Platforms: PlayStation 4
Genre: Third-person shooter, action-adventure, platformer
Over the years we have learned to associate Naughty Dog with quality. From the stand out classics, such as Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, to the breathtaking in the Uncharted series and, most recently, The Last of Us. Constantly innovating the “platformer” genre, Naughty Dog keeps wowing us by taking everything they have learned and applying it to each new title and that is just as true of their last tour de force Uncharted 4.
Where to even start with this game? First of all, this is the best looking game on any console, period. The visuals are absolutely stunning. Inside of cinematic scenes we get unique facial graphics that allow characters to feel more real and show emotions deeper than simple anger and happiness. With a lift of the brow you can literally see the sarcasm on Nathan’s face, the bond and concern he has for his brother (first time entry into the series) Sam, or even the genuine caring between Nathan and Elena.
This aspect is very important as Uncharted 4 is unparalleled in character building. Characters matter, relationships are not so cookie cutter, and development is not limited to a few short cut scenes. Characters are constantly talking while moving through the game, and not in ways we have become accustom to but, instead we hear characters growing, adapting to their environment and changing their motivation and relationship based on what is happening at that moment in gameplay, not to mention the inclusion of optional conversations.
Speaking of environment, let’s talk about how the game looks outside of the cinematic scenes. Naughty Dog has been making games for some time, so naturally you would expect a certain pedigree from the world’s premier platform game developer. Uncharted 4 remains unchallenged in the sheer beauty, scope, and quality in its level design. The focus on this game is less room to room puzzle platforming and out and out action that we saw in Uncharted 3, but instead a focus on exploration. These focus suites the game well with its treasure finding theme and there are over 100 hidden secrets to find. You feel less like you are being pulled along rails and more that there is organic decision making and free roaming opportunities. Less you are Nathan Drake a man on a mission, more you are Nathan Drake looking for adventure.
This is not to say the game is without its action. Uncharted 4 features a third-person shooter style mechanic that we have become familiar with. I would say the game seems less focused on out and out huge firefights than in Uncharted 3, but that is not to say they do not exist. What is new mechanically to this game is its attempt to and a stealth element so you are not going in guns blazing every time. When coupled with some new smoother animations (I have yet to see a game handle going around corners as naturally as this one) you get the feeling that Nathan, for all his wit, skill, and quick thinking, is a man and ultimately fragile.
So this is how the game looks, and moves, but how does the game feel? There are very few games I can say have honestly brought tears to my eyes, Uncharted 4 enters this category. I am not sure if Naughty Dog is in a dark mood from The Last of Us because this game is absolutely gut-wrenching at times. I tried to nail down what exactly is it about the storytelling in this Uncharted that allowed for me to feel such a deep emotional connection from sad, to laugh out loud laughter. Was it Nolan North’s outstanding voice acting, his ability to somehow convey whit and sarcasm in one sentence, and fear and nihilism in the next? Was it the absolutely engrossing writing that told the story of a man who simply does not fit in the normal world? Was it the realness of how the dialogues were introduced both in cinematic scenes, in game placement, or optional organic conversations you did not have to have but could? I cannot quite put my thumb on it, but what Naughty Dog has proven to me once again is that they are character developers, and great storytellers. The focus on people in their games creates an attachment that cannot be described.
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 is the best game out there right now. The few problems with the game, the slow start, unimaginative multiplayer, are far outshined by the pros. For those few holdouts on the validity of video games as an art medium, sit them down and have them play this game. There is a depth here that is refreshing and I hope Naughty Dog continues with this trend they have of making gaming masterpieces.