By Yummylee 19 Comments
For such a wholly iconic franchise throughout videogamedom, it's funny to consider how there's only really the one entry that set the world afire with a contagious level of joy and happiness. I'm sure I don't even need to specify which one it's such a prevalently held opinion that it's the best - and by a significant margin. Sure, Uncharted 3 has its fans, but it's disingenuous to claim otherwise that it has about as many detractors as it does supporters. And Drake's Fortune can unfortunately only be recognised as a time capsule of the early years of the PS3. It had its moment of fame no doubt about it--I certainly invested a lot of positive emotions to my time playing it--but that it hasn't aged very well is putting it mildly. There's also Golden Abyss, to which I haven't played myself (along with the majority of Uncharted fans I'm sure) due to its stubborn exclusivity on the Vita. However that too didn't attract a lot of gracious buzz--least not to my knowledge--and is barely brought up whenever it comes time for the other three titles to butt heads in order to take the crown.
Psst, it's Uncharted 2. Uncharted 2 has the crown, and it's one that it's held on to rather assuredly for the past seven (!!!) years. And yet, here we are with Uncharted 4, and now suddenly Uncharted 2's crown doesn't seem as safe as it once was. To put it bluntly, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is bladdy awesome.
Leading up to release, there was a lot of speculation as to what sort of shape Nathan Drake's finale would form. Uncharted 4 is birthed into a post-The Last of Us world, and Naughty Dog and what they represent has perhaps shifted gears a little. Would Uncharted 4 be more darker? Moodier? Quieter? ''Harrowing''? As it turns out, not really. Don't get me wrong, The Last of Us has certainly left its mark, but what I was rather surprised to discover was that Uncharted 4 is an Uncharted game through and through. This isn't Uncharted: The Last of Us edition, this is an Uncharted game complete with many of the improvements and lessons learned from its distant cousin, and what this has resulted in is an Uncharted that is recognisable, yet at the same time not. It perhaps takes a little adjusting to try and notice the similarities - you need to look past the heavier-set, slightly more sombre expression on display to notice the traditional swashbuckling, high-octane action. But oh is it there!
Uncharted 4 positions itself as Nathan Drake's final farewell and what a farewell it is. Though while the game is great enough that it can stand on its own as well as any other Uncharted release, the nods and references to Nate's prior video game adventures made my heart sing. Chapter 4 in particular and the trip down memory lane via all of his mementos was wonderful to reflect back on - even if it hasn't actually been that long that I played these games courtesy of the Nathan Drake Collection. That Uncharted 4 is a little more 'grown up' than the previous games becomes apparent pretty quickly when we get to witness Nate living his life in a much different environment. That of the average family man, sitting at his work desk finishing paperwork, with a loving wife to share in his mundane, everyday escapades. With most video game action heroes picturing the male lead in a standard domestic lifestyle can seem difficult to fathom. The classic discussion involving the staff trying to envision how Marcus Fenix would spend his days outside of a war against rock monsters immediately comes to mind. Fortunately Nathan Drake is such a character that even in the face of the typical video game discrepancies characters such as he face--most importantly being his overall kill list and how his clambering/platforming abilities are that of a superhero--he still manages to appear like a relatable and most importantly real person. Seeing Nate at a desk or exploring his own home doesn't feel out of place, and helps to portray him with that much more humanity. He's not just a thrill-seeking, quip-spewing murder machine anymore. Now he's a thrill-seeking, quip-spewing murder machine with a desk job!
The aforementioned wife also naturally continues to be Elena Fisher, and the relationship between Nate & Elena as portrayed throughout the game is perhaps one of the overall highlights of the story. The Uncharted games have always been character driven, was was The Last of Us that followed, though Uncharted 4 is the first that attempts something else beyond the typical puckish rogue qualities of Drake and co. There's still plenty of that to enjoy, but there are also a number of interactions between the main cast that evoke the quiet intensity and drama that was expressed between Joel & Ellie before them. Getting to see Drake and... Elena Drake (seems so weird to call her that, though we also never hear her full name; maybe she's Elena Drake Fisher??) in the sort of environment to where they're shown eating on the couch before playing a modified version of Crash Bandicoot (wot) helps ground and mould their relationship into something approaching relatability. The performances of both Nolan North and Emily Rose, paired alongside the bewilderingly impressive facial capture, really sells these two characters and their emotions they direct at one another. They've both worked together across so many games at this point that it's impossible not for their interactions to feel so effortlessly natural. Drake loves Elena, and Elena loves Drake.
However Drake perhaps loves Elena too much - to the point where he condescendingly tries to shield his obvious desire to possibly return to his life of old. Elena professes that she doesn't want to stand in the way of his happiness and wishes for him to take on the job that's being offered to him by a friend, but the promise Drake had made in between Uncharted 3 & 4 is too much for him to openly break. He would rather go behind her back than admit his own weakness. Drake is a flawed human being, but it was only Uncharted 3 to where his obsession with treasure hunting was acknowledged and brought to the forefront. And in Uncharted 4 it almost comes to a head. But to be fair to him, he at least has a pretty good reason to be getting back into the game. That he very clearly happens to be enjoying himself is a fortunate bonus to the outcome.
Enter Sam Drake, the other core character of Uncharted 4. Sam was very clearly conceived during the brainstorming of Uncharted 4, but I think Naughty Dog (mostly) do a pretty good job in fitting him into the overall timeline. That Nate thought he was dead and gone gave no reason for him to be brought up - he represented a level of guilt that he didn't want to reflect back on, as he believes it's because of him that Sam 'died' amidst a firefight. Although his absence during the previous flashback of Nate's adolescent years in Uncharted 3 is rather peculiar. It'd be funny if ND decided to George Lucas a special edition with Sam occasionally appearing in the background somewhere. In any case, it's no surprise that Nate & Sam bounce well off of each other, what with them each being voiced by the two top voice acting heavy weights of video games. As with Elena, Nate naturally jives with Sam like two best buds trying to out quip one another. Part of this is perhaps because of incredibly similar they are - Sam essentially came across to me as Nate-pre Uncharted 4, or more specifically the selfish and foolhardy Nathan Drake of Uncharted 3, who kept putting everything on the line for the sake of his own adrenaline. In terms of personality, they both feel very in tune with one another. Which is perhaps intentional, given how Troy Baker essentially took to playing all of the roles Nolan North would perhaps voice. Despite this striking similarity, I thought Sam was a likeable guy, though the plot twist concerning his prison breakout (a bloody class action sequence by the by) was wholly predictable. That Sam had made up a debt he owed purely to rope Nate back into his life--consequences to his family life be damned--was screaming at me throughout the game. Sam's sly little laughs at whenever Nate would bring up the debt clued me really hard.
To be honest said twist was honestly a bit disappointing, because the crime lord guy was actually awfully intimidating. Robin Atkin Downes (who has been in every Uncharted as a different character) perfectly portrays the classical archetype of a criminal kingpin - as friendly and welcoming as can be at one moment, then completely cut-throat and terrifying the next. No better is this shown than when he hands Sam the water, only to snatch it away when he realises he's not exactly getting all of what he wants. Then when things go his way again, he picks Sam up with a jovial smile on his face, as if he's completely ignorant of the fact that he was the one that put him on the ground in the first place. Alas, that entire sequence was but a bit of creative writing courtesy of Sam's imagination...
