Uncharted 4 is a beautiful game, but it isn’t quite the masterpiece that it tries so hard to me. For long-time series fans, in our minds the order goes something like UC2>UC4>UC3>UC1. The series has always been great, with every entry being at the very least incredibly entertaining, but unfortunately the series has always had some significant problems that they never quite managed to solve.
In terms of plot it’s helpful to have played the previous games but by no means essential. Naughty Dog are experts when it comes to presenting characters and while the supporting cast are significant because of their roles in the other entries, really you find out everything you need to know quite early within the game. One nice thing about Thief’s End is that although there are plenty of documents and notes, the story is told through the narrative, action and dialogue. The extra pieces of text really just flesh out the stories that Drake himself is researching. If you read everything you find on every collectible, you’ll have a much better idea of the pseudo-history that brings life to the setting, but to follow the main plot you don’t need any of that at all. The dialogue itself is absolutely fantastic, some of the best in a series that has been consistently outstanding in every entry. Every little interaction is funny, tense, or profound. Very quickly you begin to care for the main characters and a combination of great scripts and incredible motion capture and voice work brings every little worry and moment of joy they have to life. There really aren’t any other games that have the kind of spark that Naughty Dog can capture, with even Rockstar’s finest work being very hit or miss in comparison. The overall story arc is a little ho-hum in terms of treading old ground, and the characters even mention this repeatedly. This is a problem we’ve seen before in parody games, where the game makes you do something dumb, then comments on how dumb it is as if that is some great satire. Unfortunately when the game makes you do something tiresome, frustrating, or predictable, it doesn’t matter how much it pokes fun at itself, you still had to do those things. There’s a couple of sequences in particular that are guilty of this and although they don’t ruin the pacing, they could easily have been left on the cutting room floor and brought the game down to less than 10 hours and we really think it would have been better for it.
The graphics are stunning. We haven’t seen anything this impressive on consoles, surpassing even Quantum Break, The Order, and The Witcher. Not only are the models and textures supremely detailed, but there’s so many little nuances to the way things move and the way things fall apart that you find yourself sucked into whatever you’re doing, no matter how outlandish it seems. Beams you stand on flex with weight, characters are conscious of what they’re doing with their guns when they sit down, characters clamber around or over each other instead of clipping through. Ok so there’s some clipping into scenery here and there but 95% of the time, it works every time. Many of the vistas are spectacular, although the settings aren’t quite as interesting as the last two entries in the series. There’s a lot of similar colour palettes and familiar looking-caves, but it’s hard to fault this when they’re so vividly decorated and crafted. There’s a photo mode built into the game and we can imagine many players spending hours just with that trying to capture the majesty of some of the views and environments. The fact this all holds up without a hitch in the 30fps frame rate even when there’s explosion and buildings collapsing is remarkable.
The gameplay is definitely improved from previous games, with much better combat mechanics and no real bullet sponge enemies. Enemies can nearly always be brought down with a single shot to the head and even the most armoured foes can have their armour stripped away in a fashion that makes sense. Fights are scrappy and enemies are quick to flank, even if they’re not quite as clever as they seemed in the earlier videos. They will surround you and use grenades to flush you out, and most cover is destructible so it’s important to keep moving. We died plenty throughout the game but thankfully checkpoints are exceptionally generous, often occurring in the middle of firefights and before every big jump.
The climbing is probably the single biggest improvement to the game. You can control it much as you did before, but now you can also use the analog sticks to move your arms around to grasp out for handholds. If you find one you naturally shift over to it without pressing a button. It’s very convincing and the fact that there’s multiple routes up in nearly every situation makes the whole mechanic much more realistic. You also have a new tool to play with, a grappling hook that can be used to swing across gaps or abseil down cliffs. Of course it uses some ridiculous physics, but it’s so much fun and rarely frustrating so we can forgive the magic it uses to grab on to things then detach while you’re in mid air. It’s also used for some clever new puzzles where you must manually loop it around things and hook it onto itself to drag things around. This sounds very simple but the first time you do it is a revelation after years of playing games that do that kind of thing for you.
The multiplayer is very similar to what you’d expect from previous Naughty Dog multiplayer modes. It’s less innovative that Last of Us but is definitely entertaining and has a progression system based around coins that is incredibly generous, to the point where you can buy pretty much everything you want (skins, mostly) within not too many games. The game runs at a smooth 60fps in multiplayer which feels a little odd but is definitely appreciated, and the maps are all a lot of fun to play and very detailed. Our one gripe is that the special weapons in multiplayer are slightly overpowered and not that much fun to come up against, but that’ll probably change as we get better with the game.
Overall this is an easy game to recommend. We do think it’s too long and there’s plenty of repetitive content that could (and should) have been cut out, but when the game is good it’s really like nothing else. If you’ve been a fan of Uncharted before, this is a no-brainer and right up there with the best in the series. If you’ve been put off by Uncharted 3, we still think this is well worth your time and money to experience what might be the best adventure game on consoles.