The Uncharted series has become one of the strongest arguments for PlayStation gamers to defend their console of choice. As of today, the franchise developed by Naughty Dog is exclusive to the PlayStation platform and in the meantime has become one of the most acclaimed game franchises in history. For a good reason. The latest and presumed last addition to the series, named Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, is nothing less than any game that has come before it. That being said, the question is: is it any better?
Greatness from small beginnings.
As will be the case with many more fans of the franchise, the Uncharted games and its characters have managed to conquer a special place in my heart. The franchise has been running for nearly a decade now and the second and third installments are considered by many to be some of the best games ever conceived. Each installment managed to raise the bar for action adventure games and some might even go as far as to say the games also seriously challenge blockbuster cinema experiences.
“Ever since I acquired my first PlayStation, I’ve been a big fan of adventure games like Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider.“
To further illustrate my love for the Uncharted series and the genre it is part of, I have to go back a few years. Ever since I acquired my first PlayStation, I’ve been a big fan of adventure games like Crash Bandicoot and Tomb Raider. Little did I know the best of both worlds would later be combined. At the time, Tomb Raider largely remained the leading example of a good third person action adventure game with climbing traversal and puzzle elements. But that was about to change.
After switching from PlayStation 2 to the Xbox 360, as the latter was starting to become the more popular platform among friends and family instead of the rivalry PlayStation 3, I had lost sense with much of the PlayStation brand and many of its heroes. Meanwhile Crystal Dynamics successfully managed to revive the Tomb Raider franchise to a state in which it mattered again after the very poorly received Angel of Darkness. On the contrary, Naughty Dog managed to surprise and impress everyone with its E3 trailer of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Anticipation for the upcoming title started to rise with many gamers praising the game for its graphics and animations with some even going as far as to say the game would make Lara Croft obsolete. The Xbox 360 brand remained strong with financial successful IPs like Halo and Gears of War. However, unbeknownst to many, Sony would retaliate with the slim version of the PlayStation 3, completely re-branding the platform, along with the release of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. It was after the release of this particular title, the franchise’s popularity skyrocketed.
Before the release of Uncharted 2 many developers failed to utilize the console’s full potential which prevented them from fully optimizing their games for the platform, resulting in a lesser gaming experience then one would have on the Xbox 360. Naughty Dog, being a first-party developer for Sony, could completely focus on optimizing their game for the PlayStation hardware which was considered more powerful than that of the Xbox 360, so expectations were high.
Uncharted 2 is a playable summer blockbuster action movie experience. It was so popular and likeable among gamers that the game managed to touch even people that are not into video games. The game was great to just watch while it was being played by others and resembled much the likes of an animated Pixar movie. It was around this time that I became familiar with the franchise. From my point of view, the Uncharted games transcended the Tomb Raider games by miles (this was before the 2013 reboot mind you, as Uncharted 2 was released in 2011) in terms of gameplay and graphics. So it will probably not surpise you that I acquired a PlayStation 3 specifically to play this franchise.
It wasn’t long after the release of Uncharted 2 that another sequel was announced, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. The third entry in the franchise was even better in terms of graphics and storytelling (it had a great twist near the end) and pushed the PlayStation 3 to its absolute limits. Although many believe Uncharted 3 can’t top the quality of Uncharted 2, the game became another critically acclaimed success for Sony and Naughty Dog. After the PlayStation 4 was announced, it was only a matter of time until Sony’s platform-defining franchise would return. June 9, 2014 marked the date it happened.
Thick as Thieves.
Whether you’re watching one of the game’s many trailers or have just started with its campaign, one thing becomes immediately clear: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a sight for sore eyes. The game is by far the most graphically impressive game released on consoles to date, surpassing recent releases such as Remedy’s Quantum Break by providing gamers with an unique cinematic experience with top notch facial animations, incredible vistas and amazingly detailed character models.
The game’s visual style can be defined as much more ‘’down to earth’’, trying to pursue a whole new level of photo-realism. It’s characters are no longer goofy or cartoony looking but instead are displayed realistically with facial expressions so lifelike and detailed they will continue to impress you along your way (credit to the game’s cast is also due here). The realism is also present in the enemy types as this entry knows no Nazi Zombies or Paranormal beings to haunt Drake during his adventures. Increased realism is also seen in the game’s famous blockbuster movie moments, which are now less over the top. Yeah that’s right, less over the top. Some events will still raise eyebrows and have you wondering how the hell Nathan Drake survives all these. Last but certainly not least, the game’s soundtrack has also been revised to feature more strings and dramatically sounding riffs heavily contributing to the already stellar atmosphere.
“My biggest issue with the game is perhaps its cliché story and many predictable moments.”
Having said this, the core gameplay of the game remains largely unchanged. If you were not a fan of the Uncharted games before, chances are high you will still not be fond of its gameplay. There have been some minor changes, sure. Like the addition of a grappling hook (obviously inspired by the Tomb Raider games), more focus on stealth and improved climbing mechanics. The game is running on an entirely new engine specifically designed for this game (which is a feat of its own, I mean which developer dares to take this risk anymore nowadays?). One of the main features of the new engine is the support of very large levels. Some being so big they would almost fool you for being an open world. ‘Fool’ is the keyword here, as the linear structure stays mostly intact since the many routes the player can take will all lead to the same destination.
My biggest issue with the game is perhaps its cliché story and many predictable moments. I was often annoyed by yet another collapsing wooden bridge or debris. I understand the developers use these scare-tactics as a way to add more tension during climbing traversal, but I think they aren’t really working anymore after being used so many times. The same goes with the story of the game: all of the sudden Nathan Drake has a long-lost brother (cheap excuse for a McGuffin if you ask me) that is out for redemption and needs to recover a pirate treasure. As the narrative progresses you can see some of the twists and turns from miles away, which is at the expense of the game’s overall experience. While flat most of the time, the story serves as a connecting thread at best.
One last time.
One of the lasts gameplay presentations before release of Uncharted 4 teased players with dialogue options during cinematics. These moments are less frequent then one would expect and don’t really alter anything other then what Nathan Drake will actually say on screen. A feature that left me rather unimpressed and one I expected to have much more impact. Since Naughty Dog has repeatedly been saying Uncharted 4 is the last adventure of Nathan Drake (which remains to be seen with financially successful franchises like this one) the game does achieve to end on a high note: The last few levels successfully build up to an impressive boss fight and the game’s epilogue sure had a few surprises for me in store. Some good, some.. particular. But I will not spill the beans for you about these. One could consider the entire Epilogue as unnecessary, but it does somewhat tie up the game to a definite end.
Another feature that’s included, but one the game doesn’t really need, is the many intractable objects in the game. One can pick up and inspect various objects. Some plain useless while others expand on the lore of the game. Nevertheless, after a while I simply stopped bothering pickup them up. Treasure hunters can rest easy though, as collectible treasures are still featured in the game and are much more difficult to find then in previous games.
Lastly, the game also has multiplayer, which will be entertaining for longtime fans of the series but will be largely unexplored by others who are in for the blockbuster experience. I didn’t even bother to start up a match after completing the introduction chapter. The multiplayer segment of the game is running at 60FPS instead of the 30FPS during single play which might provide a smoother experience for enthusiasts.
In closing, I think it’s fair to say Uncharted 4 is a must have for every PlayStation 4 owner. While the game might have a few flaws, it sure as hell ends the series on a high note. Being one of the most graphically impressive games on console with lifelike performances, it easily manages to provide you with another blockbuster movie experience the series is known for.