Uncharted 4 – Review

I set myself up for this review, in my previous Uncharted 4 post.  Basically ruining the score, because I can’t help but gush over how good a game this is, and how much I love this series.

If you’re only interested in the score, it’s getting “Exceptional”, simple (first game ever to do that here!).  If you want to know why, read on….

Looking good

Straight off the bat, this is a stunning game (no doubt even prettier on a PS4 Pro?), everything looks fantastic.

Character faces and models are wonderful, and they move very naturally, you can see emotion in their faces, you can see how they’re feeling based on how they move.  The motion capture here is something else. Stellar work.

Better yet though, is all of the scenery.  Not one level/map/area has been left out.  Every cave, every wall, every blade of grass is accounted for and displayed in vivid, beautiful colour.  The distant backdrops of mountains and towns etc are all stunning.

Honestly there’s nothing about this game that looks bad, or less than excellent.  It got to the point where I was taking screenshots every few minutes, but it ended up being futile, because every frame of this game looks great and I can’t quite capture everything that I want to.  It’s a task the requires either much greater skill an attention than I can provide, or I’d argue people would just be better playing through and seeing it for themselves.

The camera works nicely, and it seems to have been really well used to frame landscapes and the areas in which you are visiting.  Every place is given opportunity to shine, with the use of some lovely camera angles and lighting.

The lighting is also something else.  I found myself subconsciously “feeling” the weather.  When it was bright and sunny, you knew it, it seemed really natural and welcoming, but as soon as the rain started to pour, or the snow was present, the way the areas were lit and coloured really made it feel that bit more chilly.  I can’t explain it, and it isn’t a phenomenon I could say I’ve experience before?  Impressive work.

Between textures, lighting and camera angles, the whole game is dripping in a cinematic vibe, that sets the tone not only for this game, but the series, too.  It just works, and it really allows the narrative to move freely because you’re absorbing it in a familiar way.

Keep an eye out for those explosions (there are plenty), man, they look incredible!!

Sounds good to me

If you took away the gloss that the game has lovingly been coated in, you could still enjoy the game on just how it sounds.

Voice acting from the one and only Nolan North, reprising his role as Nathan Drake, and all the other actors filling in movie-type roles.  Every line is delivered with sincerity, there’s a commitment to these characters from each actor, not just hamming it up for a video game, but adding emotion and texture.  Again, the game is able to carry the story with ease, you just feel for and believe each character.

Ok, Rafe was a little wooden, but it’s the shtick of that kind of villain, so it works in a Hollywood action movie kinda way.

Voices aside, the score is lush, with some real stand out moments that just really put you in the moment.  One piece in particular that plays in Chapter 17 “For Better or for Worse” just blew me away.  Feeling the relationship dynamic between Nate and Elena and seeing how it changed at this point…..man it just hit me perfectly.

Weapons sound great, too.  Explosions in particular, and the audio cues for things going on around you are perfect.  There’s so much detail here, and the depth in which things are  implemented is superb.  Honestly, there isn’t anything here that hasn’t been finished off to the highest standard.

Handling

Uncharted 4 is a 3rd person adventure, with cover and shooting mechanics.  But it also has climbing, swinging, swimming and driving elements, too.  It’s a lot to cover, but it all seems so effortless (apart from when you’re trying to drive up a really muddy hill…..).

There’s nothing over-complicated here, there are on-screen cues at all times, so you know when and where to throw your grappling hook.  Or there’s the white (bird poo-tinged?) ledges that you recognise as grabbable.

Shooting felt a little odd to start, but that’s more down to the poor layout of the PS4 controller, and it’s naff shoulder buttons.  You soon settle into it, and at worst, it’s as good as any other third-person action game.

Sometimes you snap to the wrong cover, or roll out into your doom.  Sometimes you climb or jump off a ledge by accident.  It happens.  Call it lapse of judgement or bad luck, but sometimes, the circle button just hates me when I’m trying to stay alive, as does the x.

I think the climbing deserves a special mention, it’s pretty fluid, and the character animations go a long way to making it look so natural.  They reach out when near a possible ledge, and that little visual clue really speeds things up.

I loved almost all the vehicle sections.  Sure, boats are a little unwieldy, but it seemed pretty realistic to me.

The addition of a winch, and necessary moments in which to use it, were really nice touches.  Very big fan of the jeep sections, loads of space to manoeuvre and explore, with plenty of proper off-roading.  Really really cool.

Barring some awkward rolling and climbing over the wrong ledges, this all worked really well.  Stealth sections were perfectly achievable, with patience, and this is thanks to the stealth take-downs, and hiding in grass etc.  The AI was pretty damn sharp though, so these sections almost always ended in a gunfight for me.

Crash Bandicoot!!!  One thing you get to do in-game, is play a full level of actual Crash Bandicoot, on a virtual Playstation.  It’s as tough and rough-looking as you remember, but what a really nice little addition to the game, and it works within the context of the story.  Great touch.

