“The following is a guest review by The Timely Mage.”
“There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.” – Sir Francis Drake
All good things must come to an end but rarely does one end on such a strong and purposeful note. Often times a company will sacrifice the integrity of a franchise by either ending it too early or dragging it on far too long both for the sake of money but if there’s one message that Uncharted 4 attempts to convey, it’s that there are things more important than riches and most likely you must choose between one or the other. I admire both Naughty Dog and Sony for choosing to honor the series and it’s fans with a dignified well-deserved send off rather than strain every penny out of it until it’s lost all its meaning.
Sic Parvis Magna
The Uncharted series is known for its industry leading visuals, awe-inspiring set pieces, thoughtful character development, and fluid gameplay. Uncharted 4 is certainly no exception to this astounding legacy but it’s also quite different from the others. Yes, there’s still the familiar rock-climbing, cover-shooting, puzzle-solving, and character banter present but somehow they manage to take these familiar elements and imbue new adventure into them while also introducing new mechanics as well.
The keyword I’d use to describe the foundation of Uncharted 4 is exploration. In just about every aspect of the game the world seems to open up and introduce a tremendous landscape for you to explore and discover something amazing. While the sheer vastness of the levels has greatly expanded making for some truly breathtaking scenes, just as meaningful and important to that sense of exploration are all of the mind-blowing details. You can tell every square inch of this game was handcrafted with intentionality.
Of course it’s not just the levels that have expanded. Nathan now has the ability to use a grappling hook, a dagger (for rock-climbing), a jeep, a boat, and can slide down hills as well as swim which makes traversal feel much more fluid and fun. Even stealth has been expanded to include a detection meter and feels better overall due to the larger environments.
Beyond the new mechanics, Uncharted 4’s storytelling has grown as well. For the majority of the game you’re accompanied by at least one other character and it seems there is constant dialogue going on compounded by optional conversations similar to those found in The Last of Us. There are also a couple of scenes where the player is given a choice in how Nathan responds in a conversation.
It’s the parts that make up the whole and every part was crafted to add to the overall experience of exploration and adventure. I feel it’s this sense of exploration that both makes this game unique within the series yet fit perfectly at the top of its rich history.
Dreamers of the Day
There’s a reason Naughty Dog is lauded by many critics and gamers as the best studio in the industry today. With each entry they prove their mastery of technology and design by breaking the limitations of what we come to expect in a video game and setting a new standard for others to strive to achieve for years to come.
Uncharted 4 puts on full display the new standard of excellence in game design and writing. The graphics and story are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition and while some games may approach or maybe even surpass one of these elements alone, Uncharted 4 is the complete package.
However they’re certainly not above learning from their peers. From a gameplay perspective you can certainly see the influence of mechanics that other games have successfully implemented. A few examples are the stealth meter from Assassin’s Creed, a dagger used in a similar fashion to the pickax in Tomb Raider, and using vehicles to travel like in some open world games.
What amazes me as I reflect on all of these elements is how unified the experience is. I could tell the whole team had a single vision and passion for the game that made everything work not to just exist on its own but for the greater good. I think very few games accomplish this in favor of a more sandbox approach which allows the player to sort of amalgamate their own adventure. While this certainly works for some games, I believe there is merit to having a focused game where every aspect is infused with purpose and meaning.
That being said, not all elements are available or persistent throughout the game with some showing up just long enough to accentuate that one moment. You can’t grapple onto everything, you’ll only have the boat for a short time, and dialogue options are sparingly disseminated to only a couple of scenes. That may feel like a disappointment to some but by the end it’s quite obvious that each step taken is one of purpose.
A Thief’s End
The closing chapter for the series is a powerful one. The overall tone feels much more personal and implicitly tumultuous resulting in a more contemplative experience that resonates long after the credits role. Don’t get me wrong: it still retains its witty, lighthearted nature with heart-pounding action sequences but the spectrum in which the game interacts with us has broadened.
