No other studio quite does action-adventure games like Naughty Dog. Always pioneering innovative ideas and technology, they’ve time and time again shown an ability to reinvent themselves, usually triggered by the introduction of a new generation of console. Their one franchise per console model was broken in 2013 however, with the release brilliant The Last of Us – one of the best PS3 games of all time – after a trilogy of Uncharted games, and it seems they’re not keen to move back to it any time soon. With the far more superior technology of the PlayStation 4 to work with, as well as pages left unturned after Drake’s Deception, it seems a fourth Uncharted game was too good an opportunity to miss.
Players of the series have been transported to some of the most famous locations on the planet; some real, others rumoured. It’s no coincidence though that in the opening chapter Nate finds himself in Panama, the same country in which he first graced our consoles back in 2007. This time is a little different though, because this isn’t just Panama; this is a Panamanian prison. Yet those who know Nate know that this will be through no mistake.
We’re soon introduced to Sam Drake, Nate’s older brother, and Rafe Adler, financer to the brothers’ newest mission. The treasure this time around is Henry Avery’s $400 million left after the 1695 Gunsway Heist, and the first clue lies in the prison the trio now inhabit. Legend has it that Avery’s first mate held a cell here, so now it’s up to you to investigate. In typical Uncharted fashion things quickly turn sour, almost everything blows up, and Nate scarcely manages to escape.
Flash forward 15 years and a retired Nate is beginning to get itchy feet. After a life changing meeting he has a decision to make: stay with Elena and build a family, or pick up where he left off 15 years ago and hunt for Avery’s treasure. No prizes for guessing which option he chose.
With a new system to work with, it’s no surprise that a Naughty Dog game has never looked better. There were moments in Uncharted 4 where I lost all sense that I was playing a video game; graphically it’s so realistic, its colours and shading so crisp, that I’d go as far as saying it’s one of the best looking games ever. Granted it hasn’t got the scale of map or depth of scenery as modern RPGs like Skyrim and The Witcher 3, but with the locations that it had to work on, the developer has set a new bench mark for all others to follow.
Graphics aren’t everything in games however; a good-looking game without a story is like a bull-terrier without a bark – all talk with no substance. Luckily, as with Drake’s pervious 3 outings, Uncharted 4 delivers on the narrative front too. The hunt for Avery’s supposed treasure is exactly as we’d expect. Travelling from location to location, Nate has to contend with hordes of others searching for the same prize, whilst having to solve the occasional puzzle in between. It’s a formula that’s worked so well up until now, so there was never any need for a change.
What makes Uncharted stand head and shoulders above others in the action-adventure arena is great dialogue and voice acting breaking up the all-out action and puzzle solving. There wasn’t a single moment playing A Thief’s End where I didn’t wholeheartedly believe in the characters and their intentions. Nolan North and Troy Baker understandably lap up most of the praise, but a thought should be considered for the whole cast. Credit specifically to Laura Bailey, who managed to pull off a disorientating British, American and South African Nadine. Bravo.
Alongside the criminally underappreciated voice acting, there is a depth to this Uncharted story which separates it even from its predecessors. With the inclusion of lost but now renewed family ties, old friends proving their worth and a marriage being tested to its limits, players aren’t just engaged in the puzzles and combat, but emotionally also. The question at the heart of what I consider to be the best game in the series is: what is important to Nate in life? Naughty Dog answers this perfectly at a stage in the character’s life when he has more commitments, is considering starting a family, and most importantly has people in his life who care what happens to him; what matters most is the people you love. This may seem overwhelmingly deep for a video game, but consider it just that at your peril. Uncharted 4 is so much more: heartfelt, emotive, Hollywood on steroids. Play it. Then you’ll understand.
Yet let this not detract from Uncharted 4 essentially being an action-adventure title which handles better than anything else out there on the market. Shooting, jumping and manoeuvring with Nate are movements that are unbelievably slick and finely tuned, and the frame rate lives up to a solid 60fps throughout. I don’t remember ever feeling hard done-by by an unjust should-have-been catch of a ledge or dive behind a crate that left me out in front of 15 henchmen. I never once noticed the frame rate subside either, even in the game’s grandest of locations. The fact that the developer releases a title on average every 3 years speaks volumes. This is a game long in the making, and its smooth gameplay is evidence of that.
If this is to be Nathan Drake’s last outing then it is absolutely credit to an outstanding series. Whoever didn’t feel a sense of nostalgia playing Crash Bandicoot as Nate is a heartless non-Naughty Dog fan-boy. But to me this moment was more than just an Easter egg-type treat for the fans. This was Naughty Dog having their moment of reminiscence, looking back with a sense of nostalgia themselves. It’s been a thrilling but emotional adventure with this treasure hunter, and putting the controller down after the final sitting of A Thief’s End was as difficult as Dark Souls.
I’m reminded of a scene where Nate warns Elena of the mission ahead. ‘It’s not going to be easy’, he says. Elena responds: ‘Nothing worthwhile ever is’.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Sony Playstation 4 code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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