In my mid-twenties, one question was guaranteed to get me talking.
What’s your favourite game?
I’d ramble on about Power Stone 2, Jet Set Radio, NBA Jam and a host of other brilliant games; extolling the virtues of each, but never wanting to commit to one being better than the others.
After 2009, there was only one answer. Uncharted 2.
In my opinion, Uncharted 2 is as close to perfection as a computer game has come. The action is breathless and the characters lovable. The exploration is exciting and the set-pieces are epic. The only stumbling block in the entire game is the underwhelming final boss fight, but by the time I reached that point during my first playthrough I was already in love.
In comparison, Uncharted 3 was a letdown. By no means was it a bad game, it just wasn’t anywhere near its predecessor in terms of spectacle. Even with this in mind, I was still so excited for the release of the fourth game.
My excitement wasn’t unfounded, the final instalment of the franchise is a glorious return to form.
The plot revolves around the return of Nathan Drake’s (long presumed dead) brother, Sam, and the brothers’ hunt for pirate treasure. Nothing spectacularly different from the previous games admittedly, however subplots regarding relationship breakdowns, trust issues and childhood trauma elevate the story above the typical gun and plunder shenanigans that Uncharted has previously dealt with.
Visually the game is stunning. Idiotgamer’s head honcho loves his beast of a PC but I doubt he’ll see a game as beautiful as this on his monitor for many years to come. The audible relaxing of the console’s fan after each session demonstrate that Naughty Dog have pushed the PS4 to the limit and the results are truly impressive. Locations look glorious as Nate clambers across cliff faces, seas and rivers glisten invitingly and each of the ruined buildings look as if they’ve been built (and then deconstructed) brick by brick in a labour of love.
Naughty Dog have pushed the PS4 to the limit and the results are truly impressive.
Gameplay-wise, it’s pretty much business as usual. There are the puzzle and climbing sections that we’ve come to expect from the series, albeit with some nice little touches to keep it fresh. There is a noticeable reduction in the number of combat sections, a change which leaves design space for a couple of less linear exploration chapters. The puzzles feel slightly easier and the checkpoints feel more forgiving, however this lessens the frustration that could break out in the earlier games. In all honesty, there’s nothing groundbreaking in the gameplay but, from my perspective, if it ain’t broke…
If the gameplay isn’t a massive departure, the same can’t be said for the characterisation of the hero himself. Drake himself is a much deeper character than in any of the previous instalments, demonstrating a vulnerability that wasn’t previously explored. He seemingly has conflicting personality traits – with a constant need for companionship but the inability to maintain more than one relationship at a time. Early on, it is revealed that he hasn’t talked to Sully for years after settling down with Elena, then acts like a total arse in ditching Elena for Sam. Whilst this leads to disappointing absences of Sully and Elena (the best two characters in the series) for large portions of the game, it makes Nate a much more compelling subject than the shallow Indiana Jones replica of old – although, it must be said, not a more likeable one. The sections with the young Drake brothers bulk out his character even further, their difficult childhood often giving clear indications as to the reasons for his life choices and difficulties in getting close to others.
It’s not perfect though. There are several chapters where the pacing is slightly off; a hunt around a mansion by a young Nate and Sam is overlong and repetitive, saved only by the emotional exposition and tragedy that they find at the end of this particular exploit. The final boss fight is also poor, although it wouldn’t be an Uncharted game if this had been any good. In addition, Nadine Ross, a mercenary leader and undoubtedly the most interesting antagonist that the series has offered, is criminally underused. She deserves a game in her own right but is often dropped out of the spotlight in place of the far less interesting Rafe Adler.
Overall though, Uncharted 4 is a fitting finale to the pinnacle of computer game franchises. I’ll miss Nate, Elena and Sully but am pleased that they are all going out on a high. Uncharted 4 may not replace Uncharted 2 as my favourite game but it will at least make me pause to think before replying.