As a fan of the somewhat woolly termed ‘action- adventure’ genre and Indiana Jones, the Uncharted series is one of my automatic purchases on release. I’ve been with the games since the original Playstation 3 release that introduced us to Nathan Filli…, sorry: Drake, and co. The first game took on Tomb Raider’s steadily atrophying formula and won us all over with it’s beautiful design, interesting story and ridiculous action. The combat was very clunky and repetitive, but it did enough to get us to the masterpiece that was Uncharted 2, still one of my all time favourite games. With set pieces worthy of the best action movies, it set the bar for the genre so high few games can compare. Sadly, Uncharted 3 fell into the ‘repeat previous game’ formula for me, and Naughty Dog admitted to coming up with the set pieces first and then building a game around them. That, combined with the frustrating combat, led to quite a time break between the games.
During this break Tomb Raider was relaunched, and there were definite influences of Uncharted in it’s rebooted formula, leading to two brilliant games. Naughty Dog released the critically acclaimed The Last Of Us meanwhile, completely different from their previous formula.
So when Drake strolled back onto our screens at the PS4 launch I was excited, but apprehensive. Would it be another clone of 2, desperate for a share of the Tomb Raider market, or would it reinvent itself and assert its dominance over the archaeological action-adventure gaming demographic once again?
Once I had installed the obligatory day 1 update patch, I booted it up, closed the curtains, turned my phone off and fell instantly into the action, not having a clue what was going on. The high octane introduction was instantly thrilling and set the tone for the rest game. What followed were a few of the best chapters I think I’ve played in any game ever; a look into Drake’s life. The story jumped between time periods with carefree abandon for the first third of the game, but far from feeling unsettling, it was fantastic. It felt like I was in the coolest movie that ever got made. As the narrative unwound it became far more than just a hunt for pirate treasure, it became one of the most emotionally engaging games to grace our consoles.
The relationships between the characters were complex, and evolved as the game went on to give us a deeper view into Drake’s world than we have ever seen. This was not like its predecessors; all guts and glory, this was a game about love, dedication and sacrifice. The last moments of the game were so poignant and unexpected that it moved me to near tears, and the person responsible for coming up with that scene deserves a pay rise as it took the game to the next level, just as it had reached the point where I thought it could not be topped.
So if the story was a success, how about gameplay? Well, this incarnation is not a complete departure from what has gone before, the core mechanics are the same, with the inclusion of the grappling hook (which played suspiciously like the whip from Indiana Jones, seriously not a bad thing!), and better stealth. My biggest gripe with its predecessors was that the gunplay became very repetitive, but this time round it nails it. It can be challenging in places, but it never stops being fun. Plus there seems to be a serious stealth option now (reflected in the trophies finally), so gunplay can become a last resort rather than another prolonged period of hiding behind chest high walls.
The biggest success of Uncharted 4’s gameplay though is the set pieces. Without spoiling anything, this does not feel like a game built around 3 or 4 moments, but rather a coherent, tight game where the set pieces are part of the action. It was grandiose, but did not shove our faces in those moments with fixed cameras and say “LOOK AT THE HUGE THING THAT’S HAPPENING TO YOU, AREN’T WE COOL?!” like 3 did. It simply got on with the game, and there were several points where I suddenly realised I was in the middle of an epic set piece, but it was unobtrusive enough to hide behind the moment and just let me enjoy it.
So combine great gameplay, phenomenal story with spectacular visuals (I cannot get over just how beautiful this game is), a brilliant score by Henry Jackman, and some of the best hidden moments/ collectibles/easter eggs in any game, and you’ve got Uncharted 4. If you’ve never played the first three games, go and buy the remastered edition and play them, otherwise you will miss a lot of the nods to the series, plus you have missed some fantastic games. Then come back to 4, sit back and play one of the best games you may ever have the chance to experience. Trust me, you will thank me.
Johnny Di Girolamo / @jdigirolamo