Speaking of which, the effectiveness of the foils & villains of Uncharted games have always proven to be rather inconsistent, and sadly Uncharted 4 is no different even when disregarding scary druglord man. It does at least have a pretty memorable bad guy in the form of Rafe Adler, who comes across as the bastard child of Harry Flynn and Gabriel Roman. As with every other performance in this game, Warren Kole deserves his due praise for bringing his role that of an insecure little psychopath to life. My favourite scene of his would have to be set during the auction. We have everybody gussied up and dressed to impress, as Sully attempts to get a lay of the land by using his natural charms to talk his way whatever info he can concerning Rafe and his hired Mercenary leader Nadine's goals. Only for Rafe to just smack Sully's drink out of his hand in the middle of the crowd. It made Rafe seem impatient, and most importantly intimidating; here's a guy who doesn't give a single shit about making a scene, and lying underneath his well kept demeanor is somebody dangerously vicious. The bait and switch as the prison guard Vargas grabs his arms and threatens him, only to get stabbed in the neck by Rafe--with zero hesitation--before he's barely able to get a word out was another fantastic scene. This was during the prison flashback sequence of course, so Rafe hadn't yet become an antagonist and is technically an ally at this point funnily enough. But even if you weren't already aware that he was to be one of the villains, the scene with Vargas's death gives you a pretty good inkling that Rafe will bring about violent conflict as the story progresses.
His partner, Nadine Ross, doesn't fair as well. Which is supremely disappointing, because she has a Helluva intro with her kicking Nate's ass. Problem is beyond a couple of fantastic encounters--both of which involving her beating up the brothers Drake--she doesn't really... do anything during the story. The same can actually be said for Rafe to a lesser degree. Neither character makes very many appearances throughout the game. This can be said for the villains in previous games, but each one had a constant menace to be wary of. Drake's Fortune had the trash talking Eddy Raja, Uncharted 2 featured the smarmy wankery of Harry Flynn, and Uncharted 3 has a solid helping of antagonism via Talbot. All of three games featured three villains in total as well, but Uncharted 4 only has the two and both come across as feeling underused - again Nadine especially. Given the stronger focus towards the characters and their relationships with one another, it's a shame the villains couldn't have received a similar treatment. I think Rafe is a solid antagonist, but he's also essentially just a one-dimensional evil guy. And Nadine is literally just a hired thug who happens to be really good with her fists (and feet) and doesn't leave much of an impression otherwise. I was expecting Nadine to perhaps turn to the other side, and there are references throughout that hint at such an outcome. Though while she does of course turn her back on Rafe, it's at the very end, and it's only so as to let Nate & Rafe battle it out with cutlasses - which I considered to be a pretty solid ending boss for the record. And on a semi-related note, her facial expression to when Rafe slapped her was fucking golden. A very ''oh u dun fucked up big time son'' sort of reaction.
The story eventually comes full circle with Elena's return, once again just in the nick of time to save Nate's ass after the previously mentioned, and again predictable, twist concerning Sam. That the game sorta saves Elena in the holster until the final few chapters feel intentional - getting to once again listen to these two charmers back and forthing with one another is like a reward in and of itself. All the better given that they're a married couple, and so in between all of the wisecracks they'll get srsn bsn and try to mend their relationship after Drake's deceit. With both of them now side-by-side again, it's up to them to save Sam. Rescuing Sam feels as if both Nate & Elena are trying to rescue a part of themselves so to speak. As said before Sam is essentially Nate but without the family attachments, and both Nate & even Elena come to admit that they still enjoy the thrill of adventure. However their means to which they force such desires deep within is what lead to their relationship combusting, and so their saving of Sam to me is like they're 'recapturing' their thrill of the life, together as a couple. Which in Elena's case basically goes against her character progression in Uncharted 3, to which she really did seem like she was done with it all. In all honesty there are aspects of Uncharted 4 that appear desperate to pretend that Uncharted 3 never happened. That's obviously not the case, but I did get the impression in places...
