Uncharted has been a series that has consistently kept my hands gripped on the controller, ready to jump at a moment’s notice, as series hero Nathan Drake is sliding down a wall or floor from a crumbling building, or lost his grip scaling a cliff side after it was decimated by a rocket launcher or just fell apart from centuries of decay. While Uncharted 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel for the series, relying on gameplay mechanics used since the debut of the series in 2007, it does deliver on visuals, as not only the best looking game by the studio yet, but that of the best looking video game ever created, regardless of any platform.
Nathan Drake and his series co-stars, Victor Sullivan and his now wife, Elena Fisher, are back in the finale to the treasure seeking franchise. Having been retired from the adventuring lifestyle for a few years now, Nathan has taken a job with a diving company, pulling cargo and various wrecks from the ocean floor. It is only when approached by his once-thought-dead older brother that Nathan is forced back in the game to not only protect his older brother from a deadly criminal, but to unlock a treasure that the two have spent a great deal of their lives trying to uncover. Even though the main focus of the game is built upon the aspect of discovering some long lost pirate treasure, the real narrative to this game is one of family. You’ll journey back to see the two as younger siblings during their childhood, trying to discover information about their mother. The revelations of her past will shape their future, and their race to discover this treasure will be one of a dream fulfilled.
Sam isn’t the only new character introduced in Uncharted 4, as there is also Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, your main antagonists. Rafe is an old friend of both Nathan and Sam with an interest in the same treasure that the Drake brothers are looking to uncover, and Nadine is merely the mercenary muscle to make that happen. The amount of detail that went into the characters is staggering. Every eyebrow raised, mouth moved, hand gesture or what-have-you, is leagues above the rest of the industry, and even that of the movie industry as Uncharted 4 is doing this in real time, and not pre-rendered like a Hollywood animated film. The texture quality of each of the characters here is in extremely high resolution, with characters realistically sweating, displaying emotion and even Nathan’s chest hair will sway in the wind, the detail here is insane.
Developer Naughty Dog, since the original Uncharted, has used their voice actors to actually act out scenes in the game while dressed up in equipment used to track their facial features and body movement. This mean that the performances you see in game are that of a real person in every aspect that a live action film would convey. Nolan North, Troy Baker, Richard McGonagle, Emily Rose, Warren Kole and Laura Bailey, who play Nathan, Sam, Sully, Elena, Rafe and Nadine, respectively, embody their characters with a bit of themselves. If you take a listen to my recording of the Nolan North panel from 2016’s Calgary Expo, Nolan mentions that his own son was surprised that not only did Nathan Drake sound like Nolan, but that he moved like him too. The character animation here is filled with big elaborate actions and subtle nuances that show just how much care the developer had with creating real believable characters.
While the characters themselves are incredibly detailed, the same goes with the locations you run around in. From Italy to Scotland, Panama to Madagascar, each are given a level of polish that has yet to be seen in video games. The deep jungles have so much going on that you can get lost in its detail. Lush vegetation is everywhere and character’s footsteps react realistically when treading through deep mud, or when wading through tall grass. There isn’t a single pixel out of place when viewing and admiring these locales, as each nook and cranny is bursting at the seams with detail. As you explore your surroundings, you’ll uncover various treasures, and while not as impressive as the ones in the Uncharted 3 remaster, they are fun to find and serve as currency for unlocking alternative outfits to play through the campaign in. Most games have issues with displaying clean visuals and usually have graphical anomalies or jagged lines due to resolution problems. Uncharted 4 is a technical masterpiece in this regard as nearly everything is pixel perfect. I say nearly, because any instance of baggy clothes just isn’t handled as well as the more tight fitting outfits are. Thankfully, there isn’t much time devoted to these outfits, but honestly, that is about it for anything that doesn’t impress on a visual level.
Uncharted 4 doesn’t change much when it comes to how it plays in relation to the prior games in the series aside from giving Nathan a grappling hook and how melee works this time around. I didn’t feel that the melee system was as intuitive as the prior games and felt like a last resort when in combat. I pretty much limited my melee to the stealth strikes you pull off when hiding around a corner, against cover, or hidden in the tall grass or vegetation. The grappling hook is used consistently and becomes a much needed method of getting around. Whenever characters would get separated by a distance higher than a boost or a jump, I found it odd that they didn’t just let down a line of rope and pull the other character up. This glaring concept is frustrating, especially at a late stage in the game when Nathan is separated by a mere 15 feet from those with him.
When not initiating fist-a-cuffs with the mercenary soldiers, you have a plethora of weapons to choose from. Pistols, assault rifles, light machine guns, shotguns, both rocket and grenade launchers fill out your selection and you’ll find rare versions of these that can easily turn the tide of battle. The grenade launcher, China Lake, is a blast (no pun intended..) to use and was always in my inventory when I came across one. The more revolver based pistols are incredibly fun to single shot enemies that it became almost an obsession to solely use these when I could. You will also get to use a chain gun when certain enemies would drop it, and it’s extremely satisfying when encountering large numbers of foes.
