Uncharted 4 was amazing. But don’t touch it again… That’s right, Nate. It’s been a great run, it really has, but like the pop culture treasure that this magnificent series has become, it is time to put it behind a glass frame and leave it be.
Sully, it belongs in a museum…
The optimistic fan boy in me secretly hopes that I can step into the shoes of Nathan Drake and his curious band of misfits just one more time. In Naughty Dog’s latest and supposedly final outing in one of the most successful exclusive franchises to date, the characters were its resounding success. Graphically, the game was a landmark too, though to an extent, I feel somewhat desensitised to great graphics, especially following The Division and The Order:1886; both looked gorgeous, the gameplay, however, not so much…
The dream-team of Nolan North and Troy Baker are well and truly at the helm as the brothers Drake, and their interplay with each other is remarkable. Whether its the ad-lib dialogue as you peruse exotic vistas or the well-acted cutscenes, I truly felt as if I was watching brothers with decades of experiences and stories together. Aided by the flashbacks to the pair’s days as troublesome teens, Uncharted 4 achieves the impossible; contrary to what I expected, Sam Drake doesn’t feel like a shoe-horn for the sake of it – dare I say it, he feels as much a part of the gang as Elena and Sullivan.
Of course, all of the characters are well voiced, and I had to recall my time seeing Triss return in 2015’s The Witcher for the last time I was as pleased to see a character as I was when dinner-jacketed Victor Sullivan is first glimpsed in Uncharted 4. Their stories are equally fleshed out, and the dimension of them getting older creates an interest, without which could have seen the cast become a little stale (for example, Sully takes a more supportive role in missions as opposed to the lovechild of Dick Van Dyke and Rambo).
A special shoutout goes to Raif, this entry’s villain. At first, he appears as a petulant rich kid who is meddling in things his perfectly sculpted, affluent nose has no right to be meddling in. Yet as his motives grow more clear and more defined, I even felt a shred of sympathy! If we imagine, for a second, that Uncharted 2’s awesome antagonist Lazaroviç was a piece of cardboard, then Raif is a perfectly crafted Ferrero Rocher, with multiple layers and an interest in history… and stuff…
It just works, okay? You love to hate him!
The level design is impeccable for the most part, too, with improved traversal and clever, yet ultimately simple puzzles and challenges. There’s also the pleasant motif of several wildly open areas as yet unseen in this series, with the use of vehicles as an imperative in many of the scenarios. As the resident stealth freak, I was delighted that EVERY encounter could at least be started stealthily, with a system much akin to Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.
My only gripe here was the same one that I had with the debut title in the Uncharted series. Between the detailed, more urban areas that the game commences with and the discovery of a *spoiler*, the jungle environments become stale. Essentially, for a short while, the game relies on a ‘hide in this shrub, snap neck of unsuspecting goon, move to next shrub.’ Genuinely, it feels a little more like hide and seek in an (upmarket) garden centre than becoming a roguish explorer, albeit for only a handful of the game’s twenty-plus chapters.
The greatest achievement here? The history. Uncharted has always set a benchmark in how to straddle historical accuracy and the more ethereal aspects of conspiracy or the supernatural. Unlike the first two, there are no abnormal ghoulies stalking you through abandoned U-boat facilities or mythical lost worlds. Instead, much of the story is vastly believable. Romanticised pirates, betrayals, lost colonies (I didn’t say entirely believable, did I?), grisly deaths and sadistic traps all pepper the numerous chapters of the game. Only this time, through finding notes and books, you do the lion’s share of the discovery here – in a way, Uncharted 4 becomes a micro-RPG.
But Naughty Dog, heed my warning. My heart screams “more, more, more!”, but my head begs the series to be left here, on its best footing yet.
All considering, I wouldn’t be surprised if, like Gears of War (another exclusive franchise, similar in its characters and scope), there is to be a spin-off game for the Drake family and all their hanger’s on. Let’s compare the two:
I was a die-hard Gears fan, for sure, and I loved how the series wrapped up… but then that god-damned prequel showed up, like a bastard stepchild in an otherwise infallible behemoth of a series. It wasn’t a bad game, not by any means. Yet the addition of new cast members, unfamiliar mechanics and a major diversion from its previous installments left a different taste in my mouth.
And somehow, the reasons for why Gears of War 4 was a little disappointing come suspiciously close to the same criteria used by Naughty Dog to flesh out Uncharted 4: new characters, new mechanics, and a diversion from the series’ linear roots. With me so far?
My point is that this time, Naughty Dog pulled it off. There is no doubt that Uncharted 4 is essential for any Playstation 4 owner. However, could they do it again? My guess would be a resounding no; not necessarily because it would be a bad game – in fact, I imagine it could be another worthy instalment. But more because it just isn’t necessary. Uncharted 4 said all there was left to say for our protagonists, especially with such a poignant, satisfying epilogue. For that reason, I say let it lie, like a centuries-old pirate treasure.
Of course, with rumours of a sequel to 2013’s incredible The Last of Us in the works, I have the same worry for Naughty Dog’s other Harvard-educated, brainy, talented child. But that, my friends, is a story for another time…