May 09, 2016

Uncharted 4 A Thief's End - Review

Naughty Dog have a long history with making great games, but they really turned themselves into a studio worth noticing when they first released Uncharted Drakes Fortune, not only did they take a genre that had slowly become stale and boring and make it fresh again, but the introduced us to wonderful characters that actually made you care about them, many years later, we are back in action with Nathan Drake for what is his most personal story yet.

The crux of all of the Uncharted games is the story, so I will endeavor to keep this as spoiler free as I can. The story kicks off with a flash forward, to events that take place further on down the line and just as they build to a big moment, we get thrown back to young Nathan days and it is here we start to learn more about Nathan Drake and who he was before we met him, the events that transpire which make him a solo act and how he gets pulled into another adventure. Throughout the story, we get to catch up with Sully and Elena and we get introduced to new characters like Sam, Rafe and Nadine, each of the new character’s blends in pretty well with the existing cast, which is good, but the problem with the story comes from the choose a response sections. Prior to its release, Naughty Dog and Sony, made a point that you could choose responses, which would let you decide how things progressed, but that option rarely appears and when it does, it makes not a single difference to the story. When these moments do appear, they make no difference to how things play out in there here and now, nor do they have a flow on down the line, which really begs the question, why do they exist. The other story concern is how the game moves about, from its opening, to flashbacks in the past, to the now and back again, jumping around is never a bad thing per say, but here, the context of why its happening is very rough.

The other problem is with the characters of Rafe and Nadine, neither one of them prove to be as memorable as other villains in the past games, nor is there a satisfying end for one of the characters, the other concern is that the games pacing is a little off, while I appreciate the meta elements that happen, that could have and probably should have been a time when you could decide to do that, rather than just being directed into it. But more than that, there is a section where Nathan starts off the cutscene by saying ‘and now you know everything’, but the problem is he never speaks about anything like he is describing things in the third person, so it’s this weird mash up of elements that just does not click for me.

While the story may have its issues, the gameplay sadly is almost identical to the games past, except for a few new gameplay elements that are introduced, each of which is beaten to death pretty quickly. Please don’t misunderstand me, I am all for new gameplay additions, more so because the series has not really had any over the years, but when the three new additions to the gameplay are used so often, they lose not only appeal, but also that wow factor. One of the earlier gameplay sequences shown off had Nathan sliding down a hill, leaping from it and onto a ledge, the sliding down things happens so frequently, you might wonder if the parts of the world they visit are known for it and again, don’t misunderstand, there are times, like in caves and muddy terrain where it makes sense, but other times, it really does not.

The other new gameplay addition that was shown off early on was swinging on ropes, allowing you to cross large gaps with little effort and while that works great in the game, especially when you land on top of an enemy, it then becomes an issue, with the retcon that takes place within the story, they show where Nathan learned it, but he never once used it in games past, not even a little remark about missing that tool or such, which then begs the question why bring it back, there are times when the rope comes in handy, but as it tends to be an infinite rope, when it is in use, its only when you need it to be. It is a lot of fun to swing around, don’t get me wrong, it just bothers me that in all the time we have spent with Nathan Drake before, he never once mentioned it. The other newest addition to the gameplay are the moveable creates and of course, you might be thinking, a lot of adventure games have that function, which is true, but here, every crate you move is on wheels, which is not an issue when you are talking modern equipment, but once you start exploring ruins, to find the same things, is very odd, even more so when they look the same as some of the newer locations.

Those issues aside, the rest of the gameplay is solid, there are hordes of enemies to shoot down, or as is now the case, have the options to sneak past. Sneaking past groups of enemies is actually easier now, with the ability to remain hidden in things like long grass and such, so you no longer have to fight countless amounts of enemy soldiers to move on, though if you are spotted and engaged in combat, that issue returns. There are a few times when you have to escape, while running to the camera, a throwback to the earlier games and even Naughty Dog’s gaming history, but mostly, it’s just more of the same gameplay as the games before hand. You do get the chance to interact with more objects around the world, but in doing so, you slow down the pace of the game, especially when you are given an objective to get to a place fast, stopping to smell the roses as it were, kind of kills things.

