- Format: PS4
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Developer: Naughty Dog
- Players: 1 (offline), 2-10 (online)
- Site: http://www.unchartedthegame.com/en-gb/
- Game purchased by reviewer
Easy to forget now, but things were looking ropey for Uncharted 4 at one point. Amy Hennig left, amid rumours of being forced out by The Last Of Us daddies Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley (who had, incidentally, made major changes to the script which in turn led to actors jumping ship). When the first images were uncharacteristically dark and gloomy in both colour and mood, that too was less than encouraging. The final product is much better than all this implied; but ultimately, it still feels like a missed opportunity.
That’s not to say this is a poor game. Quite the opposite. Uncharted 4 gets so, so much right. The graphics may be the least important quality of pretty much any game but, boy, is this one pretty. Aside from rare frame rate blips when you swing the camera round it’s smooth as sexy silk, with everything preposterously detailed and well lighted. It’s probably the best-looking console game released so far but, that said, the character models’ faces sometimes struggle to express emotion. Sully in particular consistently looks like he’s piled all of his treasure hunting money into botox injections.
Where the faces drop the ball, the voices effortlessly pick up the slack. Acting is typically superb all around, heroes and villains alike. Okay, so it’s become particularly tiresome to hear Drake say “NonononononoNO!” twice an hour or so, but at least Nolan North sounds like he’s having as much fun as ever while doing it.
Credit must be given for avoiding some of the biggest traps (pun unintended but welcomed) that a new Uncharted could so easily have blundered into. For one thing there is, for the first time, no supernatural element to the story. The first three games arguably began to fizzle out toward the end for this reason, and ghost enemies of some kind also led to unwelcome gameplay elements that contradicted the rest of the game you’d been playing up to that point. Also, although the ‘jump onto something which instantly breaks/crumbles’ thing is present and correct, its use is gauged just right, so that it’s a warm sign of the series rather than an irritating ticked box in the design document.
A small number of puzzles are sprinkled throughout and they’re pretty good, requiring you to think rather than throw your hands up at the lazy obscurity of it all before Googling the solution with a scowl on your face. Combat – of which, surprisingly perhaps, there is surely less than in any other Uncharted – is as good as ever. You’ve always had the option of stealth to an extent, but in Uncharted 4 you’re regularly offered sneaking around as an option just as valid as filling everybody you see with bullet holes. The vehicle sections fit in nicely and never outstay their welcome; though admittedly, that’s mainly because most of them are tightly controlled.
At its very best moments, Uncharted 4 is practically untouchable. The car chase/no-way-you’d-survive getting dragged along bit from the E3 demo is easily one of the highlights, an adrenalin-fuelled thrill. There are also various moments where you jump, slide, swing, and jump in quick succession to avoid plummeting to a messy death. It doesn’t demand as much skill as it seems, but it feels like you’ve achieved something, and that’s the important thing. Throw in some neat surprises here and there – including an excellent fight at the end of the final chapter – and you have one heck of a package.
We would argue, however, that for some reason (Hennig’s departure?) this is a game that’s only 75% Uncharted.
Let’s face it; there’s no such thing as an Oscar-worthy Uncharted script. The first ones were all gleefully dedicated to offering an eighties-style shallow adventure though, and held together brilliantly for it. This one aims higher and haughtier though, which is one of several reasons that it often doesn’t feel like an Uncharted game. This is arguably true of pretty much everything in the first half of the game, which is mostly concerned with eagerly trying to flesh out the character of the brother Drake somehow never ever mentioned to anybody, including his wife.
There’s lots of watching and listening with no action, which is perfectly fine – but, in the sheer volumes present here, is not Uncharted. One of the biggest failings in terms of the series here is dialogue. With a handful of exceptions, Elena seems to have beaten Nathan’s sense of humour out of him. This is rarely a funny game. It sounds like Nathan Drake, but it doesn’t feel like Nathan Drake.
Looked at objectively the dialogue is very good indeed, but the story as a whole is abysmal. We are utterly in love with The Last Of Us’ script, but the one for Uncharted 4 is full of so many plot holes you’d think David Cage was involved. We don’t say something so wicked lightly. Gameplay (when it’s there) is much more difficult to fault. Less linearity would’ve been nice, as would more ambition compared to what has come before. Though some of the battles are terribly designed, artificially challenging on high difficulties thanks to enemy placement and lack of cover, overall it’s a joy to play.
There’s also – though you wouldn’t know it to read most reviews – the multiplayer mode. If you’ve played Uncharted online before, you pretty much know what to expect already. It’s third person 5v5, a platform shooter with a cover system and, now, a grappling hook to swing yourself over strictly determined points. The excellent cash system which persists through death means everybody gets a chance to buy an AI helper, a better weapon, or an ability at least once or twice per match. It’s good fun, but unlikely to keep most people coming back after the first month. The presence of microtransactions is both disgraceful and hilariously optimistic.
In keeping with the game, this review will finish with a disappointing and anticlimactic ending.