During two late night sessions when I played until 2am in the morning (one of them Monday night) I remember looking at my watch at 11.30pm – I was the only one up: My family had long gone to bed – and saying to myself “OK, a few more minutes and I’m off to bed”. The next time I looked at my watch it was 2.10am – and I had to be up at 7am to get ready for work.
Visually, the game is stunning – I think that will come as no surprise – with locations including lush verdant valleys, abandoned towns, underground tombs and the depths of the deep blue sea, but for me, the Uncharted games and Naughty Dog have always been about the narrative, about the relationships between characters. There is a reason that ND’s other stellar game The Last of Us is so good: The relationship between its two lead characters – and it’s the same with Uncharted 4. The relationships are front and centre.
The main thing that really hit home for me with Uncharted 4 is that it’s about the relationships between Drake and those he loves, especially the relationships he has with Elena Fisher (who he is now married to), and his brother Sam, who Drake thought was dead. Sure, Uncharted 4 has gunplay and climbing and bad guys and treasure but it’s all about the characters. This may sound really weird, because we’re talking about digital actors here, but at times I almost believed they were human: They looked and behaved so realistically.
Case in point: During one late game cinematic, I watched Elena who was standing in the background as Drake spoke and her mannerisms and body language felt like I was watching an actor and not a collection of pixels rendered on a TV screen.
I felt more connected to Drake and Elena more than I had in previous games and they look older too: We’ve been through a lot together and I put that connection down to ND’s Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, who both skipped Uncharted 3 to work on The Last of Us. It shows: This is probably the best narrative I’ve seen in an Uncharted game – or perhaps any game in recent memory – and I felt invested in the characters. Not many games do that to me.
The game’s environments are more open, too, allowing you to reach an objective using a variety of paths, and combat feels more weighty than in previous Uncharted games and while at times the odds seem stacked against Drake, using the environment to your advantage works beautifully here.
You can now use a grappling hook to help take enemies down as well as swinging across gapping chasms and, yes, ledges and handholds still crumble when Nate is climbing a precarious cliff face or building but I never grew tired of it.
I liked that I could tackle the combat situations all guns blazing, if you want, but that will attract the attention of every enemy in the vicinity, of course, or you can creep through long grass (yes, creeping through long grass is now a feature), taking out as many enemies as you can quietly. I tried to handle as many situations as I could this way: Take out a handful of enemies quietly by pulling them off ledges or from the vantage of vegetation then using the grappling hook to swing across a gap, punching down an enemy from above. It’s so satisfying, believe me.