UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END
Console: Playstation 4
Start Date: October 26, 2016
End Date: October 30, 2016
Guess what? I got myself a Playstation 4! Specifically, I got this Playstation 4, which came bundled with a disc copy of Naughty Dog‘s Uncharted 4. I chose this bundle because it seemed to be the best buy for my buck, not necessarily because I was super interested in owning Uncharted. I’ve played two of the previous games in this series (the second and third I think, but don’t quote me on that), and while I enjoyed my time with them, I found the overall experience to be pretty shallow and forgettable.
My memory of the story and characters from previous games was pretty vague, and pretty much amounted to this: Nathan Drake is a treasure-hunting explorer who has Scrooge McDuck-esque adventures in exotic locations, and he also has an old man he hangs out with, and maybe a girlfriend too. So I was pretty surprised to find myself really captivated by the story this time around, and loving all the characters. Nathan is rarely alone during his adventures – he almost always has a companion by his side, whether it’s his long-suffering wife, his Launchpad McQuackian pilot friend, or his brother Sam.
These relationships are all wonderfully fleshed-out and feel as if they have a genuine history (which, since this is the fourth game in the series, they do). But it’s the dynamic between Nathan and Sam – his long-lost and presumed dead older brother – which takes focus here. The brothers’ backstory is told through a series of playable flashbacks, which culminates in a reunion that feels authentic and really tugs at the old heartstrings. So to sum up: Great characters, great story. So far, so good.
To keep on the positive tip: holy macaroni is this game beautiful! I mean, it’s one of the first games I’ve played on a “next-gen” system, so I understand that I am probably easy to impress at this point, but still – jesus christ! The gorgeous visuals often halted me in my tracks. Because sometimes, even when you’re hanging for dear life from the crumbling face an old clock tower, you just need to stop and take in the view.
Making your way through the lush jungles, creepy caves and bustling cities genuinely makes you feel like an adventurer, and all you want to do is explore these awesome locations. Unfortunately, in this game about an explorer, exploring is STRICTLY FORBIDDEN. The environments all look sprawling, but it is an illusion – this fucking game keeps you on an invisible straight line from beginning to end. Sometimes the game is generous enough to allow you a small explorable area immediately surrounding that straight line, but you never get more than a 100-foot radius or so to play in. Look, I don’t expect every game to have some huge open world, but I just don’t see the appeal in creating such beautiful 3D environments where all you’re allowed to do is walk from Point A to Point B over and over again. Add in the scripted events and the goddamn motherfucking Quick-Time bullshit and Uncharted just ends up feeling like a direction-following simulator.
The gameplay mechanic you encounter most often as you travel along your straight line is climbing shit. But unlike games like Assassin’s Creed, where you can pretty much climb anything at any time, Uncharted only allows you to climb on specific surfaces in specific ways. In fact, figuring out how to get from the bottom of something to the top is pretty much the crux of the game’s problem-solving. There’s generally only one possible route you can take, and it’s not always obvious where it is. In case you think I’m still complaining, let me clarify and say that this was my favorite part of the whole game! The controls for climbing are really cool – instead of just hitting a button to jump from handhold to handhold (as has been the case in past iterations of the series), now you use the analog stick to “reach” towards the next grabbable surface. Once your character’s hand is in the right spot, it just sort of clicks into place, and it feels great. The climbing can get a little repetitive at times (there are only so many ways a game can reuse the same tricks before they start to lose their luster), but for the most part its great fun.
The combat is also decent, although the way it’s structured within the larger game is really bizarre. Basically, the straight line occasionally spreads out into arena-like areas where you are forced to take down X amount of enemies before continuing. Platforming and combat segments are wholly segregated from each other, which feels really awkward and half-assed to me. If these segments had been fused together in a more natural way, the flow of the game would feel much tighter.
And that inelegant disconnect is pretty much how I felt about that game (and the series) as a whole. It’s so engaging visually and narratively, but so shallow, fragmented and cheap-feeling in terms of gameplay. But in spite of all these issues, I still had a good time making my way through the interactive movie that is Uncharted. I even met a lemur!
Near the beginning of Uncharted 4, there is a cute little scene where Nathan Drake and his wife are relaxing at home, messing around with a Playstation 1. In a fun little meta-mission, you – the player – are tasked with beating a level of Crash Bandicoot. That game was one of the earliest hits for Naughty Dog, so the message of this segment seems to be: “Wow, just take a look at how far we’ve come.” But for me, actually playing Crash Bandicoot in the middle of playing Uncharted 4 had the opposite of its intended effect – it brought to light that the developer really hasn’t come very far at all. Scrape away Uncharted‘s aesthetics – the visuals and the voice acting and the storytelling – and you have a game that is just as simplistic and guided and hollow as Crash Bandicoot. I think Naughty Dog is capable of so much more than these empty experiences, and hopefully someday they can live up to their potential.
Anyway, here are some of my trophies: