Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece. There’s no point in me hiding that fact, or trying to debate it; it’s so simply and categorically true that I might as well just stick it at the start of this article and potentially be done with it. That would certainly mean that in most cases you’d be free to go off and do your own thing, but I want to really explain why it’s so good. Well, that, and I get lonely without you here. In short, Naughty Dog has just excelled at every component that shapes the end of Nathan Drake’s journey – it’s a combination of so many finely tuned and elements, it becomes almost ridiculous to behold.
To begin with, let’s take the purely external appearance of A Thief’s End; that is, what you immediately see when the game is in action. Graphically, Uncharted 4 is simply breathtaking to behold – this is something I say this about lots of games, true, but this game takes it to another level. Everything just feels so vibrant and alive, every new vista causing you to stop and just drink it in with awed wonder time and time again. Everything is so intricately detailed, something that boils down to even the finest of details – flowers dance and sway in the breeze, rocks tumble and fall down mountainsides so realistically it’s frightening, and so many more examples besides. Photo mode here doesn’t just feel like an optional bonus, it feels like an intrinsic part of the game, something you’ll want to mess around with time and time again. After all, you only need to glance around the web to see the hundreds upon hundreds of amazing screenshots other players have taken. You’d be forgiven for thinking trickery is at play, but you’d be mistaken – that’s just what the game looks like all the time.
This isn’t just all gloss and no substance, however. After three games following Drake and friends, becoming invested in their adventures and their hardships, Uncharted 4 delivers a gripping story that’s less about treasure hunting and more about looking at each character and who they really are. I should point out it’s a story that’s slow to get going, to the extent I was starting to get a little restless at the slower pacing that makes up the first few chapters, but when it truly gets going it never stops. There are so many moments where I felt the highs and lows the characters themselves were feeling on screen, making me rapidly come to realisation of how much I actually care about each and every of them. That’s something that’s not easy to achieve by a long shot, and the fact the game manages to pull it off so easily (And end the whole Uncharted saga with a satisfying conclusion to boot) only adds to its impressive nature.
Completing the package, of course, is the gameplay itself. Anyone who has even touched an Uncharted title before will know to expect the hearty mix of platforming, puzzles and action that the games have delivered in the past. Here, though, everything’s polished to an ever finer shine. There’s very few moments this time around that are in any way dull to play – everything just flows and feels so brilliantly and naturally it reaches the point where it’s almost unnoticeable. I’ll avoid spoilers, but chapter 11shows this off perfectly, and is perhaps the pinnacle of Uncharted gameplay in compacted form. It starts off with some excellent platforming in the kind of locations you’ve come to expect to see, then throws one of the cleverest puzzles the series has ever had at you, and ends with perhaps the best action sequence of all the games to date. That chapter in microcosm alone is sure to be held in high regard for years to come, but the crazy thing is it’s not the exception, it’s the rule. The whole game is just pure fun to play from start to end, with nothing there to sour the experience.
This extends to certain gameplay elements I was wary of going into the game, but which fit so perfectly I honestly question why I ever thought otherwise. Take, for instance, the jeep and boat sections – after the clumsy Jet Ski sections of the first game, I was worried the same fiddly controls and issues would rear their ugly head again here. It’s actually the opposite that holds true; both vehicles provide some unique gameplay and exciting moments that simply wouldn’t have existed otherwise. It also allows the world to open up to a bigger extent that it has ever done before, which is a very good thing. The same holds true of the grappling hook – it feels like a weird addition to begin with, an unwanted intruder into the familiar, but by the end of the game you’ll be wondering how the series ever functioned without it. Even design choices, such as a noticeable reduction in the amount of set pieces and gun fights that disappointed me initially, end up making perfect sense. This time around, there’s no reliance on certain scripted moments to get the blood pumping; the action is more widely spread out to keep you focused, and when a set piece does arrive, it’s all the more grander for it.
If there’s one final thing to mention, it’s the multiplayer, and if I were to be honest it’s here that I can fire off the only major issue I have with the game. There’s nothing actually wrong with it – it’s accessible and exciting to play, and in my short time with it so far I cannot deny I’ve had some exciting matches and memorable moments. It just feels like there’s not much to keep you coming back to it. The whole experience is geared around unlocking new costumes and animations, but after completing the one daily challenge you get a day, progress towards doing so becomes incredibly slow. There’s nothing truly exciting to work towards, and which the thrill of victory is nice enough, it just feels like there needs to be something more. The fact micro transactions loom over the whole affair can’t help but makes you feel like that this was an intended design choice as well – and with the rest of the game being so welcoming and exciting to the player, that’s not a nice feeling at all.
Seriously, though, that’s the only fault of any substance I can level at the game. Any other issues – such as the unexpected gameplay shift in the final boss fight, for instance, or the fact combat as a whole can still feel a tiny bit loose of times – quite simply does not detract from the final product in any noticeable way. From the very start of this article I’ve been gushing about how good Uncharted 4 is, I’m well aware, but that’s simply because I simply cannot get across how honestly and truly amazing a game this is. You need to play this. Seriously.