I'm sure I'm likely in the minority in this one, but I was a little disappointed that there was no end game supernatural twist. It always manages to add a bit of extra colour and personality to the overall package; they give an extra allure of mystique to these already mysterious and illusive lost cities and artifacts they're hunting for. They typically serve as warnings that something so incredibly valuable naturally has an equally high price. Adding in zombie pirates or.. pirate ghosts or... man eating pirate ships or what have you wouldn't exactly have detracted from the tone of the game, either. Sure, there's a heavier helping of more personal moments on display, but Nate is still also 'self-defencing' his way through a horde of mercenaries and landing jumps and surviving falls that would kill any ordinary man. Uncharted isn't real life, and for the most part it doesn't try to be, so the lack of any supernatural shenanigans was frankly a bit of a letdown. Comon, who wouldn't have loved for Nate to stumble upon the eternal spirits of Sam Avery and Thomas Tew fighting a battle they're condemned to fight for all eternity?! Probably a few of you, but I think it would have been cool.
Action Bombast meets Walking Simulator
The playing of Uncharted 4 and what you do is treated to what is perhaps the biggest holdover from The Last of Us. A lot of the formula remains the same, with bombastic action and cover-based shooting, but there are also a lot of segments to where your aim is to simply wander around and enjoy the dialogue between Nate and his cohort. There's often a number of things you can press triangle on and then listen to Nate commentate on whatever it is, which can sometimes lead to some rather memorable character moments.Not the least of which being Nate & Sam pondering a life outside their treasure hunting inside the bar of a mythical, long-lost society. The second sequence where you follow the brothers Drake as kids feels very reminiscent of Left Behind in particular, complete with hats to put on and even a photograph to take. The 'exploring' aspects of this series have certainly come a long way from the days of that one sequence in 2 where you can explore a tibetan village. Honestly I quite liked these segments, too. Uncharted 4 is surprisingly lengthy, and so is able to compact all of the typical gung ho action alongside these quieter, slower paced sections. The reward isn't so much besting a combat encounter or nailing a jump, but to simply be wooed by the dialogue that's exchanged between such a likeable cast of characters.
Though the shooting is still here of course, and it's actually pretty damn good. I'm someone that considers Uncharted 2 to be a legitimately OK shooter - it's hardly the best in the business, but it works well within the overall framework. Uncharted 4's shooting however is a significant notch above all of the previous games. The controls are silky smooth and everything about transitioning from one action to the next feels effortless and fluid. It can now thusly stand firm and perform toe-to-toe with the shooting of the Tomb Raider reboot, and (for my money) has overall put those games back in their place as the also rans they are... I kid, I actually still really like Rise of the Tomb Raider in particular, but my heart most certainly aligns with Uncharted 4 between the two. In any case, the shooting in Uncharted 4 is a lot of fun. The immediate reaction I had to sum it up was that it's fast and furious. This may be a cover-based shooter, but cover is seemingly always highly destructible, forcing you to quickly look elsewhere to hunker down for a few more seconds before that inevitably crumbles. The feedback of the shooting is extremely satisfying also, and unlike the bullet sponges of Uncharted 3 enemies go down pretty swiftly - even the armoured enemies can't withstand too much punishment, much like how they were in Uncharted 2.
The stealth has been given a slightly keener focus also, which I appreciate. The ability to tag enemies is a particularly wondrous addition that just about every shooter of this type should include. That there's also a cone that quickly fills up above a guard to signify how close they are at spotting is another smart addition. Now for as often as you can hide in knee high bushes, Uncharted 4 isn't really a stealth game. The stealth instead exists as a means to thin the herd before chaos erupts - and chances are high it will. That's not to say you can't stealth your way through encounters completely--I can attest to this personally--but relying exclusively on stealth can get to be a little boring. For all of the necks I'll gleefully snap in silence, sometimes I'll instigate a shootout just to mix things up a little. It's a solid mix of action & stealth akin to the Far Cry games, and the much more expansive arenas gives you a lot of leeway in how you want to proceed. Uncharted has always flirted with the idea of including stealth from the very first one, but it's here that it's undoubtedly the most realised. I'm sure some would also point out the fact that enemies can now lose your trail and you can retreat back into stealth. To which I rambunctiously and outrageously must correct you! As you may be surprised to learn that such AI patterns have existed since Uncharted 2!
