The makers of The Last Of Us push the PS4 to its limits, with one of the best action games you’ve ever seen.
It’s impossible to understate just how amazing Uncharted 4 looks. It’s not just that the graphics are technically impressive; it’s the size and solidity of the game world they create, the almost perfectly realised characters, and the incredible cinematic timing of both the gameplay and the cut scenes. Technology will outdate it sooner or later but it’s the unparalleled craftsmanship that makes Uncharted 4 one of the most astonishing visual experiences in all gaming. Although it helps that it also plays pretty well too…
Although there is a remaster trilogy collection on PlayStation 4, many Xbox 360 owners will have missed out on the original Uncharted games. As such they’re just as likely to know developer Naughty Dog for The Last Of Us as anything else (or perhaps they remember them for Crash Bandicoot, which has a surprising cameo in Uncharted 4). The basic third person gameplay is similar to The Last Of Us, except instead of a zombie apocalypse Uncharted deals with a more light-hearted Indiana Jones style action adventure.
You don’t need to have played the previous games to get to grips with this new one, as there’s no continuing storyline and only a few returning characters. The plot is also extremely straightforward: regular lead Nathan ‘Nate’ Drake is a semi-retired treasure hunter who, thanks to his brother Sam, becomes embroiled in a quest to find the mother of all pirate treasure hordes. Although we have to say we never found Sam as much fun as series regulars Sully and Elena, and we resented the decreased screen time they’re given as a result.
When the first Uncharted was released it was nicknamed ‘Dude Raider’, and it’s true that the gameplay is built on the same three pillars as Lara Croft’s adventures: platforming, puzzle-solving, and combat. The latter has come under considerable criticism in previous games but it’s much improved in Uncharted 4, even as Naughty Dog dials down its frequency. It’s still not as good as the genre’s best – thanks to the somewhat unreliable cover system – but aiming is now much more precise and weapons finally have the requisite amount of kick.
If anything the platforming is now the predominate gameplay mechanic, especially with the introduction of a new grappling hook, but it’s also the most simplistic. But then nothing in the game is especially difficult, including the puzzles, and this seems very purposeful. Uncharted 4 takes the opposite approach to something like Dark Souls, in that it’s not testing your skill but is instead constantly rewarding your participation. Something it can do effortless when simply exploring the environment ranks as one of the most memorable gameplay experiences of the current generation.
From the perspective of both technical achievement and art direction Uncharted 4 is absolutely stunning. We’ve no idea, or interest, in how the game is able to generate such visuals but the experience of playing through it borders on the surreal. It feels like you’re walking through a richly detailed painting rather than a virtual environment, every vista and every inch of terrain polished to perfection in a way that seems impossible given the huge size of the game.
Uncharted 4 is ruthlessly linear, even if it is exceptionally good at hiding the fact, but as with all the game’s would-be flaws Naughty Dog use this entirely to their advantage. The temptation to spoil the best set pieces is almost overwhelming, but all we’ll say is that the chapters set on Madagascar may be the most consistently thrilling few hours we’ve played in any modern video game. This includes one of the game’s best puzzle sequences, a pseudo open world section that looks so incredible you’d swear it was running on a PlayStation 5, and what we consider to be one of the greatest video game action sequences ever made.
The latter has been spoiled to a degree by the game’s E3 stage demo, but the actual experience of playing it far exceeds just passively watching. Many times in the past we’ve used the example of the truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark (one of our favourite cinematic action sequences) to illustrate the difference between how games and movies approach action. The fixed mechanics of a video game make it almost impossible to replicate the apparently improvised action of a good movie set piece, and yet Uncharted makes it seem almost effortless.
Describing something as draw-dropping is a horrible cliché, but that sequence in particular is going to lead to more saliva spillage and accidental fly swallowing than any video game before it.
The only thing approaching a flaw with the graphics is the jagged shadows, which seem to be an intractable limitation of current generation technology. But while the visuals are almost faultless Uncharted 4 does have issues elsewhere, even if the sheer spectacle of the game reduces most of them to mere nit-picks.
Beneath all the clever camouflage none of the gameplay elements have much depth or variety to them, and the stealth in particular suffers from being too simplified – as you curse the fact that you can’t create an audible distraction or drag bodies into hiding. And while the puzzles are already pretty easy, even turning off game hints doesn’t stop characters or visual clues from giving away the solution almost instantly.
There’s also some pacing issues, as you begin to recognise the game’s rhythm of alternating platforming, puzzle-solving, and combat one after the other in increasingly predictable fashion. This does help some moments, such as the Madagascar chase, to stand out even more, but for an experience that lasts the best part of 20 hours a good argument can be made that the game is simply too long. Or at least that it doesn’t find anything sufficiently interesting to do with its story over that length of time.
The plot is patently absurd, and although there are some good character moments here and there the story never amounts to anything beyond an old-fashioned adventure yarn. Which is not a complaint in itself, but since nobody is able to use the language of action cinema as well as Naughty Dog it’s a little frustrating that they still haven’t found anything very profound to say with it. The ending of The Last Of Us came close, but Uncharted 4 never attempts anything as narratively daring.
And that’s also perfectly fine. Apart from a couple of ponderous cut scenes, and a few too many platforming sections, this is an almost perfect action game. It’s easily the best Uncharted, it’s the best marriage of cinematic and video game action since Resident Evil 4, and it has graphics so good that the most common reason for dying is because you were just standing there gawping at the scenery.
And on top of the game’s lengthy single-player campaign is the series’ surprisingly good multiplayer. We’ve only had a few opportunities to try this out pre-launch, but the tighter combat and the use of the grappling hook usefully expands the range of tactics. As do a range of magic abilities (none of which are used in the main game) and upgradeable characters.
Whatever disappointment people may have had with the current generation of consoles up till now Uncharted 4 marks the spot at which those hopes and expectations are finally met. Which takes our excitement for what Naughty Dog might do next almost off the chart.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
In Short: An incredible technical achievement but also one of the most cleverly crafted and most cinematic action games ever made.
Pros: The best graphics ever in a console game. Incredible cinematic presentation and brilliantly orchestrated action sequences. Excellent voice-acting and surprisingly good multiplayer.
Cons: There’s little depth to either the gameplay or the storytelling, even if that doesn’t matter in the context of the overall experience. Some minor pacing issues.
Formats: PlayStation 4
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 10th April 2016
Age Rating: 16
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