About a week before the release of Uncharted 4 the press embargo on reviews was lifted, so those who had received advanced copy of the game could release their opinions to a PS4 community hungry for the lowdown.
I was not one of those reviewers.
This is a review of game that I purchased last week and have spent the intervening days playing, around my work and home life.
This means a couple of things.
Firstly it is later than the reviews from the members of the press, secondly I have only just finished the game in single player mode on moderate difficulty, which means that thirdly, my thumbs still hurt from all the button mashing, which could mean typos and meaningless gibberish because my hands don't work any more.
There is also a very good reason that I am not reviewing the multiplayer game. I don't like online multiplayer communities. If I’d wanted to have a snotty 12yr old shouting and swearing at me and telling me what he’d done to my 'mom' then I’d…well actually there is no real life comparison.
So it’s single player all the way. Which is nice for a change. Single player campaigns seem to get smaller every year, so they have to be special to warrant being the majority of a game package.
But I digress.
Is it six years already?
Six years since I loaded my first PS3 title to find myself hanging by one hand out of the back of a rail car over a mountainside? IN THE TUTORIAL!?!?!
That was, Uncharted 2, Among Thieves, the climbing,shooting,climbing,running,climbing,climbing,puzzler with climbing.
It was well written and confident enough to put an unforgiving set piece as the start level, with a bit of metaphorical ‘I bet you weren’t expecting that were you?’ to slap in your face.
I will admit that at first it put me off, after my first WTF moment I struggled, indeed I had quite a few minutes of ‘eh, what am I supposed to do?’, a few ‘this is stupid!’ moments and a bit of sulking at the tv.
But when I finally worked it out I was hooked, it was magnificent.
By now of course you are reading this and thinking ‘isn't this an Uncharted 4 review?’ and yes, you are correct. The fact is that Uncharted 2 is the best of the games so far. Uncharted:Drakes Fortune was great but far eclipsed by its’ younger sibling. Then after Among Thieves we got, Uncharted 3: Drakes’ Deception, it didn't quite live up to the heights of Among Thieves.
So, with A Thief's End taking a mere four and a half years to materialise (see Valve not only is there a number 3 but there are others after that as well!!!), and it being a full six and a half years after Uncharted 2, we arrive at the very first proper PS4 only, prestige title. This has to live up to two great titles and one superstar.
Internet rumours abound that this is likely to be the last generation of the dedicated game console, could this be the high water mark that we will look back with fondness to?
I suppose I'd better review it then...
Firstly, since there may be some that are new to Uncharted. The game is the latest and (according to Naughty Dog its’ creator's), last of the series featuring Nathan Drake.
Drake is an athletic fellow, he jumps, climbs, falls and fights his way across the world in search of mythical treasures and hidden cities, whilst wasting gigantic numbers of sinister henchmen along the way. A sort of Indiana Croft-Bond.
The games have well written stories (mostly - I'm looking at you Uncharted 3. That's right you can look sheepish), that usually have you chasing down a clue to a hidden treasure, only to find that the first clue is a clue to second clue which is a clue to a third clue…ad infinitum. Well not indefinitely, usually there’s a lot of chasing around the world until you find a remote location filled with toughened up armoured baddies and an end of game boss fight in the presence of a fabulous treasure.
So far so mainstream.
Where Uncharted has been a definite win is the storytelling, which is of a quality that is much higher than most developers bother with. We go back and forward in Drakes’ life, his relationship with his mentor/business partner Sully, his relationship with a couple of female acquaintances Chloe and Elena.
Then there is the gameplay, beautiful, detailed locations filled with complex (and tall !) buildings and scenery to jump around on. And fall off of course, don’t forget the falling off, there is a lot of that. Oh, and there’s the being shot at, many people shoot at you. Luckily you can shoot back, and throw grenades, and do hand to hand combat, or run them over in vehicles.
See, I told you he killed loads of people…
Over the course of the first three games we see that Elena gets closer to Nathan so that by game four they are married and sharing a sweet domestic bliss where they do things like play Crash Bandicoot for dishwashing rights. By the way, this is a nice touch, because there is a simulated PS 1 on which to play Crash Bandicoot!
This lovely scene of marital harmony is interrupted by the sudden reappearance of Sam Drake, Nathan’s brother, who unexpectedly isn't dead despite being shot and falling through a roof whilst trying to escape a Panamanian prison with Nathan 15 years earlier. Sam is in trouble with a drug lord who wants a big cut of the treasure that Nathan and Sam were trying to find clues to find whilst in the prison in the first place. Sam needs this fabulous $400Million dollar pirate treasure trove or it is goodbye to his [insert selection of body parts and organs here].
So Nathan does the Hollywood ‘One last Job’ thing, not for the money, but to save his brother. Pretty corny yeah? Well not if it is as well done as this.
