Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

After Uncharted 3 and the titles for the PS Vita, I was happy to see Naughty Dog tackling a new series in the form of The Last of Us. As seen before with both the Crash Bandicoot– and the Jak-series, Naughty Dog usually works in trilogies with possibly a spin-off title or three, and Uncharted was no different. That is, until a fourth instalment was announced. While it was nice to see Nathan return, I was worried due to that Amy Hennig and Justin Richmond had left Naughty Dog to join other companies. Because of this, the project was handed over to Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, who had directed The Last of Us. This is easy to see the moment you start the game due to its style and tone, but a new take on the Uncharted-series could prove interesting or even good. However, this one did not.


The last of Nathan

After a couple of flashbacks that are rather uninteresting than anything else, we meet up with the series’ protagonist, Nathan Drake, who has retired from his adventurous life of treasure hunting. Nowadays, he is working at a harbour and living a normal life with his wife, Elena Fisher. Though when his long lost brother Sam visits him, he invites Nate to go on a final adventure together. I will try my best to not to spoil the story from here on out, but I have problems upon problems with it. To give away my main issue with it, it revolves around the poor character developments.

Instead of having the adventure centred around interesting lore or history due to Nathan’s obsession with the subject, it is forwarded because of family members’ work and their legacy. This is incredibly lazy and forced. Using a family member to give another character a personality trait is just plain bad, especially when we never see them interact with each other, giving no strong context to this setup. Why cannot a character be an individual and not be affected by a legacy so shallowly implemented? After all, it worked great in the previous titles.

Nathan’s brother does not add anything to this journey either, as he is simply a dull character with no interesting or believable personality. You are simply supposed to feel for him because he is family to Nathan and nothing else. The same poor setup goes for the villains, as one is just a greedy rich boy with no backstory and the other is a dull mercenary who tries so hard to be a strong female character without having any personality. None goes through an interesting arc or shows any clear form of diverse characteristics, making them become cliche stereotypes. This makes the story’s entire focus on the characters worthless and tedious, but the problems do not stop here.

There are plenty of lies told all over the place and they do not make any sense. For example, Nate lies to Elena about where he is going, despite that they have been on plenty of journeys together and the fact that she was never against him reliving the past. There are others as well, but I will not spoil them and just say that every time this happened, it felt strange since the truth seemed more reasonable to tell than the actual lie. The game’s tone is incredibly dark, but never on a mature level. The developers really tried to go with the same atmosphere presented in The Last of Us, but unlike that game where you are in a dangerous wasteland, they treat the smallest incidents in Uncharted 4 as the most devastating of discoveries that only a person living under a rock would find interesting. 

I do not mean to come of as spiteful, but this is just an awful setup overall and from a series who has mocked dark ages of the 2000’s media, it is bizarre to see it in a fourth instalment and trying to be taken seriously with no mature effort. The amount of flashbacks as well are all uninteresting, as they do not tell anything important and just showcases what an idiot brother Sam was. Speaking of which, why do we need a brother who has no interesting bond with Nate in this story? Sully is the perfect father figure, where we already have a great and established connection throughout the entire series between him and Nathan. I cannot for the life of me figure out why the writers did not just have him on board and tried to work him into the story, instead of a random and insignificant person.

Sadly, the dialogues are not much better and I can only remember four lines fondly, with a couple of jokes that gets hammered in despite that they get old after the first time. Because of this, the beloved characters I could root for and enjoy banters between, became trapped in a surreal reality where it was hard to get anything out of them. Then we have the adventure itself that includes pirates, which should have made an entertaining journey. Unfortunately, it also falls flat due to odd logic, a religious tone trying too hard to cash in on the Da Vinci Code and a mystery that even the youngest mindsets who have no interest in detective work, can figure out what is going to happen. They also try to harp in diaries from fallen pirates and adventurers, but it is hard to feel anything for them as the scripts become unrealistic or sappy for the sake of forcing emotional response.

The same lack of investment goes for the over the top moments, since they are clearly scripted with the visuals already showcasing what scenarios will collapse and putting the camera too close to really feel any surprise or impact. There was nothing I liked, except for one immersive part in one later chapter and a cute nod to Naughty Dog’s previous work. Neither was enough to save this game, of course. On top of all of this, the game ends on such a drawn out final that feels forced and makes me hate everything put into this tale. This is basically the stereotypical bad movie adapted to a game, just with no big screen release. Thank God this story actually ended.

