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The Uncharted series has taken players on several fun adventures over the years. The first game planted the roots and the second game defines what an Uncharted game should be as far as I’m concerned. Uncharted 3 expands some mechanics and introduces some new stuff but I don’t think it reaches the same highs as its predecessor. None of these games are perfect, but they’re fun enough to me that when I hear the words “action-adventure”, I immediately think of the Uncharted games. It wasn’t until almost five years after the release of Uncharted 3 that players would get to experience the next main entry in the series. But before that happened, two spin-off titles were released for the Vita and then a collection of the first three campaigns, remastered, was released for PlayStation 4. The collection was followed up by the long-awaited Uncharted 4. Developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was released for PlayStation 4 in May, 2016. For this review, I did play it on a PlayStation 5 and this is my second time playing through the campaign.
Some time before the events of the first game, Nathan Drake and his brother Sam are on the hunt for the treasure of pirate Henry Avery and infiltrate a Panamanian prison to search for clues. During their escape, Sam is shot and presumed dead only to re-appear years later seeking help from Nate to find the treasure. Nate is now with Elena and misses the excitement of his old life. When Sam explains that he escaped with a drug lord who demands he find the treasure or be killed, Nate sets out on another adventure and this time it’s to save his brother’s life. Also in search of the treasure is their former associate, Rafe Adler, and his partner Nadine Ross who runs the mercenary group called Shoreline.
Uncharted 4 is yet another showcase of excellent writing and phenomenal voice performances across the board. Troy Baker was brought in to voice Sam and does an incredible job. In fact, I think it’s one of his best performances. Uncharted 4 is presented in a cinematic style not unlike its predecessors and sometimes it feels more like a movie than a game. The production values are amazing and I think this is the best story in the series up to this point.
Uncharted 4 comes with a beefy campaign and multiple difficulty levels. It took me a little over thirteen hours to beat on the Moderate difficulty. The game does come with a multiplayer component which is still active as of this review and there is a survival mode that can be played solo or cooperatively. There are numerous multiplayer game types and you can spend in-game currency to buy various different customization options. As you progress through the campaign and find treasure, journal entries, and optional conversations, you earn points that can be spent on rewards like weapons, skins, render modes, and gameplay modifiers among other things to mix things up on subsequent playthroughs of the campaign. Needless to say, Uncharted 4 is a game packed with content that should keep you occupied for a while.
This is the game that made me take notice of just how different the perceptions of players are. For the longest time, I ignorantly thought that anyone who doesn’t think the gameplay is all that matters is just odd. But Uncharted 4 sparked conversations about what people really get out of games and that opened my eyes. I was both surprised and intrigued with what I was reading and hearing. I then had to remind myself that games are an art form. Multiple art forms coming together in fact. Writing, acting, art design, audio design, musical composition, and other art forms all coming together to create a piece of entertainment for all to enjoy.
Even though I realized and learned to respect that what others get out of games could be drastically different than what I get out of them, I’m still of the mind that gameplay is above all. The gameplay is what I, personally, enjoy most about them. A game could have shit graphics, shit music, and a shit story, but if the gameplay is fun – if it’s actually fun to play – I’ll still enjoy it. And this is what makes Uncharted 4 interesting and disappointing. I played this once before, around the time it came out, and after I beat it I discussed it with my friend. We both agreed that Uncharted 4 is a good movie.
I was more interested in the characters and plot than I was in the gameplay and that’s because the gameplay has a big problem with pacing. I find much of the game to be boring to actually play. This is where discussions about what players get out of Uncharted 4 comes in. Some players prefer a good story over anything else. Around the time of release, I remember people saying it’s one of the best games they’ve ever played. I think I even read the word “masterpiece” a few times. I disagree, of course. In my opinion, Uncharted 4 is far from being a masterclass in gameplay. From that perspective, I still say Uncharted 2 is the best in the series up to this point. But interestingly enough, I would agree that everything else about Uncharted 4 is top tier. Still, I couldn’t help but feel conflicted while playing it. I enjoy it but I don’t always enjoy playing it. As I stated earlier, I think it’s a good movie.