 

Set pieces

Loads of action-based games have pre-determined scenes, things like buildings falling down, cars ploughing through walls, certain bits of scenery crumbling as you run etc.

Uncharted 4 is one of the biggest collections of set pieces I’ve ever seen.  Not in an “everything is scripted” kind of way, but in a “holy shit, all that’s going on, and then that wall collapsed on me, or that boat started to sink, how on earth does it all happen at once?” kind or way.

The amount of added contextual drama is stunning.  From the simple “disintegrating ledge that I’m climbing on” to the “giant bell tower collapsing whilst you’re at the top of it”, it’s mind-blowing and so over-the-top, you never have a dull moment.

Again, this feeds into that action-movie feel, and it makes the world feel more real and alive.  You’re constantly in the action.  It’s just brilliant.

AI

One thing I remember from the first Uncharted game, was the brutal artificial intelligence when in a firefight.

I’ve played all of these games on the “hard” setting, and I would suggest that is a really apt description……

Certainly, the enemies aren’t literally spawning in behind you on purpose, like they did in Drake’s Fortune, but they’re not afraid to advance, flank you, take cover and get a good spot to shoot down on you.  It’s both impressive and incredibly frustrating.

I found myself doing the same firefight over and over until I nailed it.  Not really getting frustrated, because I knew it was often my fault, but damn, the AI is relentless in tracking you down.  I died way more than anyone should do, particularly in a couple of really rough fights that I thought I was going to stealth my way around…..

On the reverse of that, you’re often climbing about with a partner, and they never once seemed to get stuck or stray-off on their own.  They found the right paths, they hit the right marks at the right times, it was hassle-free on that count, and that’s a rare occurrence on a game like this.  Very impressive all around.

The story

Uncharted 4 has been out a while now, but I’m not going to put any potential spoilers in here.

The set up is great, you’re coaxed into going on yet another treasure hunt, this time with your brother.  The treasure belongs to a famed pirate “Captain Henry Avery”, and the once-thought fantasy island “Libertalia”.

It’s a huge adventure that takes you across the globe, meeting old faces and new, and it’s the perfect all-encapsulating story to round out the Nathan Drake’s story.

You start off in the past, you dart back and forth between now, and when you’re kids, with your brother.  There’s Nathan Drake just at home with his now-wife Elena.

It really gives the exposition you need to get the wider-picture of the brothers, of Nathan, Sully and Elena, post-Uncharted 3 and of how this particular treasure hunt started years ago.

The script is pretty solid, and the characters each stand out for themselves.  You see how well rounded Nate has become, and the dynamic between the brothers of Nate and Sam really reminded me of being with my brothers, very nicely done.

The one character I felt was let down, was Elena.  She’s such a great female protagonist, but she was kind of let down by being the “shunned but forgiving wife”, it was a shame to see her put in such a generic role, but it worked in context of the whole story, and the emotions she delivered, definitely hit me more than I’d openly admit…….

Everyone delivered on their roles, and as mentioned before Rafe was a bit wooden, but that’s kind of the stereotype for his role in the story.

End of an era

I loved the story and how all the characters had their time to develop, but it wasn’t until the final chapter, the epilogue, that I realised just how wonderful this whole game had been.

What a way to finish the Nathan Drake saga.

I don’t want to go into detail, but it’s set years in the future, and you get a glimpse into the lives of everyone important, and it is just so sun-drenched and lovely.  Honestly, it gave me that “lump in the throat” that you get when you see a happy ending in a film.

Perfect way to end one of the best game series there is. Excellent.

Rating

Honestly, I could bang on about the Uncharted series, and this final chapter of Nathan Drake’s story, for as long as you’d like.  Cast-aside the story and the characters, and you still have a solid third-person action game, with treasure.

Special mention: Treasure is scattered around the maps of all Uncharted games, glistening, hidden away to be collected. Uncharted 4 is no different, and it quickly became one of my favourite sub-quests in all of the games. Picking up old treasures and having a 3D model to look at is a nice treat, as are the trophies you can earn for collecting so many.  I finished with only 47…..I must go back for more!!

Everything here is crafted and delivered to the highest standard.  If you like action games, you’ll love it.  If you like action movies, you’ll love it.  If you like adventure and treasure, you’ll love it.

The whole game is nothing short of exceptional, and I think this is the first ever “exceptional” rating for a game here at Ninja Refinery.

The best game in one of the best gaming series of recent years.  This game is an absolute must for any Playstation 4 owner.

You could even go one better and do a bit of research about Avery and his exploits.  As is always the case with the Uncharted series, they’re steeped in history, granted some of it is myth, but it’s never so far-fetched or “Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”….. The references to so many historical figures, and places, it just puts you in this almost believable fantasy world, and it’s an amazing escape from reality.

If gaming is escapism, Uncharted games are the premium experiences, and Uncharted 4 is the next level up.

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