'Uncharted 4' review - a new peak for the series

Thursday, 05 May 2016 03:00 AM Written by 

 

"Uncharted 4" discovers new ground for Nathan Drake

 

This review of "Uncharted 4: A Theif's End" does not include impressions of the game's multiplayer modes. A review edit will be added after the game's launch on Tuesday, May 10.

 

Uncharted4CoverThe next and potentially final chapter of the “Uncharted” series is finally ready to grace Sony’s PlayStation 4. It faced several delays and added a new creative director to the series in Neil Druckmann, but that’s no cause for concern.

 

“Uncharted 4: A Thief's End” is a coming of age story for the protagonist treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Players have watched him age throughout the first three games, but “Uncharted 4” shows him mature. The story is more than an Indiana Jones-inspired adventure. This tale delves into Drake’s upbringing and family and answers the question of what happens to a seasoned treasure hunter when he has to grow up and leave the life of adventure behind.

 

“Uncharted 4” is a fine entry point for those who didn’t play one or any of the earlier games in the series. That’s partially due to the introduction of several new characters. Nate’s adversaries are new to the series, as is his brother Sam Drake. Longtime fans of the series will appreciate callbacks to Nate’s previous adventures, but the script doesn’t lean too heavily on nostalgic references.

 

Nate’s brother Sam, who has been presumed dead for Nate’s adult life, turns out to be alive and in deep with an infamous drug lord. The opportunity to save his long lost brother’s life is enough to pull Nate out of exploration retirement and away from his boring 9-to-5 job. The two set out to find the fabled pirate treasure that once belonged to Captain Henry Avery. In classic “Uncharted” fashion, Nate and Sam aren’t the only ones who are in search of the $400 million treasure.

 

The “Uncharted” series has always made an exceptional first impression due to its graphical prowess. Being the first game of the series for the PS4, “Uncharted 4” continues that tradition. It’s not just the best looking game on the PS4; it’s the best looking game on any console. Detailed environments like the shores of Scotland, plains of Madagascar and the lush foliage of abandoned pirate islands come to life thanks to the added power of the PS4. “Uncharted” has never looked this good.

 

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Being on the PS4 allows for more substantial world building than just the environment’s appearance. Paths aren’t as linear as they once were in the series. In the previous games, Nate had to travel from A to B, and there was only one way to arrive at the destination. He had to climb a pole or scale a cliffside that had a specific path to take. In “Uncharted 4,” there are several paths Nate can take to get where he needs to go. This design isn’t just to show off what the PS4 can do. It makes the in-game world feel organic. This isn’t to say that “Uncharted 4” is an open world game. It isn’t, but it feels less like there’s a strict path that is laid out specifically for Nate and his adventure. That’s an important design to include for those controlling Nate through uninhabited areas. It adds a level of authenticity to the entire experience.

 

The “Uncharted” formula had to evolve over its nearly 10-year history. It can’t just be cutscenes mixed in with shooting or platforming sequences. Adventure game structure has changed over the years. “Uncharted 4” benefits from not relying too heavily on old mechanics and by adding new wrinkles to the familiar gameplay. There are a couple driving sequences that put Drake in control of an exploration vehicle. The controls feel tight and responsive, which is impressive considering it’s the first time players have been behind the wheel in an “Uncharted” game.

 

Drake’s new grappling hook is the other big gameplay change. That grappling hook can be attached to various beams and branches when needed. Nate can swing from the rope to clear chasms or climb it to scale cliffsides. It’s a simple mechanic that is woven wonderfully into the game world.

 

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Most combat sequences can now be approached by using stealth. Nate can tag enemies to keep tabs on them while staying out of sight. Stealth is an option, but not required for those who want to go into an enemy encounter guns blazing. The third-person shooting of “Uncharted” has always felt polished, and “Uncharted 4” is no exception. The game adds plenty of new weapons that all have their own distinct feel and features.

 

The biggest change to “Uncharted’s” gameplay is the addition of dialog options. Occasionally throughout the game, on-screen prompts will give different dialog choices for the player to choose. These choices show up so rarely that it’s jarring when they do. They also don’t have much of an impact on the overall story. One option gave me the choice to continue a line of questioning with Sam, or just cut the conversation short. It’s as if this device was added just to make it seem like the series had evolved to catch up with the other popular video games, but it wasn’t implemented in a meaningful way.

 

“Uncharted 4” finds the full potential of the scripted action sequence. The series has always had a knack for keeping players’ palms sweaty by putting Nate through outlandish environment destruction and near-death experiences. “Uncharted 4” ratchets up the action with intense chase scenes and escapes from crumbling buildings. Scenes like these paired with unparalleled voice acting from Nolan North and Troy Baker make “Uncharted 4” a treat for the player and anyone observing on the couch.

 

There’s plenty of value for completionists in the $60 package. Well hidden treasures are scattered throughout the game, many of which will likely only be discovered with multiple playthroughs. Completing the game unlocks several graphical filters like Black and White mode and 8-bit mode. Gameplay can also be altered with settings like unlimited ammo and zero gravity that causes enemy carcasses to float in the air. The game makes it easy to play previous sections after completion. Players can jump into one of the 20-plus chapters, or any specific enemy encounter from the game.

 

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It was unclear if the “Uncharted” series had any new ground to explore after three successful chapters. “Uncharted 4” could’ve just been a bigger version of the “Uncharted” games before it, but instead it grew up. It’s the most sophisticated story of Nathan Drake’s illustrious career that sets out to discover humanity in the character that was never found in his previous tales. That narrative, plus the best action gameplay in the genre, make the game an outstanding achievement. “Uncharted 4” reaches the peak of what the series can be.

 

9.5 out of 10

 

 

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