Of course, one area that the game shines in, is the presentation department, with stunning visuals, both in terms of characters and locations and a wonderful audio track consisting of great music and superb voice acting. Let’s get one thing out of the way first, Nolan North once again knocks it out of the park as Nathan Drake, there is an edge to his voice now, because the Nathan here is an older man, it suits the person he is, Emily Rose and Richard McGonagle are both wonderful as Elena and Sully, with one singular moment between Nathan and Elena that proves just about the best way to show off their characters as they are. Of course, newcomers Troy Baker, Warren Kole and Laura Bailey all prove to be great additions to the cast, with special credit going to Troy Baker and Chase Austin, who both portray Sam Drake at different stages of adulthood, but are both able to maintain a consistent tone and pattern of speech throughout. Laura Bailey has some issues with her voice work, as there are times she sounds New Zealand more than South African, but still delivers a strong performance.

Perhaps one area that really does not need to be explained are the visuals of Uncharted, from the outset of the first game, things were pushed to their limits, with Naughty Dog developing as many tricks as they could to deliver as much visual bang as they could by the end of Uncharted 3, here with the power of the PlayStation 4, they have kicked things up a notch. All of the characters look great, but both Nathan and Sully both look older, there are even bits of beard that Sully missed when shaving that are pretty obvious to see, Elena looks great, but there are some odd issues with her early one that I found to be very odd, the new characters all measure up to the level of expectation we have from a Naughty Dog game, the downside to the characters are the mercs and crowds, the mercs all tend to have the same visual style, with only a few basic soldier types amongst them, each with the same worn outfits on. The crowds, especially in Madagascar, suffer from the same problem, but because they are closer to the player, they are more noticeable, within one shot I noticed the same face, but with three different shirts on. Of course, the locations and vistas are where the game shines, with some truly wonderful sights to behold, there are some that look better the worse that things get for Nate and his crew, which is a testament to the art design as well as the technical prowess of the team. There are some rough spots sadly, with small things like the games shadows appearing funny and elements that get to close to the camera tending to fade out, even I the camera is not going through them. All of that however melts away, when you get shown those few singular moments that are just wonderful in every aspect, for me it was driving with Elena, the music, scored by the impressive Henry Jackman, the stellar visuals and wonderful performances all blended to deliver a truly incredible scene and to make it even better, nothing happens, you just drive, giving you a chance to experience it all.

Once you complete the game the first time, you are given a chance to play again, with some new modifiers unlocked, character skins, gameplay tweaks and even render options. In order to unlock these, you will need to collect treasures in each stage, trigger optional conversations and more, doing so will earn you some currency, which you can then spend on these bonuses. Some of them are pretty benign, like having Nathan dress like he does at home, no matter the location, but some of them are really cool, like disabling gravity, which only happens when you kill people, or blow up things, causing thing to just start floating away. In the gameplay modifiers, you can also do things like engage a bullet time effect, slowing everything down or giving yourself unlimited ammo for your weapons. The renders are by far the ones people will enjoy or hate the most, there are simple ones, like having the game look cel shaded, which results in a Borderlands style, but for the more adventurous, you can have the game render as if it was made from ASCII characters, or even make the characters look dead, but sound like they are on helium, none of these of course change how the game plays out, they are just fun ways to experience the game over and over.

Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End is a wonderful game, as I played through before it launched, multiplayer was hit or miss on finding games, so I don’t have a lot to say on that front. From a story point of view, there addition of the brother does not really change Nathan too much, he is still the same rouge that we know and love, however bringing elements in from his past does no favours as they all tend to raise more questions than anything, rather than flesh the character out. What Naughty Dog have delivered is a great chapter to a great series of stories and apart from the few game play hiccups, it is an incredible journey. 

Thanks to PlayStation Australia for supplying the game for review, the score is only based on the single player component. 

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