Even before the first trailer revealed the game my mind exploded with all of the possibilities of what a team like Naughty Dog could do on a PS4 with a franchise like Uncharted. My expectations soared and perhaps got away from me a bit.
You see, Uncharted 4 isn’t exactly what I thought it would be but it ended up being exactly what I needed it to be. Before playing the game I reminisced about the time Nathan was sucked out of a crumbling plane or that other time he narrowly escaped a capsizing cruise ship and just how jaw-dropping those epic moments were. I knew I wanted more but about half way through the game I understood that Uncharted 4 was about a different kind of jaw-dropping experience, one more appropriate and honoring for a final adventure.
If you’re familiar with The Last of Us you know the power of the unspoken, the impact of a scene that defines the game. You can see glimpses of them in previous Uncharted games as well like Nathan resting his head on Elena in Drake’s Deception or mourning over her presumed loss in Among Thieves. There is a moment in Uncharted 4 that struck me so poignantly yet what I find most amazing about it is that it was conveyed through a single breath. In fact there are many moments like that one throughout the game that will leave an impression far more meaningful than any well-orchestrated action sequence.
In the end I found Uncharted 4 to be a masterpiece from start to finish. From the cutting edge graphics to the intelligent storytelling to the intuitive gameplay, there isn’t one aspect of the game that I found to be short of amazing. It’s the perfect end to a landmark franchise that treats the characters and fans with dignity.
The 8-Bit Review
Can I go higher than 10? I can!? Okay, okay, I’ll be fair and stay within the scale but it ain’t easy. The visuals in Uncharted 4 are unrivaled. I don’t know how they can manage such an embellished environment, explosive action, and smooth frame rate at the same time but the wizards at Naughty Dog made it work. I literally have never taken so many screenshots of a game before. Gorgeous.
I never really felt particularly compelled by Uncharted’s soundtracks in the past. I mean they fit perfectly in the game and successfully set the tone but no particular track stuck out to me. That changed with Uncharted 4. The tracks still played off of the scenes very well but there were a few moments where they took the wheel and drove the game to a new level.
Beyond the soundtrack the voice-acting is, as expected, excellent with such a veteran cast. The lines are delivered perfectly and the emotions come through strongly.
The gameplay and ambient audio was given just as much attention to detail as the rest of the game. The authenticity does a fantastic job of immersing you in the world.
This is the most enjoyable Uncharted to date from a gameplay perspective. Going from cover to sliding down a slope, grappling onto a beam, vertical punching a bad guy, shooting up a few of his friends from the hip while dodge-rolling back to cover is just as smooth as it is exciting.
One of the pinnacles of storytelling in video game history. It managed to do what few franchises have by ending on such a strong and compelling note. The characters are fully fleshed out, every plot point full of purpose, and a relevant message that made the journey feel worth it.
I hadn’t talked about the multiplayer in the body of the review but that doesn’t mean it’s anything to hide. Uncharted 4’s multiplayer is a great time with the fast-paced seamless action of the narrative encounters mixed with the genius loadout design of The Last of Us and some silly Mysticals thrown in for good measure.
I’m also a big fan of their DLC approach since all maps and items will be available for free so as not to fracture the community which is usually a big turn-off for me.
Due to the very nature of a story-based game there is always a diminishing return for each playthrough as familiarity dampens the excitement of the next plot twist or scripted close calls. However, giving some leniency after taking this into consideration and factoring in the surprisingly awesome filters and gameplay modifiers unlocked after your first playthrough, I decided to give them a high score because they did just about everything they could to make it as replayable as possible.
They had a unique vision for this game and stuck with it to the end. The result is an adventure with a depth and intelligence rarely seen in the industry.
My Personal Grade: 10/10
I think I’ve lavished this game with enough praise for now, right? Like I’ve said, this is the game it needed to be and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Aggregated Score: 9.9