Story Score: 1/10


One jump forward, one slip down towards stalagmites

Uncharted 4 deviates from the previous entries in a couple of ways, but the core setups of platforming and shooting are still similar. You will be climbing around realistic constructions and have them being as straightforward as before, making them more cinematic experiences. Nathan has gotten a couple of new tools in order to expand this aspect, in the form of a rope for connecting to branches to swing off or to pull boxes and pitons for holding onto specific terrains. Unfortunately, neither are interesting additions as both just require a different button to press, clearly missing the point of the platforming’s limitations.

It was always cinematic in order to create an immersive scope or atmosphere, and by trying to be “complicated” by simply adding two more buttons to push with lenient timing, it simply showcases rather how dull these scenarios can be. This holds especially true when no constructions are interesting to scale, with only two exceptions. There are even movable crates to make platforming more “challenging”, but it only serves to prolong the game unnecessarily.

Another new addition for traversing through this world, comes in the form of vehicle-segments where you will drive a car or a boat in order to search around vast areas. These are just lacklustre, since they are rather for getting optional treasures within ginormous areas that have little to speak of in design. Even if you are just going directly towards the plot-important parts, they can feel drawn out just for the sake of trying to create an atmosphere or scope. This ultimately fails due to no interesting discoveries or mechanics presented, making these sections tiresome. Sure, you can hook to objects to pull or be pulled towards with the car, but it rather adds multiple steps for getting forward instead of being used for exploration. You cannot even jump out of the vehicles and have to stop completely in order to get out, slowing down any episode involving these even further.

Sadly, it is not just the vehicle-segments that have too large landscapes. Many gunfights take place in huge areas where enemies can ram you with bullets from everywhere. Nathan can still dodge-roll, cover, blind-fire, shoot from the hip, aim down sight and carry two different guns. He can at any time hold one two-handed such as an assault rifle, and a handgun like an Uzi. The grenades also functions as a good support, but there are plenty of problems here despite the decent arsenal to encounter.

To start off, enemies throw grenades like there is no tomorrow and with the feature of throwing back grenades being gone in this instalment, it can get unfairly difficult or stretch fights out tediously as you dodge-roll every few second back and forth. You yourself can only hold either four grenades or dynamites, with neither helping out much. Enemies that also wear huge armours cannot be staggered up close, since the melee combat has been butchered.

Instead of having a counter-button and make attacks matter, here you can only attack with square and use triangle for getting out of grabs and also to grab enemies. That is it. This makes every scenario where hand-to-hand combat is involved a boring button masher and since the shooting bombards you with plenty of enemies in giant areas, fights became simply monotonous. About 20% of them will take place in small areas with more objects to cover behind, more reasons to change up tactics and present good variety, but this is not enough to make the overall combat engaging.

I believe this was done because Uncharted 4 really wants you to focus on its stealth mechanics. This works well since Nathan is agile and as long as he is not spotted, he can instakill fiends. However, the camera can get awfully close to your character and while going stealth is a good addition, being forced into it is terrible when there are other options that are clearly there to only tease you. Fighting head on is also simply quicker. This holds especially true when the areas are ginormous, since you have to wait for long periods of time for the opportunity to progress if you take the silent route, making it a drag. Highlighting enemies’ positions does help in planning, but it is still time-consuming when areas are so massive.

All of this falls even harder when it comes clear how poor the pacing is throughout the entire game. Uncharted 4 can feel like a kid on a huge sugar rush who is afraid of making you bored. It changes constantly from one gameplay aspect to another, making no part of it provide any positive impact or get fleshed out. This variety does not even work as a breather between each other, due to the lack of interesting designs or mechanics.

The occasional puzzles are not any better either. They could have been a neat addition, but never varies and might even require you to do them three times in a row with each having one more procedure that is not unique from the last one. Other parts can be one-time events, such as when you have to dive underwater for a short time, or another where I had to shake the controller to make my flashlight work. These events are simply there once and never felt intriguing or even immersive enough to be memorable. Then Uncharted 4 has plenty of other oddities, such as conversation options early on in the game that is completely neglected further on and does not effect anything. Not even the optional dialogues were interesting.

All in all, Uncharted 4 is a mess and does not know how to make the journey immersive and rather tries to make things seem big and expansive in its mechanics. Instead, everything becomes uninteresting and poorly executed. It is almost like the developers wanted the game to be in tone with other titles like Dishonored and still keep to Uncharted’s gameplay. Because of the terrible pacing and lack of identity or quality, I got almost nothing but frustration out of this game. To give credit, there are three things I liked in Uncharted 4. First is a novel recreation of a stage from a certain Naughty Dog title, the second is level 8 with a wonderful and creative climb upwards a clock tower, and the final boss provided a neat fight. Sadly, for the rest of the 10 hours I played this, I was about to snap from how much I just wished for this game to end.

