Reviewer: Michael Mendis
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
Platform: PlayStation 4
The critically acclaimed Uncharted series has been one of Sony’s key franchises for almost a decade, and developer Naughty Dog has established themselves as one of the top-tier studios in the game industry. Naughty Dog’s newest title, Uncharted 4, is not only their first game built from the ground up for PlayStation 4; it’s also the final game in the series, bringing protagonist Nathan Drake’s story to a close. So does it live up to the weighty expectations that the franchise has built up for itself?
The story picks up with Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher now married and living a “normal life”; Nate is employed in a diving company searching for sunken wreckage, and Elena is back to professional writing. They’ve left behind the life of adventure and danger that had defined them for years. Nate can’t help but pine for the old days, though, and he’s thrown a curveball when he discovers that his brother Sam, who he thought had died many years before, is actually alive and well. But Sam has gotten involved with some dangerous people who now expect him to find the lost treasure of pirate captain Henry Avery, and just like that Nate is swept up in another crazy adventure...but without telling Elena.
The Uncharted series is known for stellar writing, storytelling, and character development, and Uncharted 4 is no slouch compared to its predecessors. Nate is still his lovable roguish self, bantering with the the other characters and injecting clever bits of humor into even the most perilous situations; the other characters also play off each other well, including the new faces like Sam. Much of the overall plot should be familiar to anyone who has played (or is otherwise familiar with) the previous Uncharted games -- search ancient ruins, find clue that brings you one step closer to the treasure, repeat -- but a few narrative twists combined with the series’ hallmark dialogue and voice acting keep things interesting from beginning to end. And while I won’t spoil any major plot points here, suffice it to say that the game’s ending does an excellent job tying up loose ends and wrapping up Nathan Drake’s story.
For those concerned about potentially objectionable content, Uncharted 4 certainly earns its Mature rating, as you spend the game killing scores of enemy soldiers throughout the game, and there is some strong language and a bit of blood present as well (though nothing in the way of gore). It should also be noted, though, that there are some positive moral messages conveyed in the game as well; for example, this is one of the few games I can think of off the top of my head that portray marriage in both a realistic and positive light.
Like the other games in the series, Uncharted 4’s gameplay is predominantly a combination of platforming and third-person shooting. The shooting mechanics are rock solid, allowing you to easily pop in and out of cover, grab weapons off the battlefield on the fly, and scamper about to find better vantage points. Many combat encounters encourage you to take a stealthy approach; enemies can be marked on your HUD so that you can track their movements even when they move out of your line of sight, and if you get behind them without being seen you can take them down quietly. In some cases you can avoid a firefight altogether by sneaking past the opposition and proceeding to the next part of the level. All that being said, some encounters start with guns blazing, and it wouldn’t be an Uncharted game without a healthy dose of dramatic set piece moments, from fast-paced chase scenes to collapsing buildings. The only small complaints I have are that on normal difficulty the enemy AI seems a bit too oblivious during stealth sections and generally a bit too easy to defeat in combat. There are also a couple of one-on-one, hand-to-hand combat sequences in the game that aren’t explained well to the player, but thankfully they are short and infrequent events.
When you aren’t trading gunshots with a private army, you’ll be clambering up cliffsides and old ruins in search of Avery’s treasure. These moments serve as a good break in the action and give the writers more opportunity to advance character development between Nate and whoever else may be with him at the moment. Aside from a somewhat repetitive crate puzzle (find crate, push it to a spot that will let you climb up a high wall), the platforming sections are enjoyable, especially when you get the chance to swing around with the new grappling hook. It doesn’t hurt that Uncharted 4 is visually stunning; on numerous occasions I found myself stopping during these calmer sections to admire the gorgeous vistas and lush vegetation found in many of the environments. In addition to the platforming, there are also a few moments when you are tasked with solving a puzzle in order to find the next clue to the treasure’s location. While the puzzles aren’t too difficult to solve, they are a nice chance to use some other brain cells and they add to the intrigue of the treasure hunt.
While the levels tend to be very linear, there are a few branching paths here and there that usually offer some reward, often either a new journal entry that adds to the lore, or one of the dozens of collectibles scattered throughout the game world. The collectibles work the same way as they have in the previous games in the series -- Nate walks up to a shiny object on the screen and picks up an old artifact -- but the mechanic feels a bit shallow and dated in light of how the new Tomb Raider games handle the same idea; where Lara Croft will provide some insight into (and personal reflections on) the item she is picking up, Nate says nothing (odd, considering he’s otherwise quite the chatterbox). It’s a minor gripe, but this mechanic in Uncharted 4 would have benefitted from a bit of evolution.
On top of the single-player campaign, Uncharted 4 also has a multiplayer mode that lets players compete with one another in one of three game types: Deathmatch (first team to 40 kills wins), Command (capture zones and KO enemy captains to earn points), and Plunder (carry the ancient idol back to your base). The maps are well-designed and allow you to make use of the core mechanics of the game, including traversal moves like climbing up buildings and swinging across gaps. There are also some cosmetic items (such as hats, shirts, and weapon skins) that you can use to customize your character, and which are purchased with in-game currency that you can acquire either through completing multiplayer matches or through microtransactions (AKA, real money). Altogether, Uncharted 4’s multiplayer feels like icing on the cake; it isn’t incredibly deep, but it’s well designed and adds some extra replayability on top of the already fantastic single-player offering.
Naughty Dog has once again put together an absolutely incredible game, sending the series out with a bang. Between the exciting gameplay, stunning visuals, and wonderfully written characters, Uncharted 4 is a gem that no PS4 owner should miss out on.
OVERALL SCORE: A+