The game takes us from an exciting boat chase opener, then back in time to the orphanage that the Nathan grew up in, to prison to the marital home, to… And so on.
Alongside the storytelling is the look of the thing, the scenery is beautifully crafted, with a degree of openness that, while not granting a great deal of freedom, gives just enough to make the whole thing much more interesting than a purely linear climber/shooter on rails,
Graphically, the main characters are leaps and bounds (can you see what I did there?), ahead of their predecessors from the previous games. Hair, skin tone, form, movement are all the closest to photorealistic that I have ever seen. Don't get me wrong,you won't be saying ‘Call the Police!They have captured real people and made them live in yonder black box’, but you will be impressed with the detail.
There must also be a huge number of Nathan Drake moves stored in this game because he has a whole heap of different ways to get about ,and often,become a mangled corpse.
You die a lot in this game. You will fall off things. Jump to safety and miss. Be blown up, shot, be brutally assaulted,shoot a huge variety of deadly weapons, and drive a handful of vehicles.
My total for my first run through, died 328, killed 480. That's a win for me in game terms, and about 19,200 years in prison in real life just for the killings alone.
Then there’s the property damage, we’re not quite in Man Of Steel territory, but there’s some impressive demolition work throughout.
Is it any good though…?
There are some niggles, which I will come to in a minute, but wrapped up together the positives massively outweigh the negatives.
It's fun, and has well balanced play. There is enough variety within the game to keep you pressing onwards. The characters are engaging. The fights look totally one sided against the player, but there are multiple ways to win against the odds,often not easily though.
There are some great alternative level designs, normal stealth game levels involve sneaking past police or military types, not nuns having a secret cigarette at the orphanage window. Indeed, some of the shouty 12yr olds from the multiplayer communities might find the level with a relatively normal couple competing for domestic chores more horrifying than any close up messy sentry kill!
The new tools that aid the exploring in novel ways include the winch on the jeep, and the piton. I must confess that some of the leaps across high gaps and swinging from a grappling hook across vast chasms turn my stomach and set off my fear of heights, only this series and Tomb Raider have ever done that, it adds to the frisson.
Jumping across to a rock face and sliding down it to certain death only to be saved by jamming a piton into the porous rock face is great from a gameplay perspective.
There are some nice touches that string together some of the new elements. Sliding down uncontrollably towards a cliff edge with the only way out being to have to throw a grappling hook at a hanging tree branch off the screen whilst receiving machine gun fire from multiple bad guys is exhilarating, and also bad for your nerves, let alone your underwear...
Against the game, there are a couple of things.
Occasionally, the commands that you are putting in are misinterpreted, and you find yourself unable to climb down from a ledge that you are dangling from. Instead, you fidget about rather than draw the assault rifle off your back and dispense hot leaded death to all and sundry. This misinterpreting of the inputs is almost inevitably followed by game death seconds later. This is irritating, and may not be a flaw of the game, but more panic stricken pressing of everything by the player so I’m not going to hold that against it.
And for all of the great storytelling that you want to watch rather than skip through, which is an option, some of the cut-scenes are just too long. I found myself just wanting to get back to shooting and climbing, I mean it is a game after all…
For those that have played the Uncharted games before, the innovations between games were the greatest between game one and game 2, there are not radical upgrades between this and the last game. I wouldn't recommend a marathon end to end play through of one to four in sequence or back to back, you might find things a bit too repetitive on the controls front, but that's a personal thing that's come out of my thumbs’ disagreement with the punishment I have meted out to them.
The whole innovation thing is interesting though. For a game in a series, should you expect radical overhauls between games? That would be like Indiana Jones growing a second pair of legs between the last film and the next, which frankly should be a possibility after being contaminated with all of the radiation he would have been exposed to after getting out of the fridge that wouldn't have saved his life…
None of the above drawback points really should be enough to put you off. This is a great game, and a great film as well. It has been commented that Naughty Dog’s experience with The Last Of Us has given them more experience of layering depth into their storytelling and it shows, but this isn't a grim tale, it is a lighthearted action thriller, and it is done brilliantly.
The question is, are there going to be any more in the series. It is called A Thief’s End, and it means it. I'm not spoiling the ending for you, so go buy it if you have a PS4 and find out.
Just remember that I warned you about the heights OK? There are some seriously big drops, and some proper stomach cramping,arse-clenching moments where you don't think you are going to make the ledge or handhold you are going for. You might want to think about something to settle your nerves!
Maybe some grog to fit in with the pirate theme!
If this is the last Uncharted game then thank you Nathan Drake, I will raise a glass (or possibly flagon) of rum as you go out with a bang.
Although that bang could be the sound of your body accelerated to terminal velocity slamming into the scenery from on high, or a bullet in the head, or a slap from Elena, or a building falling on you.
Or a booby-trapped corpse…they make a bang too.
I definitely need some quiet time now.