What's more is the inclusion of a grappling hook, which works to the game's favour both in and out of combat. The environments in general are now much more spacious, which means you can potentially use your grappling hook to flank an entire section of the map - either to escape back into stealth or to simply move to a more advantageous position. Outside of combat the grappling hook fits in alongside Nate's other bag of traversal tricks. As always the traversal and platforming is pretty simple and not especially complicated, but it still manages to be fun all the same, not the least of which when swinging to and fro with your hook. It's an exhilarating thrill to be leaping off of cliffs, only to then effortlessly grapple onto a wooden beam and then soar through the sky and finally stick the landing.
Then there are the action set-pieces, some of which prove to be the series very best. Uncharted 4's own convoy sequence (of which featured in both 2 & 3 before it) is probably my favourite part of the whole game. Unfortunately for some this was a set-piece they revealed in a trailer, to which I luckily decided to skip. Seeing and playing it myself in person suddenly reveals what all the fuss was about when it was in its non-interactive form. It combines the traversal (including the grappling hook) alongside the gunplay perfectly, with you first being dragged through the mud, slowly climbing your way to the truck, only to then engage in a pure adrenaline-fueled game of hopscotch as you leap from truck to jeep to truck, all in the hopes of catching up with Sam. Another particular highlight goes to the clock tower - you climb up this huge and elaborate structure, and once you reach the top and must ring the bell, the entire thing predictably collapses and crumbles beneath you. It was all so beautifully absurd to witness that I couldn't help but laugh out loud amidst it all. There may be a lot of smaller, slower-paced moments than any other previous Uncharted, but when Uncharted 4 decides to go big, it goes ginormous.
The vehicle segments made for a pleasant surprise also, for the most part. The section that has you driving throughout Madagascar really sold me on the concept of a ND-developed open world game, but at the same time while I relished the chance to explore such a vast location, there isn't really much reason to beyond some collectables. Furthermore, the lack of any kind of map really decentives you to actually explore in the first place. Nonetheless, the driving handling and physics are well done, and I enjoyed listening to the conversations between the three leading lads of Nate, Sam, and Sully. Should you leave the jeep mid-conversation, that they'll all then pick up right where they left off complete with the storyteller first trying to naturally remember their place was rather impressive also.
What is undoubtedly Uncharted 4's greatest achievement goes to the overall production. Uncharted 4, in case it wasn't already obvious, is a visually stunning video game. I always balk at the notion of jokingly referring to Naughty Dog as Wizards... but for a game to look like this, running at a solid framerate, on a console like the PS4? Nothing short of magic. The environments are all so painfully and meticulously detailed, and I feel like you barely go five minutes before there's another wondrous vista that's just asking for you to take a screenshot. The attention to detail concerning Nate is just as regaling, as he naturally acquires mud and dirt all over his clothes, and the animation work perfectly portrays a level of weight and groundedness to Nate's movements that is unlike the previous games. And man, Uncharted 4 probably has some of the best looking grenade explosions I've ever seen.
The voice acting is also of course top notch, with everybody bringing their A-game. From the classic cast members to new arrivals, everybody is on point with their character, and the astonishingly well done facial expressions pair with the voice work to enhance the performances even further than any of ND's previous catalogue. It's simply put a tour de force for the eyes (and ears) and, much like how Drake's Fortune still looks rather fetching to this day, will be able to stand the test of time for years to come.
Officially The Happiest Ending Ever
The marketing for this game was... odd. They were clearly trying to set up the idea that tragedy was inbound. The darker motif, Nate lookin' all worrisome and sad on the front cover, ''a thief's end'', and there's even a dynamic theme that's advertised within the Uncharted 4 PSN page that depicts Nate surrounded by fire and treasure, called ''Was it worth it?''. A certain message was being sent to potential players, one that spelt a possible loss - Elena, Sully, Sam? Maybe Nate would become crippled, thus forcing his retirement from treasure hunting. Maybe Nate & Sam would end up at each other's throats and the treasure would tear them apart similar to the outcome with the pirates they're both trailing Sam Avery and Thomas Tew?
