of the game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. 5 hours of play were spent in multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated Teen and contains blood, language, use of alcohol and tobacco and violence. It’s all pretty cartoony stuff throughout, so most young adults would be fine with the rampant gunfights. It’s certainly less bloody than, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark was, though the sensory overload of many sequences might be too much for some younger gamers.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: No real issues here. There are plenty of subtitles and visual cues to help play the game, and while some combat encounters may be made a bit harder with enemies more easily able to flank the Drakes due to lack of aural clues, it shouldn’t be too difficult on the standard difficulty.
Remappable Controls: This game offers a wide variety of preset controller options to choose from.
Colorblind Modes: There are colorblind modes available in the options. I’d like to mention something quickly here too—Naughty Dog have clearly gone out of their way to make this game as accessible to a wide audience as humanly possible, including gamers with visual and audio impairments. As unimpressed as I was by Nathan’s latest adventure, they certainly deserve applause for being so incredibly considerate towards their userbase.
The chance discovery of a muddy, burnt out copy of '50 Shades of Grey' in a hunting pit gave him an appreciation for complex plots, characters and overarching narrative, and the unexpected gift of a Spectrum 48k allowed him to indulge in these newfound sensibilities with intelligent, highbrow games such as 'flee from the badly animated spinning turquoise dolphins' or 'avoid the deadly glowing bricks of doom'.
The fusion of both these interests finally culminated with Darren teaching himself how to write by basically guessing at what words might look like when jotted down on paper as opposed to being howled inarticulately at the skies.
Now others occasionally get to read his scribblings. Lucky them.