Gameplay Score: 2/10


Realistic rather than memorable

The mentioned terrible storytelling and writing is really something Hollywood is stereotypically known for and it does not get much better with Uncharted 4′s presentation. Let me just make it clear that this is a gorgeous game on a technical level with beautiful lighting, impressive textures, and amazing draw distance. Unfortunately, there is a huge problem with this realistic setting and changes they made to make our heroes more pretty. Nathan has had a change in his facial feature (even including his nose) to make him more visually generic and appealing, making him into a blank character. Keep in mind, this was done despite that he has a voice and some characteristics. Similar to this poor taste, Elena has not aged a day and looks even less distinct than before, making her actually forgettable.

While places like as Madagascar and Scotland can be wonderful in scope, there are next to no animals or memorable constructions to talk about, except for those important to the plot. This makes the huge areas simply empty and uninteresting for the sake of trying to provide a scope. The immersion is further damaged when you can see small oddities in constructions that will lead to dire or action-packed situations. I can go further on with how the camera is too close to appreciate the events when they happen or that optional treasures are just a sparkles, but in the end: nothing is impactful or fascinating. Even Nate’s journal is uninteresting since what once had so much cluttered drawings before, is now in order and pleasantly presented. This alone showcases how they tried to make Uncharted 4 pretty, but never personal.

I can say the same for the music by Henry Jackman. He is known for plenty of classics such as Winnie the Pooh, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Big Hero 6, and his talent is definitely shown here. He has composed a fantastic soundtrack for this game, with a huge focus on symphony and dark tones. However, it rarely fits. The music is powerful, but cannot keep up with what is a forgettable game visually and storywise, which makes it almost offensive that his talent is put to waste. There are occasional scenes where the music is used for creating emotions, but instead provides frustration and long sighs of annoyances due to the forced dialogue or poor character choices. It is still wonderful, but I really wish his talent was actually well implemented.

Not to mention, few captures the land Nathan is visiting because of the use of symphony and no cultural instruments or genres. While the dialogues are generally awful, the voice actors give everything they got and it is nice to hear that they are at least trying, despite the script they had to work with. The audio for explosions, guns and combat is in general effective and exciting, so the game got that right. Unfortunately, the presentation is just nice and nothing else.

Presentation Score: 5/10


No looking back

Finding treasures scattered throughout the game, optional conversations to partake in and discovering elements for noting down in the journal, all are neat ideas for optional content. However, due to how much drawn out areas can be, everything become tedious and boring to seek out. The results for doing them are not engaging either, as the dialogues are terrible and the journal is on a level of a school play. It rather becomes a punishment for attempting to find everything. This is sad as Naughty Dog included unlockable skins, weapons, rendering- and gameplay modes to give some fun rewards for a second playthrough. They are decent for a chuckle, but I can never see myself giving this game another go, not even for the concept art or the unlockable harder difficulty. I just wanted to be done with this journey.

I did not talk about the previous multiplayer modes, since they were not in the PS4 versions of Uncharted 3 and 2. However, Uncharted 4 has one and it is an entertaining addition with great mechanics, such as using the rope more commonly and the stealth being a viable inclusion that does not overshadow the gunfights. It also comes with some other entertaining mechanics in the form of mystical powers that provides abilities like different attacks and reviving allies, and sidekicks which are NPC allies with clear classes. You will get ranked on how well you do it and with different modes like command, plunder, team deathmatch, trials and survival adding different rules and setups, you are getting a lot of different ways to play this online. Sadly, while the multiplayer is great, there is nothing for those who likes to play locally, both alone or with friends.

Extra Score: 4/10


Verdict

It comes clear to me that Uncharted was a series that worked because of them hitting all the right notes. The story was lighthearted and action-packed, which also was represented through the visuals and over the top moments, giving both the hectic gunfights and the more quieter and atmospheric moments more of a foothold. However, when even one part of the game suffers, everything else does too, showcased here in Uncharted 4. The story is too childish and dark to be considered mature or interesting, the presentation is clearly inspired by Hollywood-cliches instead of something unique and personal, and the developers tried to add more to the gameplay when they had no idea on what to add or even why. It is a change that is uncomfortable and unclear. As the final chapter to the Uncharted-series, this is simply tragic.

30/100

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