Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Played On: PS4
Release Date: May 10, 2016

I have a weird relationship with Uncharted.

I love that I get to play a pulp adventurer, charming and gravity defying, Nathan Drake allows me to escape mowing the lawn for a few hours and explore hidden cities and temples.

On the other hand, the fire fights wear me down. Tedious and long, the bodies pile up and all I want is to get to the next cut-scene or quiet tomb.

But I've been on a journey with Nathan Drake, one that spans four games between the PS3 and Vita, and dammit, I needed to see it through.

What I didn't like

I guess I can't fault the game for this because my PS4 is still working, but Uncharted 4 is really hard on the hardware. I thought the PS4 was doing a fan test during the first loading screen. And then during the climax, the entire thing froze, the fans kicked into high gear, and the game crashed.

And if you don't have that day one patch downloaded, some crazy things happen, like brother Sam floating through the air and geography and textures popping late like an early PS1 game.

I still hate the fights. They just aren't really all that fun. They never have been in Uncharted. Usually, they're frustrating and long. And when you know you're close to the end, some armored prick shows up with an RPG and kills you before you see him, starting the fight over.

Some are perfectly challenging and you feel a sense of accomplishment, but mostly you find Drake sticking to every piece of cover you don't want him to.

The fighting is slightly better than it has been in the past, but only very slightly. It still feels too loose, the guns still feel too weak, and the cover system is still shit.

That is, unless you take on encounters in complete stealth, which Naughty Dog did a pretty good job of giving you the option of.

And the last fight... without any spoilers, I haven't been that frustrated in a fight since I knife fought Krauser in Resident Evil 4. I ended up dying probably a dozen times. I would've much rather watched the beautiful fight in a cut-scene a'la Hideo Kojima, than actually play it.

What was OK

The best climbing I've ever experienced was in Assassin's Creed Black Flag, which highlighted how clumsy Uncharted's climbing can be. Instead of seeing an animation that looks smooth as you move from hand hold to hand hold in Assassin's Creed, Drake still jumps, defies gravity, the body stiffly shifts to face the next spot, and then he latches on.

They still highlight most the hand holds you're supposed to move to next, but the animation of Drake reaching out toward where he can grab doesn't always happen. Instead you sort of do this rock back and forth dance while hanging from a cliff waiting for the animation to tell you that it's OK to jump.

Overall though, it's serviceable for what you have to do. It works mostly fine, just looks awkward.

What I liked

It feels unnecessary to say that the environments, sound design, story, and dialogue is all top notch, probably the best in any game ever. (And PC master race, yes, it even looks better than a lot of your games on high.)

It's unbelievable the way Naughty Dog puts an already beautiful playground together and then use light and shadow to bring it to a new level of realism. And then little touches like having lemurs and turtles living in the environments blurs the line between video game and reality a little more.

There were several cases where I had to jump from high places, I got a twinge of vertigo and my stomach lurched as if it were actually me falling a hundred feet into water.

Uncharted 4 made me personally feel more robot. The interactions between characters is so natural and realistic that I had to question if I was human enough. The dance between the writing and the superb voice acting by Nolan North, Troy Baker, Richard McGonagle, Emily Rose, Warren Kole, and Laura Bailey is one which I feel will not be matched until Naughty Dog teams up with this cast again.

The game did a great job of making you feel like a pulp adventurer. I lost myself in the story, always getting excited when I found a new note to give backstory, always wanting to push ahead a little more. In past Uncharted games, I wanted them to cut 3-4 hours out of the middle. In this game, I didn't feel satiated even when the credits rolled.

I wanted to live in this world for another 10 hours.

And dammit, take your time with the epilogue, it really feels like a true end of Naughty Dog and Nathan Drake.

Final Thoughts

Uncharted 4 is a masterclass in environment design, level design, story writing, voice acting, and pacing. I think the argument of which Uncharted game is better is now over, it's undoubtedly 4. The only argument for 2 or 3 is that they were the first games that made you realize what a special developer Naughty Dog is. 

After the credits were done, I put the game back on the shelf. I wasn't ready to start messing around and looking for treasure. This is a game I will pull off my shelf on a cold winter day when I want to visit some old friends and have an adventure. 

Rating: If you have a PS4, you already bought it. 

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