Once you make it to Madagascar, you’ll be introduced to the utility Jeep. Where prior games in the series had mostly linear lanes to operate a vehicle, Uncharted 4 gives you a huge amount of freedom to drive around their gorgeous locations. While there are segments of the game that do have that linear structure, they are few and far between. I found several different paths to take in the game, finding areas in different order than most, and while some sections have a singular path to take, how I got there was up to me. You can also use the Jeep as a weapon, as I ran over my fair share of enemies, knocking one over a cliff to my extreme satisfaction. If there is too steep of an incline, the Jeep has a winch that serves as a way to traverse said road block and as a way to solve a few puzzles later on. The cable used for the winch is an achievement in gaming, as it realistically wraps around a tree with a natural curve, devoid of any flat edges. These driving segments are fun, have great dialogue, and offer a bit of refreshing change from the environmental parkour the series is known for.
This type of parkour is here and is as nail biting as it ever was. Making big leaps from cliff to cliff is still met with a bit of forgiving realism as Nathan’s fingers of steel will grab on to wherever it can lead him. Unlike the prior games, there isn’t as much of a jerky transition from some of the quick movements you’ll make here as you hang on for dear life trying to figure out where to grab onto next. While most areas are marked heavily, or telegraphed in such a way that your path is predictable, it can still be an intense situation when a fire breaks out or some great danger is limiting the time you have to make it to safety.
The puzzles that you come across are remarkably well designed. Each puzzle can be a bit of challenge, but none of them feel impossible. There is a lot of symbols used in the game and most puzzles utilize this. I really enjoyed the wheel puzzle, as you had to line up sections around the pieces to connect them. Any puzzle you come across is well documented in Nathan’s journal, so if you do get stuck on any particular part of the solution, there are usually helpful hints written in there. Most of them are fairly straight forward, like lighting up the sections on a wall with beams of light, rotating circles sections on a wall to line up crosses with one another or using light and symbols to unlock a door.
Once you are done exploring caves, ruins and other various locations in the campaign, you can take that experience online with up to 10 players. The basic controls are the same here and can be explored in a variety of different modes. You have everything here from team deathmatch, Plunder, which is essentially capture the flag, or in this case, a relic, and a king of the hill type mode called Command. As you wage war on other players, you have challenges to complete that earn you upgrade currency. This is used to purchase a variety of items to customize your experience. I used my points to purchase the grab bag items, giving me a selection of outfits and new characters to jump online with. You can also buy with real money a different currency that speeds you further to collecting what you want. I used my supplied points from the Limited Edition, as well as some given to me as a reward in-game, to buy Chloe Frazer, a favorite character of mine. There is no pay to win component here as everything is merely cosmetic, granting you different characters, outfits and hats. I found the team balancing to be fairly decent as no game I played was any type of a blowout. It’s entertaining, well put together, but I tend to play games more for PVE than PVP.
Regardless if it’s a huge action scene or a quiet moment on a cliff side, taking in the views, you can capture these moments in the game’s built in photo mode. Easily triggered with the L3 and R3 buttons, you can pause gameplay and affect the scene in a plethora of different effects, filters or removing the characters entirely if you just really want a shot of the scenery. I must have taken at least 200 pictures throughout the campaign, moving the camera to get the best shot, or pulling it back to get a wide view of the gorgeous environments. Some scenes won’t allow you to move the camera, but most moments will allow it. It’s a great feature that I wish more games would implement.
While Uncharted 4 is nearly flawless in much of what is here, there is one part of the game that I felt extremely lacking, and that is the final boss encounter. While I won’t reveal the context or what this encounter is to the story, the way in which you interact with the fight is just poorly designed. What could have been a fun action sequence with you at the controls of Nathan’s movements, is merely a dressed up quick time event sequence that just isn’t very fun. I love the fight; don’t get me wrong, as the scene is crucial to not only Nathan and his adventure, but that of the history regarding what they find. It’s easily my favorite last encounter of the series narratively speaking, but the worst in the series for the way you control it. I seriously lucked my way through it, as my 135 deaths in the game are mostly from trying to overcome this battle.
It was announced long ago that Uncharted 4 would be the finale to the story of Nathan Drake, that it would be hard pressed to further the series with him. This lead to a lot of speculation of whether or not Nathan would make it out alive. I will say that Uncharted 4 not only serves as a great farewell to the series, but to that of Nathan Drake as well. Not only does the game end beautifully, its epilogue is a stroke of genius that ends the game in a way I never even thought possible. It’s definitely a moment you do not want spoiled for you, so make sure not to check out various Let’s Plays on YouTube or opening up any art books, like the one that comes with the Limited Edition, save that view for later.
Uncharted 4 is not only the best looking title on this current generation of console hardware; you’d be hard pressed to find a better looking title on PC. The detail, character animations and crisp and clear environments are beyond beautiful and offer a level of craftsmanship that is staggering. I’ve replayed sections of the character interactions just to get a better look at the subtle detail in their faces and my jaw drops every time. While Uncharted 4 doesn’t quite surpass my love for the second game in the series, it is leaps and bounds better visually than the entire series. Uncharted 4 is a technical show piece that has to be seen to be believed. While great visuals don’t always make a great game, because well, look at The Order: 1886, Uncharted 4 backs it up with solid gameplay, brilliant writing and an air of subtly that borders on the insane. Uncharted 4 is a solid finale to a one of gaming’s greatest franchises and a wonderful send off to Nathan, Elena and Sully.
Bravo, Naughty Dog, Bravo.