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Uncharted is quite possibly my favorite game series (barring the Broken Sword franchise) in modern gaming. And considering how innovative both the second and third installment of the franchise were (the first game was an increasingly frustrating slog through a multitude of fire fights and a jet ski mission I would prefer we never discuss again), I couldn’t wait to download the fourth and “possibly” final game in the series and forget my own mundane existence as I joined Nathan, Sully, Elena (why no Chloe???), and Nathan’s long-lost brother Sam on the pirate adventure of a lifetime.
But does the game hold up? Was it worth stealing it from trucks (something fans must have learned from previous games) and do you really get to drive a car as an armored vehicle loaded with machine guns follows you through a crowded city? Let’s find out!
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)
There is no way to overstate how beautiful this game is. While the opening didn’t impress visually (it was way too busy and I couldn’t tell where I was looking or going), there were many moments in the game that I had to stop in the middle of the action and take a picture of how impressive the graphics were. Explosions and “dazzling views from high places” have always been a staple of the franchise, but this installment’s precision-crafted incidental art — birds flocking away from you as you walked past them, trees actually looking like their leaves were swaying in the hot jungle air — definitely contributed to the 16 hours of playtime I logged due to how often I stopped to say “holy shit” and demand that everyone currently in my vicinity come by and marvel at exactly what the PS4 could do.
This was especially evident during flashback scenes. Young Nathan’s facial expressions greatly contributed to the feelings I had for him. While Sully (and Elena, to a lesser degree) felt like they could have been done a little better, Drake and Sam were exceptionally rendered, almost as if they were characters appearing in a movie rather than digital images in a video game. While I wasn’t particularly impressed with Nadine, a semi-villain who felt a little bit like an afterthought both visually and script-wise, the game’s ultimate villain, Raif, looked as if someone had taken Jake Gyllenhaal’s creepy character from Nightcrawler and brought him back to life in digital form. I actually checked the IMDb credits to make sure we hadn’t all been missing the vital bit of news that Gyllenhaal had signed on to the game without any media fanfare.
The game also flourishes musically, with the soundtrack subtly enhancing the experience even during the more mundane portions of the game. The only time it felt like it was a little forced was during scenes that were emotional rather than exploration or fighting-based. In a scene where Nate and Elena are driving along in a car (which you control!) and discussing their life, the tunes calculated to tug at your heart-strings felt more ham-fisted than character-building. And yet, all that can be forgiven due to the fact that for almost the entire game, the music and the environment feel like more of a character than some of the actual characters do.
Unfortunately, the game truly lost me on the story. While each of the 22 chapters is jam-packed, the reasons for why and how Nate is doing what he’s doing seemed pretty muddled. Finding a pirate city and scaling a clock tower as it collapsed beneath you? Cool. The mythology? Just a tad more dry than in previous games. It’s understandable that the game would have a different feel considering that Amy Hennig (the writer and director of previous games in the series) left during production and was replaced by the team who brought us The Last of Us, but there were way too many things that felt like they were pushed in because they would be convenient rather than realistic in the game universe (this was most evident as the game meandered towards its conclusion). Nathan felt even less sympathetic than before — despite the rich backstory the game provided to give you an understanding of what happened to him even before the flashback ins Uncharted 3 — and there were some scenes in the game that felt so incredibly unbelievable that I almost threw my controller at the screen because the writing felt a little lazy and not at all believable in respect to Nate’s character.
This was most evident during several scenes in which Nathan was described as someone who “wouldn’t take a life for no reason” only seconds after he and his brother had annihilated approximately 75,000 enemies.
“But I just killed so many people!” I yelled as I watched another cinematic that saw Nate letting the villain get away. “Why wouldn’t I just shoot you?”
It doesn’t help that the story does drag. It’s understandable (and not unwelcome) in the first few chapters as you get used to everything, but it’s sometimes painful as the game moves towards the climax while not feeling like it’s building. The climax (before the epilogue) is spectacular. It just doesn’t feel like you’ve fought your way to get there and seems like it’s coming out of nowhere.