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The best Uncharted game, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

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    Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    The best Uncharted game, but not for the reasons you’d expect.

    A lot of times, I like to begin a review by explaining my experience/connection with what I’m reviewing. For Uncharted, I feel like it’s a good idea. I want it to be known that I’ve played through and enjoyed the first three games, but I never thought that they were some of the best games ever. I did think they got steadily better as they went along, with 1 being decent but kind of generic, 2 being a big improvement but still overhyped, and then 3 being a smaller step forward, but still a step forward nonetheless, and the most fun that I had with the series thus far. Now, here comes the 4th game, and it’s unbelievable to me how big of an improvement this game is over the first three. Due to a change in direction, 4 feels like a much different game than the first three, for better or worse.

    So here’s the thing with the story of the Uncharted series…to be honest, I never thought it was very good. The stories have been serviceable, but they were certainly never the draw to the series for me, because while the character moments and interactions were fun, the actual plots of the games weren’t really anything special. This has changed for Uncharted 4, with the game easily having the best story of the series, and one that I was really able to get invested in. While the game does feature a story of protagonist Nathan Drake chasing after another ancient treasure, the circumstances are different this time. Nate has given up the treasure hunting life because of its danger, and has since settled into domestic life with his wife, Elena. This all changes when Nate’s brother, Sam, who was believed to be dead all this time (which is the way for the writers to explain how it was never brought up in the first three games that Nate had a brother), comes back and tells Nate that he’s in trouble. He needs to hunt down a treasure, or else a criminal is going to come after him and kill him. Nate must go behind Elena’s back to leave his domestic life and pursue his desire to go back to his old ways. The game really plays with the question of why Nate does the things he does, and it’s all just really well handled. Like I said, I was never invested in the story of the previous games, but in 4 it’s one of the best aspects of the game.

    In some ways, Uncharted 4 can be a bit of a double-edged sword, though. See, while the game is the most polished Uncharted has ever been, and while I think the game is technically better than its predecessors, the things that are good about the game aren’t really the things I liked most about the Uncharted games. The thing I always liked about the Uncharted series was its fast-action gameplay, usually coming in the form of some really memorable cinematic set pieces. Believe it or not, for how good Uncharted 4 is, its set pieces are probably some of the least memorable of the series. They’re definitely not as strong as the ones from 2 and 3. There are a few good moments, but most of them are a lot more short-lived. It’s not that the set pieces in 4 are bad, it’s just that they’re not the game’s strong suits.

    What Uncharted 4 does seem to most focus on is exploration. To be honest, I always thought Uncharted’s exploration parts were fun, but flawed. I always had trial-and-error kinds of problems where it sometimes didn’t feel obvious where I was meant to go next, what I could climb on, or if I could make a jump. I feel like all of this has been highly refined for Uncharted 4. There’s little additions that the games developers have made that have made a huge difference. Whether it be a shift in a camera angle to point you in the right direction, or having Nate reach out his hand to signal when he’s able to make a jump, it’s these little touches that have really refined the exploration aspects of the game. There are also other additions to the game, such as sliding and a grappling hook, that make the exploration a lot more enjoyable. You can tell that exploration was a key focus for this game, though, because a lot of the environments are a lot more open-ended than in the previous three games. Some chapters can easily take an hour or so to get through, because they throw you into this wide area and give you free reign to get through it. The game is still linear, but it’s also more open at times, if that makes sense. So anyway, this is where my main ¡°complaint¡± for the game comes in…while the exploration is a lot more enjoyable than in previous games, it was never the main draw to the series for me, and so I wish I got more fast-paced moments instead of the slow, open exploration that Uncharted 4 focuses on. What the game does is fantastic, it just wasn’t necessarily what I was looking for.