...Nah, Nate & Elena actually come away with some treasure for once (well, disregarding that haul from Drake's Fortune that seemed to have been expended awfully quickly), enough to start funding their own legitimate expeditions. Also they have a house on the beach, a daughter (exploring an empty house as a blonde child seemed so eerily familiar, but maybe that's just me), a dog, and despite being set 12 or so years post-Uncharted 4 Nate's father figure is still alive?? Now, I should add that I don't have a problem with this, because this an Uncharted game. Nate deserves a happy ending, and I'm glad he got one! But at the same time, why all of the doom and gloom? Is it because they wanted to really put forth the idea that this is a more 'mature' Uncharted? Because nothing equates to seriousness quite like misery!.. I don't say that to mock certain proclamations about Uncharted's tone - this is indeed a slightly more sombre story with character motivations and interactions beyond ''TREASUUUUREEE!''. But at the same time, this is an Uncharted game through and through, and the story--for as great as it is--is still within the same realms of simplicity of the previous games. Uncharted 3 attempted to do a little more with its storytelling, to which fell flat on its on face, but fortunately Uncharted 4 nails the landing perfectly. This is a game that truly does get to have its cake and eat it, too. It features all of the same hallmarks of an Uncharted game, while also including a few added sprinkles of relatable drama and emotion. The quips go hand-in-hand with the tears and mournful glances, and even though i think people are building the tone of the game up a bit too much (which feels born from the desperate desires for video games to be taken as seriously as other mediums), it's still a brilliantly engaging story that kept me glued to the screen.
For years I considered Uncharted 3 to be one of the most disappointing games of its generation. And although I may have warmed up to it a skosh, I'm glad Uncharted 4 was able to come along and provide the finale Uncharted deserved. Or... in another way of putting it, to provide the sequel Uncharted 2 deserved.
This is assuredly Nathan Drake's final adventure, but is it the final Uncharted? ND left themselves a pretty glaring opening to potentially continue on with the escapades of Sam & Sully. Although frankly I don't want to spend too much time pondering the future of Uncharted just yet. For the time being I just want to continue to revel and stew in Uncharted 4's greatness. It feels only appropriate given how long the game is - its lengthy escapades consisting of nothing but walking around listening to the characters talk incentivises you to stop and really take a look at your surrounding; to immerse yourself in the adventure, and despite completing the game I don't want to move on just yet. I want to think back on all of the moments that'll morph into memories and ultimately nostalgia. I want to look back on the entire series--both the ups & downs--and remember where I was when playing each individual adventure. And when all that's done, I'll probably wanna give it another playthrough.
...That or play Doom.
Additional Miscellaneous Thoughts
- Young Sam looks and sounds like some sort of greaser from Brooklyn.
- I also really like how Sam calls Nate 'Nathan'. I myself have a younger brother called Bradley, to whom I refer to as such rather than Brad.
- If there's one particular TLoU influence I could have done without it's the amount of lugging conveniently located crates around. Though it was funny during that one moment when you're split up and can (I assume) wait for Sam to drop a crate, or can use an alternate route to reach him complete with his surprise upon your arrival.
- Certain pieces of the music that erupts during combat distinctly sounds like something from Pirates of The Caribbean. Fitting considering the overtly piratical themes of the game.
- Elena looks real badass in her crimson tank top, hafta admit.
- Pretty disappointed Cutter didn't factor anywhere beyond a single reference. Still sore about his premature departure during Uncharted 3.
- Why the Hell does Elena own an original PS1?? It's not even a slim! You can play PS1 games on your PS3 y'know!
- Uncharted 4 without a doubt features the best puzzling of the series. I genuinely quite enjoyed solving the painting puzzle, as well as the one nearing the end where you have to make your way across the grids without exploding.