After my initial disappointment with Uncharted 4’s gi-freakin’-normous day one patch, I was actually able to play it. Since Tuesday, I’ve been able to put something over ten hours into the title and have reached Chapter 12 (of 22). Yes, I’m a 45 year-old man who took a vacation day from work to play a video game. I’m a growed-up and I wanna find pirate treasure, dammit!
In a fit of hubris, having earned Platinum trophies for the three previous games, I decided to start the game on “Crushing” difficulty. Having spent the last two hours failing to progress, I’m beginning to feel that this may have been a mistake.
The game starts in an action flash-forward as other entries game have. This transitions into several tutorial flashbacks recounting experiences with Nathan’s older brother. Following this, we jump to present time and join Drake in his current career: river salvage. It may not be exciting, but pays the bills.
The extended introduction moves to Drake’s home. We start in his ramshackle office in the attic, surrounded by mementos of his past adventures. We can review notebooks from earlier adventures, see a few of the treasures we collected and even get to fondle those wonderful old belt buckles. The tour of the attic ends with a dangerous dart-gun assault against paper targets. The whole segment is perfectly tuned to squeeze out the feels.
We’re called downstairs by a female voice. Drake has – finally! – settled into a nice, quiet life with gaming’s ultimate sweetheart, Elena Fisher! Drake is happy in his life, but misses the excitement of his adventures.
A disagreement about doing the dishes leads to Drake challenging Elena to her “little TV game thing”, which turns out to be Crash Bandicoot playing on an original PlayStation.
Yes: I giggled like a little girl.
That image of Elena impishly staring, squeezed into her own excitement at Drake’s fumbling is going to be my favorite thing for a long time. I adore the relationship between these two and was fearful that this would follow Uncharted 3, which was far from kind to them (making it my least favorite of the series). It’s good to see things getting off on the right foot.
Although it almost immediately reverts to old habits. When Nathan’s brother, thought to be dead, shows up and begs him to help find Henry Avery’s lost pirate treasure to pay off a debt, he immediately lies to Elena and heads out with his brother. That’s it people: Elena needs her own game.
Gameplay is exactly as you remember it: polished to perfection The major new addition, the magical, mystical grapple hook, adds a bit of fun, but does little to change the formula. Drake can roll, jump and climb like a monkey-spider-gecko. This apparently isn’t odd in their universe as the older Sam and the much older Sully are to keep up with him swing-for-grab.
Combat is more stealth focused than previous entries. The addition of “tall plants” allows you to hide perfectly as long as enemies aren’t alerted. Unfortunately once they are looking for you things become much more difficult. As noted, I’m playing on Crushing difficulty, which means that enemies are incredibly perceptive and Drake is incredibly fragile.
The lack of checkpoints during large combat set pieces can be frustrating. You can easily spend a huge amount of time sneaking through an area, only to have a single mistake erase all of the progress. Checkpoints during exploration and other action sequences, such as driving, are much more forgiving.
The environments are huge and seem even larger due to the masterful level design. The game is pants-dropping gorgeous. As you sneak through foliage every leaf and stem and branch moves around you.
Taking what they’ve learned from “The Last of Us” on the PS3 and applying it to the significantly more powerful PS4, Naughty Dog has created the most intricate environments I’ve ever seen in a game. Houses are full of… pretty much everything you’d ever see in a house. Abandoned buildings are loaded with realistically decayed trinkets, geegaws and widgets.
You’ll often spend time just looking. At the landscape, ruins or whatever. It’s all eye-bleedingly beautiful. What elevates this even further is how alive the environments are. With the extra CPU cycles on the PS4 we get to enjoy swaying plants, splashing water, and sloshing mud. Startled birds, rats and other animals populate the areas. In those few times when you’ve returned to civilization you’ll see crowds of people; all different and each with compelling behaviors and attitudes.
As I uncover more and more of the game, I’m continually amazed at how much they’ve upped the ante while keeping the formula nearly unchanged. I am worried that I’ll ultimately find “crushing” too difficult (or too frustrating), but hope springs eternal.
I’m confident that Elena will ultimately discover Drake’s lies. I’m hopeful that she’ll give him some deserved what ‘fer and then join the adventure. I’m also expecting a double-cross – probably from Sam: Uncharted is amazing, but it isn’t particularly original.