The Uncharted series has long been one of my favorite. The fun, National Treasure-esque, globetrotting stories and solid third person shooter gameplay have always made for fun, and extremely entertaining games overall. The set pieces in Uncharted 1-3 were second to none, and developer Naughty Dog always knew just how to keep a player engaged in the non-stop thrill ride of Nathan Drake’s life. With Uncharted 4 a lot of the same draws remain, but we get a much more personal story about Nathan and the cast of characters that surround him. By making The Last of Us, Naughty Dog has learned how to bring very personal tales into their phenomenal visual and set-piece oriented games. This addition only improves on Uncharted’s overall appeal, and makes Uncharted 4 the best Uncharted game to date, and one of Naughty Dog’s best efforts ever.
The story of the Uncharted series has always followed Nathan Drake, Victor “Sully” Sullivan, and Elena Fisher on their globetrotting adventures and romances along the way. It followed them in the way The Fast and Furious movies follow the stories of their individual characters. You get to know them, know a bit about what makes them tick, but that’s it. No deep emotional insights and typically not a lot of internal struggle. Uncharted 4 changes that, and delivers a much more personal story surrounding Nate, Elena, and Nate’s brother Sam. The details in the early story are fairly straight forward. Sam was long missing (presumed dead) and shows up randomly at Nate’s new, non-treasure hunty day job. How we got to this point, how Sam disappeared, and a bit more backstory is delivered in one of the best introduction sequences I’ve played in a video game. I’m not going to spoil it here, but rest assured that Sam just doesn’t show up and is now all of the sudden just there, his backstory is filled in to the point where it feels like he existed in the Uncharted 1-3 world, he was just gone. Once Sam reappears it’s clear that he’s in trouble. Sam escaped prison with the help of a drug lord, and now this drug lord wants the treasure Sam mentioned (a few hundred times) that he would try to find if he ever got out. So he needs Nate’s help, but Nate is out of the game. Fast forward a bit, and Nate is on a plane once again to an exotic location to help bail out his brother and find a pirate treasure worth millions. Not telling Elena what he was up to might come back to haunt him, but to Nate it’s all about family. They team up with Sully and over the course of the game work to find the treasure while competing with a private military company called Shoreline, lead by Nadine Ross and assisted by Rafe Adler, this story’s “bad guys.”
The story overall is fantastic. While it still is an action tale, detailing the trio’s hunt for pirate treasure, it’s also a personal one. It digs into Nate’s mindset, his emotions, and his relationships with Elena and his brother. You see the agony on Nate’s face when things go bad, you feel bad for characters. Everything in the narrative feels much more Last of Us than Uncharted 3. There was not one point where I was ready to be done and every time another cutscene came up I turned the volume up and paid close attention. The story, the acting, the animations of the character’s faces, everything is so well done that it’s nearly like watching a movie. The performances put in by Nolan North and Troy Baker are phenomenal as usual, and the new PS4 tech only goes to help Naughty Dog show the emotions of the characters even better than was ever possible. If you enjoyed the more personal story of The Last of Us, and wouldn’t mind that mixed with some treasure hunting, you’ll love the story in Uncharted 4. It should take you about 15 hours to complete on the normal difficulty as well.
So, aside from all that, what about gameplay? Uncharted has always been a fairly basic third person shooter/action game, and Uncharted 4 does not change the formula at all. There are a few new tweaks that improve on the gameplay (better feeling guns, better animations for traversal that enable you to judge your location better) but all in all it’s still Uncharted gameplay. You’ll go through segments shooting bad guys, and other segments crawling up walls and pushing boxes for platforms. The biggest improvement to the formula comes in the more open environments and the addition of some basic stealth mechanics. The play spaces are big now, and in each of them are multiple ways to take enemies out without bullets. You can hide in tall grass, scale vertical buildings and rock formations to do jumping take downs and throw enemies off ledges, and more. Adding in these gameplay options is where the changes to the Uncharted formula shine the most. I typically found myself stealth-killing over half the enemies in each area before disposing of the rest with bullets and grenades. The shooting is improved as well, and the only negative I have is that the early weapons feel far too unwieldy compared to the guns you get later in the story. I also loved the addition of the new rope mechanic, but wish it was a bit more free-form as to where you can use it. For the gameplay in general, if you were fine with Uncharted 1-3, you’ll be fine with 4, and happy with some of the new additions.
Aside from campaign there is once again a multiplayer component. This time around Naughty Dog has introduced in-game purchased help in the form of AI controlled assistants, totems from past games that do various things to enemies, and more. It adds a bit of fun variation and works to help you turn the tide of a battle. Getting teamed up on by two enemy players? Call in an AI sniper to watch your back. Have a bunch of enemies cornered? Throw down the stone from Uncharted 1 to do massive damage to anyone nearby. The maps and modes are all standard fare, and the mode itself looks and runs great overall. Naughty Dog has also added a ton of customization unlocks for those who love to make their character look unique. Uncharted 4’s multiplayer is a lot of fun, and will be taken like Uncharted 3 and The Last of Us’ multiplayer modes, solid additions to the game and something to check out after beating the main story.
Overall, as this is (likely) the last Uncharted game, you have to look back on where the series started. Uncharted 1 was a solid, albeit a bit shallow, early PS3 game that was a bit of fun but nothing mind-blowing. Nine years and three games later Naughty Dog has made the series one of the best ever, and one of the absolute best showcases of the PlayStation hardware. While it’s sad to see Nate’s story conclude, it does so in a fitting way that leaves you feeling complete. While the game still has a few issues on the gameplay side that could be made better, those are nitpicks when talking about the package as a whole. Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece, and will be looked back upon as one of gaming’s best offerings in the PlayStation 4 era. I anxiously await the previously announce story DLC for the game, and then whatever Naughty Dog does next. They have yet to disappoint.