    So then here’s the quick rundown for how the gameplay of Uncharted 4 as a whole holds up. As I already said, the set pieces are some of the weakest of the series (although still very good at times), while the exploration is easily the strongest of the series. The puzzles have never felt like a huge part of the series to me, and their presence is about the same in this game. I always viewed them as more of an annoying distraction in past games, but in this one I actually thought they were pretty well done. Nothing spectacular, but I didn’t dread those parts of the game. Then, finally, there’s the combat. The gunplay, while refined with features like auto-aiming, feels like the most unchanged part of the game for me. Hand-to-hand combat is mostly the same too, but it’s more partner-focused than in past games. By that, I mean that you’ll find yourself in a scenario where an enemy gets you in some sort of hold, and your partner will help you out of it. It’s nothing too fancy, but it’s fun. I’ve felt that with every new addition of Uncharted, the series has focused more and more on stealth, and that’s even more true here. In Uncharted 4, there are entire sections of the game where you have the option of trying to get past an enemy base without killing anybody, or even with killing everybody without getting in any huge gunfight. This is obviously much harder to pull off than to go in guns blazing, but they’ve made it more of a stealth experience that’s available in this one. These parts of the game feel pretty refined too.

    As a quick aside, I just want to briefly talk about Survival mode. I don’t want to factor this in too much for the game since it wasn’t initially a part of the game on release, but now that enough time has passed I feel I can talk about it. I just want to say that I normally love Survival modes in games (such as in Call of Duty games), so I was pretty excited to try it out for Uncharted 4. And for what it’s worth, it’s fun. However, it isn’t accessible for everyone (myself included), so it was massively disappointing for me. For one thing, there’s no local multiplayer for it. I know that split-screen is harder to do nowadays because of processing power and blah blah blah, but these are the kinds of modes that I love to play with friends, and some of those friends don’t have their own PS4, so it’s a shame that you can only play it online with other people. You CAN play it by yourself, but again it’s not easily accessible for everyone. I don’t have a good online connection, and so I typically always stay away from online games, and Uncharted 4’s survival mode is disappointingly online-only. I don’t understand why you need to be connected online to play this mode by yourself, but you do. Since my connection boots me off pretty frequently, there were plenty of times where I would be three waves in to a five-wave survival match, and my game got terminated because my connection failed. I’m perfectly accepting of the fact that I can’t play online multiplayer games with my crappy connection, but it’s really disappointing to me when I need an online connection to play a single-player game, and I especially expected more from a developer like Naughty Dog. The mode is fun if you have the means to play it, but for my personal experience, it was disappointing. I should also just briefly mention here that needless to say, since I don’t have a good online connection, I didn’t even try the online multiplayer. So, I sadly can’t review this part of the game.

    On a technical level, the game is practically flawless. This is one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen, and it runs very smoothly too. I’m usually not someone that cares much about graphics, but in this game I was so impressed by them that I actually regularly took screenshots throughout my playthrough so that I could look at different environments again later. If that isn’t a testament to how beautiful the game is, then I don’t know what is. Also, in the sound department, I could tell that things like sound effects and voice acting were fine-tuned to an amazing degree, because everything sounds very well done. I was also a big fan of the music. While it was more the kind of score that served the gameplay rather than being memorable music (I found this to be the case for the whole Uncharted series, though), it definitely heightened the experience in certain moments for me.

    So, in the end, with Uncharted 4 we have a truly fantastic game, but one that feels much different from its first three predecessors. If you’re okay with an Uncharted game that focuses most on story, exploration, and detailed environments, then you will be thrilled with Uncharted 4. If you only care about the fast-paced action in Uncharted, you might be a bit disappointed here. Also, in terms of length, you’ll either be thrilled or disappointed. It’s definitely the longest Uncharted game, taking somewhere around 15-20 hours to beat the story. So, if you’ve felt like previous Uncharted games were too short, then you’ll be happy to know that you’ll get more content out of Uncharted 4. However, if you liked the Uncharted games in the past because of them being quick experiences, then you might be a little disappointed that Uncharted 4 is more drawn out than past games. In the end, I think that Uncharted 4 is the best of the series, but it really depends what you want out of the game. I personally loved it, just not necessarily for the reasons I normally like Uncharted games.

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