Since the inception of the games industry, developers have dreamed of making games that provide a genuinely cinematic experience yet remain fun to play – and Sony and Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise might just have got closer to achieving that holy grail than any other. But nothing is permanent, particularly in this day and age, and Uncharted 4 will be the franchise’s last hurrah. Happily for PlayStation 4 devotees, it gives Nathan Drake a fittingly epic send-off. Uncharted 4 sucks you in like a really good film, takes you on a very meaty and satisfying journey and even adds extra replay value into the mix with a multiplayer mode which is considerably more appealing than that of Uncharted 3.
The joy of video games as opposed to celluloid is that they can extend way beyond two hours, and Naughty Dog has taken full advantage of that fact with Uncharted 4. So, apart from wrapping up Nathan Drake’s story, it chucks his origin story into the mix. That’s partly because it features Sam Drake, Nathan’s older brother, whose existence was never even hinted at in previous Uncharted games. It also means that Uncharted 4 starts more slowly than its predecessors, with a flash-forward to a late stage of its story followed by a quasi-tutorial in which you play a young Nathan, which introduces some of the new mechanics which have been added to the game.
Chief among those are stealth – given that one key element of Uncharted games has always been third-person cover-shooting, Nathan has always been able to hide behind walls and the like, but Uncharted 4 adds areas of long grass and vegetation in which he can completely (and automatically) conceal himself. Don’t expect Metal Gear Solid-style stealth, though: Uncharted 4 is as forgiving and flattering to its players as any of its predecessors (until you crank up the difficulty), and its stealth element lacks the extreme rigour of games that major on stealth. But being able to mark enemies when Nathan is over-run, creep around and take them out unnoticed comes in pretty handy at certain points.
Another key innovation for Uncharted 4 – which meshes so beautifully you wonder why Naughty Dog didn’t add it before – for Uncharted 4 gives Nathan a grapple. He can only attach it to designated points, but it lets him execute huge rope-swings across seemingly unbridgeable areas, and launch himself at hand-holds with a considerable amount of momentum. In other words, it adds to the swoopy satisfaction at nailing a death-defying leap which has always constituted a major part of Uncharted’s appeal.
Uncharted 4 also contains driving sequences, which led some to speculate that in its last incarnation, the franchise was in danger of losing its identity. Such fears prove utterly unfounded: it hasn’t suddenly become an open-world game, so you’re pretty guided around when you’re at the wheel, by the terrain, more than anything. And the driving sequences are more concerned with throwing puzzles in your path than anything else. As ever, Uncharted 4 has some top-notch (although never too head-scratching) puzzles to solve, very much in the Tomb Raider vein. As ever, vertiginous climbs are to the fore – none of the gameplay elements that Uncharted 4 adds in any way detract from its core mechanics.
Story-wise, Uncharted 4 nails it: since chronologically, it’s the last in the series, its general tone is more mature and less frothy than previously, and the way in which Nathan’s character has been imbued with considerably more maturity than in the earlier iterations rings true. The arrival of Sam Drake offers all manner of storyline diversions and visits to typically exotic locations – all of which Naughty Dog has taken. But if one were to criticise one aspect of the game, it would be the interminable nature of its ending: Naughty Dog clearly underwent all manner of agonising over how to wrap up the legend of Nathan Drake.
The multiplayer offers solid if unspectacular third-person cover-shooting, with the grapple adding an interesting action element. Don’t, again, expect the same rigour as you would find in a specialist multiplayer cover-shooter, though: as with the main game, it offers a gameplay experience which is arcade-style rather than hardcore, except since it’s online, you will always come up against obsessive players who learn every inch of the maps and swipe the best weapons. But overall, it offers an extra way to while away some time, rather than a compelling reason to buy the game.
But there’s plenty of replay value in Uncharted 4. After the first play-through, you not only unlock all the outfits for all the characters, so can force them to play the game in amusingly inappropriate attire, but you also unlock a selection of bizarre graphical filters that, for example, turn it into a cel-shaded game. And Naughty Dog hasn’t stinted on the difficulty levels.
Uncharted 4, then, is pretty much what we all hoped it would be: meaty, action-packed, involving, great to behold and the source of much satisfaction as you figure out puzzles, nail jaw-dropping acrobatic manoeuvres and take down the bad guys (although the final battle, it must be said, proves to be disappointingly clunky). It should be the source of some pretty major bragging rights for PlayStation 4 owners, and it’s genuinely sad to see Nathan Drake exiting the treasure-hunting game. Although it will be intriguing to find out what Naughty Dog does next.