Tuesday, January 3, 2017

[REVIEW] Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (PS4)

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Played on: PS4
Genre: Action-adventure
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

Sony has been getting a reputation for its story-driven games, and in that regard the Uncharted series is the company’s crowning jewel. I’m usually not very fond of such titles, as they can often get lost in their movie-wannabe aspirations to the point of severely affecting the gameplay. Uncharted 4, however, won me over by combining pristine level design with an unusually slick amalgamation of gameplay and storytelling.

Like other games in the franchise, A Thief’s End is a linear story-driven adventure. It puts you in the shoes of Nathan Drake, who’s like a modern-era Indiana Jones (a somewhat smug, yet ultimately likeable treasure hunter). As the game begins, Drake has left his globe-trotting life behind him, and now has a happy marriage, a job, and a pretty much regular life. Of course, that generally does not a good story make, and soon enough unforeseen circumstances force our hero out of retirement.

My favorite thing about Uncharted 4 is how it manages to feel open and expansive in spite of its extreme linearity. The game spans many settings, from Italy to Scotland to Madagascar, and your path to each section’s main goal is filled with small environmental details and incredibly beautiful vistas. The nature of the gameplay organically guides you forward, and there’s not a single invisible wall to be seen. All of this adds up to a great sense of immersion, which is only broken by having to go through the same in-game dialogue each time you die.

There are basically two types of gameplay sections here. The best are focused on exploration, in which you’ll perform all sort of dexterous climbing and platforming, while continuously moving towards a goal. There are also collectibles to find in each area in the form of small treasures, which unlock cool novelties in the ‘bonus’ screen, such as graphical skins, sound effects, and gameplay addons.

The not so great sections are the ones which involve cover-based shooting. Don’t get me wrong; those can be kind of fun in small doses, but I felt Uncharted 4 features a bit too many of them. A plethora of different weapons, each with its own benefits and weaknesses, help to make things a bit more interesting, and there are a few genuinely exhillarating moments (such as a car chase that’s worthy of the most insane action flicks).

Of course, we’re talking about a story-driven game, so an action movie is very much what Uncharted 4 feels like. Surprisingly, this isn’t often to the detriment of the gameplay, as the spot-on level design means even the extreme action sections in which you don’t really do much feel superbly rewarding. The story itself is, well, an action movie’s story, meaning it’s at times fun and compelling, but also filled with some pretty egregious plot holes (such as the remote, ancient pirate recruiting challenge that obviously would need to be rebuilt from the ground up after each time someone failed it).

Uncharted 4 is a fine final chapter to Nathan Drake’s adventures. The sense of immersion is excellent, which often makes you forget (or just don’t care about) the game’s lack of an extensive world to explore. Given that the best gameplay sections are precisely the exploratory ones, this is quite a feat of game design. Even though the storytelling isn’t without its cheap devices and plot holes, the writing is pleasant enough to round up a very nice package.

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