This isn’t how I wanted to begin this review, but I think it’s important to get it out of the way as quickly as possible: the Uncharted series has never done much for me.
I’ve been in awe of the visuals and appreciated the storytelling chops of the writers, but the action on screen was so often at odds with the plot that I could never really find a foothold into the world that Naughty Dog had created.
Although it has its fair share of contradictions as well, Uncharted 4 is the first game in the series that has really hooked me, and now I’m finally starting to see what I imagine everyone else saw when Uncharted hit the PS3 in 2007.
As in previous games, Uncharted 4 doesn’t waste any time thrusting Nathan into the action. The game begins with Nathan and his brother Sam speeding toward an island in a boat, pursued by an unknown enemy that clearly wants them dead. After a messy shootout, they end up being rammed by another boat, throwing them into the rough waters before the game quickly jumps back in time.
More than any previous game, Uncharted 4 is an exploration of Nathan’s life, from his childhood to what might be his final adventure (as the subtitle, A Thief’s End, suggests). Years after the events of Uncharted 3, Nathan has settled down with Elena, played brilliantly once again by Emily Rose.
Before we get to the meat of the story, it’s worth noting that the performances, both voice and motion capture, are some of the best that have ever appeared in a video game. I played through large chunks of the game with my girlfriend in the room, and she was just as enraptured by it as she would have been by a Marvel movie.
In the midst of some of the more extensive cutscenes, we felt more like we were watching a live-action film than an animated feature. The animations, the environments, the way that the world reacts to your presence — this is one of the best looking games you’ll have ever played.
So, Nathan and Elena, after years of hardship, have finally settled down. They’ve both sworn off the dangerous adventures that nearly got them killed dozens of times over and Nathan has taken a 9-to-5 job for the first time in his life.
But, like clockwork, the comfortable reality the two have built for themselves comes crashing down when Nathan’s brother, Sam, shows up out of the blue in need of Nathan’s help. For the past 15 years, Nathan had thought Sam was dead, and blamed himself for not doing everything he could to save him at the time.
He wasn’t going to fail again, so he lies to Elena and tells her work is going to take him overseas. What he’s actually doing is helping Sam find the long lost treasure of Captain Henry Avery in order to pay of the debt of a dangerous drug lord that helped break Sam out of prison.
What follows is the most exhilarating, well-designed and well-written adventure that Naughty Dog has ever released. The game is somehow thrillingly fast-paced, but takes its time to flesh out the characters and the environments that they explore. Long before you reach the game’s breathtaking conclusion, you’ll understand and empathize with each of the game’s six main characters.
Included on that list of characters are Nathan, Sam, Elena and long-time friend and confidant Sully, as well as antagonists Rafe Adler (a multimillionaire who has history with the Drakes) and Nadine Ross (the leader of a mercenary outfit). Although they serve as fairly run-of-the-mill villains, their performances elevate them beyond what the writing alone can deliver.
But the performances aren’t the only elements of the game firing on all cylinders. Climbing feels more natural than it ever did in the PS3 entries, the new grappling hook makes traversal far more interesting than I expected it to and even the shooting has improved, bolstered by the fact that Drake can be stealthy this time around.
Although it’s not always an option, many of the game’s shootouts can be avoided altogether if you’re willing to take the time to sneak around in the tall grass and on the cliff faces in the game’s expansive environments.
The world isn’t nearly as open as the world of the latest Tomb Raider games, but you have enough room to chart a course that will give you the best chance to take everyone out without alerting anyone to your presence.
My personal favorite addition to Uncharted 4 has to be the vehicles though. I could have spent hours driving around Madagascar, just taking in the sights. Vehicle controls are surprisingly easy to mess up, especially when vehicles are only in small segments of the game, but just to put this into perspective, I’d play an Uncharted racing game with these controls. They’re that solid.
All in all, it’s just hard to believe that Naughty Dog really pulled this off. Whether it’s in the theater, in my Netflix queue or on my couch, I never get my hopes up that the end to a series — show, movie or game — is going to deliver.
Uncharted 4 delivers.
Uncharted 4 is one of the best games of the generation, easily the best PS4 exclusive to date and will serve as a benchmark for visuals and storytelling for months and possibly years to come. Needless to say, Naughty Dog knocked it out of the park with this one, and has delivered a near perfect sendoff for a franchise that has been an integral part of the PlayStation for nearly a decade.
Sony provided BGR with a copy of Uncharted 4 on the PS4 for the purposes of this review.