Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

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Uncharted led the charge on the Playstation 3, serving as Sony’s flagship title during that console generation and drawing in a lot of buyers with its mix of action setpieces, platforming challenges, and shooting people in the face. While in retrospect the series was kind of meh, I must confess I was rather sure Uncharted 3 would be the last one. Yet here we are, and if I wanted to there’s even more Uncharted in the form of The Lost Legacy and plenty of side-games. Let’s see if this fourth entry stands out on the mighty PS4 or if it’s just more of the same.

Adventure calls

After the events of Uncharted 3, Drake retired from his life adventuring, married Elena, and found a normal job to pay his bills. All is well for him until his long-lost brother suddenly shows up, claiming he has been stuck in prison for 15 years and now owes a lot of money to the person who busted him out. Glad to see his brother again, Nathan ends up lying to Elena about a job in Malaysia so he can go on an adventure to look for a legendary pirate treasure.

Drake and bro

That Nathan suddenly has a hitherto unmentioned brother does reek of desperation on account of the writer and kind of conflicts with flashback sequences in the last game, which showed a young Nathan on his lonesome meeting Sully for the first time. This frustrated me a fair bit, though I have to admit there was a lot I liked in the story too, which is new for the series.

Sure, we once again descend into a treasure hunt that turns into a race against a token antagonist, but it was interesting for a game series to get on with it and marry its characters. That you get to play for a bit as a retired adventurer now living with a spouse is actually a character moment that made me appreciate the guy for once. The overall adventure is also pretty neat, especially once you are getting closer to that pirate treasure and find out what kind of insane projects the captain had been up to.

The downside, then, is that the story is seriously too long and once the Drake brothers get back into the adventuring life I find little to care about them. Not for a lack of trying, however, as the game insists on having the player play through like 3 lengthy flashback sequences establishing the relationship between Sam & Drake. That’s a lot of effort put into sequences that just exist to absolutely bore me to death, as both of the brothers have the same, bland personality.

Story score: 5/10

It’s new because we added rope

I have been rough on the Uncharted games, but I will give them credit for being rarely boring. This entry continues the series’ legacy for movie-like action scenes being made playable; you’ll find yourself racing down streets while being chased by an armored car or trying to make your way through a watchtower slowly falling apart. In-between these big memorable moments you’ll be platforming around or fighting enemies.

Uncharted prison fight.jpg

The platforming remains the game’s weakest factor. As always you just press forward on the analog stick and hammer X, which will have Nathan leap from platform to platform or grab the next stone of whatever kind of wall he happens to be climbing. It’s entirely automated and requires no skill or thought from the player, it’s just mindless busywork you are forced to do, which sometimes messes up leaving Nate stuck in a wall or randomly overshooting a jump. Adding to this frustration are preset “exciting” moments where a platform will crumble away as you grab it, often meaning you are set back a bit or get to resume your climbing from a different direction. The implementation of these is lazy and honestly kind of insulting.

A new feature is found in the rope, which you can use to hook unto context-sensitive beams and sling from them. I admit it’s kind of exciting when you are sliding down a muddy path and see a steep drop coming in, only to grab your rope and sling to a safe platform. The issue is that, like with everything else in the platforming, there is barely any challenge involved. The only way to fail at using the rope is to not notice the game giving you the prompt that there is a nearby beam you can use it on.

Uncharted shooting

The combat is left as the game’s saving grace, but gets very little room to shine between walking around, flashback scenes, and platforming. The gunplay is still excellent and the enemy AI puts up a great challenge. Here the rope is actually used quite well, as you can sling in combat and knock enemies silly by landing on them. Stealth has also seen an update since Uncharted 2, as enemies now have an awareness meter that fills up as you are in line-of-sight and details when they are investigating (yellow) and when they are raising an alert (orange). So long as it isn’t orange, you can do all sorts of stealth takedowns.

While this is neat, I must say that this is honestly just implementing genre standards that should have already been in Uncharted 2 to begin with. Stealth is also a little too easy, with enemies being unable to see you even while standing right in front of you, simply because you are kneeling in tall grass. During combat I also often found enemies losing sight of me and immediately giving up to return to their patrols, even if I was just gone for a few seconds to attempt a flanking move. Hand-to-hand fights are also downgraded going from Uncharted 3 and a boss fight against one of the villains, in particular, was absolutely terrible, as it’s a QTE-filled fistfight that still has you get beaten up and lose the same way, regardless of whether you press buttons or not.

Uncharted puzzle

To end this segment on some praise, I will admit that the puzzles this time around were fun to solve. They weren’t as obnoxious as some in the past and most required some clever thinking, with the notebook now serving more as a way to record hints you find yourself, rather than flat-out spoiling the solution. Still, I found playing through Uncharted 4 a mostly obnoxious and boring affair. I was hammering through platforming bits constantly hoping the next fight would already break out and each time I was forced into a flashback scene I just had to put the game down for a bit.

Gameplay score: 4/10

Nathan’s muddy butt

There is no denying that Uncharted is a beautiful game, it’s just that I don’t really care about its particular goals in terms of presentation. There was a bit on an island where I was tasked with climbing a tower and once at the top you could overlook it and see the richly detailed island filled with trees and surrounded by the seas. Some might say this is stunning, the characters were surely eager to point out how fantastic everything looks, it’s just that I don’t care about realistic-looking scenery like this. I just wanted to get up the tower, do what I had to do, and get on with the game again. I am not one for taking in the virtual sights like that.

Uncharted rope.jpg

Still, even sticking to the linear path there were a few cool moments. I enjoyed a scene where you had to dive underwater to salvage some stuff, that looked really great and colorful. The animations, particularly during cutscenes, are also great, and when you see characters talking with each other it really gives that movie-like vibe the games seek to emulate.

The voice acting also maintains the series’ high standard for character dialogue, with Troy Baker appearing as Drake’s recovered brother. The highly-experienced Laura Bailey also appears as the newly-introduced South African mercenary Nadine and the relatively obscure TV star Warren Kole does a great job as this entry’s main bad guy.

Presentation score: 7/10

To the attic with it

Nothing worth mentioning. Once again the game offers extras in the form of random treasures you can find when going off the beaten path. There is no real reward for getting these except for achievements and for completion. I picked them up when I ran into them by accident, but wouldn’t have bothered searching for them otherwise. A moment that stood out was when I spotted a treasure in a locked jail cell, with its neighbor having a massive hole in the dividing wall. Except when I got there, I wasn’t allowed to actually go through the hole, the game just didn’t register it and wouldn’t let me proceed. Moments like that just utterly kill my motivating to even bother with collectibles entirely.

Extras score: 3/10

Verdict

If you enjoy seeing cutting-edge graphics and being able to control the characters as they partake in action scenes so cinematic you’d almost think they are cutscenes, then you are probably already a fan of the series by now and don’t need my opinion on it. As somebody that is more invested in gameplay mechanics and likes to figure out complex systems and controls, I find the simplistic nature of the game obnoxious and often frustrating. Add in a story that squanders its few highlights on a cast of dull characters and it’s not a game I’d recommend getting for anything but a bargain bin price.

47/100

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