I’ve always been under the impression that Uncharted is a series of third-person shooters first and foremost. Third. Person. Shooter. Also, story-driven action adventure titles. It’s the action that I enjoy the most. It’s the exciting situations the games put you in. So that’s how I come at these games. Hoping for an action-packed story-driven adventure. The disappointing thing about Uncharted 4 is the lack of action. And the sad part is when the action gets going, it is a lot of fun. There’s just not enough of it. Many firefights feel brief and when the action slows down it usually slows down for way too long. It’s a shame because the gunplay feels great. Weapons have good feedback and visual effects like muzzle flashes, fire, and explosions look awesome and firefights can often be intense. But in between the action is lengthy stretches of walking, running, sliding, swinging, climbing, dialogue, and interactions with things in the environments. If you take the time to look around for treasure and journal entries, it can take up to a half hour, maybe longer, before you reach the next action sequence.
Encounters do seem to emphasize stealth but you always have the option approach every encounter all guns blazing. Uncharted 4 does expand the stealth mechanics. You can hide in tall grass and even tag enemies to keep an eye on them. Other than that, it’s typical Uncharted gameplay complete with some finicky jumping here and there and at certain points, you’ll need to use a rope and piton to reach specific areas. You’ll have to solve several puzzles and get around some death traps on your journey and once again, you can reference a journal that gives you the solutions. I will say Uncharted 4 does feature some of the most challenging puzzles in the series up to this point but nothing super difficult.
Much of the game has you exploring or adventuring as some like to say and, unfortunately, it becomes boring pretty quick. At least I think so. The game leans heavily towards storytelling and adventuring. You’re going to navigate around gorgeous and extremely detailed environments and as much as I enjoy the plot and characters and admiring the visual presentation, I play these games for the action. That said, many of the action sequences and set pieces in Uncharted 4 are a lot of fun. I enjoyed the segment that lets you play as Sam as he accompanies the drug lord in a prison escape. There’s another sequence where Nate is holding onto a rope attached to a vehicle as he’s being dragged and shot at before pulling himself up and jumping from one vehicle to another. There’s another sequence later in the game that has Nate running through buildings and across platforms and structures that are being torn apart by enemy gunfire and rockets.
Most of the enemy types we’ve seen in the previous games are present here. You’ll engage typical mercenary goons, snipers, and heavily armored guys. Enemies will run around and take cover, shoot at you, and they can easily flank you if you’re not paying attention. They will try to flush you out with grenades, and bullets and explosions will destroy objects and things in the environments, including things that can be used as cover, so it’s rarely a good idea to stay in one position for very long. Uncharted 4 does not feature supernatural enemies although there is a chapter with exploding mummies but I consider them to be environmental hazards rather than foes.
There are several segments in the game that feel like padding. Storytelling forced through gameplay. “Forced” is the key word there. And I’m not referring to visual storytelling or lore and information you find along the way, I mean like taking control of Nate as a child and following Sam around with no other purpose than to listen to their dialogue and find what they’re looking for which is, of course, at the end of the linear path. Things that could more or less be conveyed or summed up in a cut scene. Segments that are designed to serve the narrative. As a result, these segments are slow and boring from a gameplay perspective. There is an early segment that has Nate walking around his house and the only reason I appreciated it is because of all the nods to the previous games. I even got to play through a portion of Naughty Dog’s own Crash Bandicoot. But despite the nostalgic trip down memory lane, there’s nothing particularly enjoyable about slowly moving around his house.
Many of the environments in Uncharted 4 are large and open. The game encourages exploration and allows you to approach encounters in a variety of ways. You can plan out attacks and try different things. For much of the campaign, you’ll be accompanied by an NPC so there’s a lot of dialogue and banter exchanged as you run and climb around. Collectibles are your reasons to explore but they’re not hidden in every nook and cranny so I often found myself running to a lot of dead ends or to areas with nothing to collect or shoot. And the problem with that is that it’s not a lot of fun. Doing this for long stretches is just not enjoyable. At least I don’t think so. Sure, you’ll trigger a scripted sequence where a platform breaks and Nate falls or something along those lines here and there. Then you have to find another way to get where you need to go.
Despite the open-ended environments, Uncharted 4 is still a linear game. I can’t say I ever got lost or stuck. But simply running and climbing around areas with no action loses steam pretty quick. I want to be clear and say I don’t think Uncharted 4 should be a non-stop run and gun third-person shooter from beginning to end – just constant shooting. Peaks and valleys are important but there needs to be a balance. The treasure scattered around in the previous games was a reason to explore the linear environments and the smaller areas ensured exploration didn’t consume too much time. And, yes, finding treasure was rewarding but the action was my primary reason for playing. It’s what made the adventure exciting – the firefights, exciting situations and action-packed set pieces.
When it comes to Uncharted 4, it seems as though the developers wanted to not only place a big focus on the story but also make the player feel like an adventurer and that’s my problem with the game. I don’t want to feel like an adventurer. I want to go on an adventure. An action-packed adventure. The expansive gorgeous and detailed areas are nice to look at and finding treasure can still be rewarding but when you’re running and climbing around these massive areas and find nothing, then after a while it feels like waste of time. A lot of nothing. A lot of empty space that looks pretty. It’s boring. By increasing the size of the environments and toning down the encounters, it just feels like everything is moving at an extremely slow pace with little to no excitement.
For the most part, it’s always clear where you need to go and what Nate can jump to and grab onto. You will get to drive a jeep around some of the more open-ended environments and despite the obvious path and direction you need to travel, you can deviate to explore and look around for collectibles. You’ll approach some areas with enemies to engage but there’s nothing very exciting about the driving segments. If I’m being honest, from a gameplay perspective, there’s nothing very exciting about most of the game. It got to the point where the presence of enemies was actually surprising. One of the most exciting parts of the campaign for me was near the end. There’s an encounter at a ship graveyard that kicks off a series of firefights with a pretty fun chase sequence thrown in.
To say Uncharted 4 looks anything short of phenomenal for the time it came out would be an understatement. From the facial animations to the backgrounds and distant landscapes, everything looks downright incredible. The character models are detailed, the lighting is excellent, and the texture work is amazing. Even little things like particles in the air and smoke from explosions look great. Uncharted 4 was enhanced for the PS4 pro and supports HDR and the single player can run at 1440p if you have a display that supports the resolution. Not only are the visuals amazing but so is the audio work. From the music to the sounds of weapons-fire, everything sounds great. On the technical side, I did not encounter any issues.
I have to say I’m disappointed with Uncharted 4’s campaign. I absolutely love the story and characters but I find the gameplay to be more boring than fun. The pacing is horrendous. The campaign does have replay value thanks to all the difficulty levels and rewards that can change up how you experience it but this is not a game I, personally, yearn to replay. As much as I enjoy the story, I play games for the gameplay and I find the campaign to be underwhelming. It’s too slow and there are several segments I just simply don’t enjoy playing. It feels like the developers neglected the action in favor of everything else. And the shame of it is the action that is present is a lot of fun. I really think Uncharted 2 is a good example of what an Uncharted game should be. It’s an action-packed campaign and the action is broken up by brief periods of story beats, climbing around, and puzzle solving, minus a few chapters that I feel slow down a little too much. But, overall, it’s a great balance of action and adventure and is an exhilarating ride. Uncharted 4 doesn’t have that kind of balance at all.
I can only recommend Uncharted 4 to those looking for a good story. Depending on what you expect from this, you may or may not enjoy it. If you’re expecting another action-packed ride, you’ll be sorely disappointed. When the action does get going, it’s great but as far as I’m concerned the action is too infrequent. Ultimately, as a third-person shooter, Uncharted 4 is a very boring game. But I still say it’s a good movie.