Playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End instilled the same wonder in me as my time spent with Aladdin for the Sega Genesis in the mid-nineties. The animations are just top notch; EXACTLY what I said after I stuffed the bulky Aladdin cartridge down the throat of my Genesis and booted that gem up for the first time. The way Nathan Drake interacts with the world around him is nothing short of a technical masterpiece. But let’s be honest, every other reviewer has talked about Uncharted’s unflinching attention to detail, so I’ll spare you the “…even the way Drake’s hand grazes a wall when he attempts balance himself has been improved blah blah blah blah.”

Let’s talk about video games. Let’s talk about how this final offering in one of the most beloved series of all time actually had some REAL FUCKIN’ MOMENTS! The kind of self-awareness almost completely missing in major Hollywood pictures nowadays. Firstly, the writers decided to place Nathan at an incredibly interesting point in his life (albeit a ‘clammy’ one—that’s our word for ‘cliché’ here in magical Hollywood where we’re all the best); it serves as a launching pad for the a series of inciting incidents that end up catapulting him back into the jungle, where the real adventure begins. This is all super well done, serving as a tutorial to get us reacquainted with the game’s mechanics. Brilliant. It’s solid videogaming, and reminiscent of the original Indiana Jones movies in that it makes you feel like you’ve traveled to a host of varied environments before the action even gets started. I like that in my games. And my movies for that matter. But not in real life. Leave me alone in real life.

Uncharted-4-1

Also, before I drop the other shoe, I gotta talk about the acting. Yes. The characters act and their mouths move like Hu-mons and the emotions they experience are believable; certainly MORE believable than a lot of the crap you see in film and television. I can’t decide whether that worries me or not. I also can’t stress how much this adds to the game. Its especially crucial for Uncharted because I believe the series is, at its heart, a CHARACTER-driven narrative. The plot is pretty standard fare, and a pirate treasure doesn’t interest me nearly as much as, say, a religious one; however, Nathan’s present journey combines with his reflections on his past adventures to make this game truly special.

“It’s fascinating to hear such an iconic film broken down so mathematically … and Uncharted follows almost the exact same model.”

Which brings me back to Indiana Jones, as the parallels here are palpable in both story and gameplay.  I remember reading an incredible transcript of Lucas, Spielberg, and Marshall ‘breaking story’ on Raiders of The Lost Ark: in it, Lucas outlines what he believes to be the most effective formula for an Indiana Jones film. Essentially, every five pages (minutes), Indiana gets himself into some sort of cliffhanger. Lucas emphasizes the importance of Indiana getting out of these cliffhangers believably, and Spielberg emphasizes that each cliffhanger must be bigger than the last. It’s fascinating to hear such an iconic film broken down so mathematically, and I encourage anyone who’s even slightly interested in storytelling, or Indiana Jones, to check it out. Uncharted follows almost the exact same model. It’s responsible for what I found both incredibly boring, and at the same time breathtakingly thrilling about A Thief’s End.

Uncharted-4-3

“It’s solid videogaming, and reminiscent of the original Indiana Jones movies.”  

Much like every Naughty Dog game before it, Uncharted 4 focuses on the same three mechanics: climbing, puzzle solving, and cover-based shooting. And while the environments are vast (for an Uncharted game), the puzzles are interesting, and the shooting looks cool, it’s hard to maintain that sense of wonderment when you know exactly what you’re walking into every single time. This is why I maintain that Uncharted 4 is, by and large, a character-driven game. You go through the motions of the gameplay to get that next bit of dialogue, that next piece of narrative, which inevitably culminates in a series of fantastic action cut-scenes. Which, by the way, are nothing short of mind-blowing. All I could think while watching them (that’s pretty much your level of involvement) was, “Please Naughty Dog, let other developers use this engine,” and, “How is this a video game??” It’s a massive technical achievement and blah blah blah, this is running the risk of sounding like an IGN review. What matters is that they show how videogame action scenes–and specifically Uncharted’s–can surpass their Hollywood brethren’s just through the effortless use of single takes. When you’re not dealing with real actors, camera rigs and gravity, the set-pieces can be oh-so-much-more impressive because you watch them unfold from beginning to end with no cuts or camera changes. To me, the cut-scenes are often Uncharted at its best. And, much like the initial Raiders outline, these big moments take place right when you hope they will.

But this last installment is more than just a video game. It’s a not-so-subtle commentary on the gaming industry in its entirety. It shows us how far we’ve come (Nathan plays the original Crash Bandicoot with his wife), and where we’re headed. These tiny meta nods left me feeling warm and fuzzy inside even when the majority of the mechanics had me feeling staler than a two-week old challah.  This is the type of game you show to someone whose understanding of videogames ended with the Nintendo 64 (commendable). This is the type of game that makes you go back and replay a set-piece for a group of people at a party, and nod knowingly as their collective jaw hits the carpet. It’s fitting that the final chapter in Drake’s journey marks the beginning of a new age in graphical fidelity and simulated physics but, more importantly, in the authenticity being brought to our in-game characters. I just hope that in the future, developer Naughty Dog abandons the safety of the cover they’ve been crouching behind for four games, and takes their incredible ability to tell a great story into more ‘uncharted’ waters.

 

About The Author

Director of Original Content

Jake is the result of a drunken, late-night threesome between Egon, Slimer, and Peter. As a result of this, he tends to bust his own ghosts on the regular.

Related Posts

  • Pingback: UNCHARTED, FREUD, AND WHY DRAKE REALLY NEEDS TO SEE A PSYCHIATRIST - Existential Gamer()

  • Pingback: UNCHARTED, FREUD, AND WHY DRAKE REALLY NEEDS TO SEE A PSYCHOANALYST - Existential Gamer()

  • Pingback: RUMOR: THE PLAYSTATION 4 PRO IS JUST A BIG MAC WEARING A SUIT - Existential Gamer()

  • Parker Davis

    I’m surprised I’m the first to comment on this.

    At the risk of also sounding like an IGN review (or a twelve year old fanboy, which is redundant) I have to say the voice acting in this game is better than probably the past 7 out of 10 movies I’ve seen. These are the emotional foundations that Bethesda and so many other massive studios try for and usually fail in their RPG (and some) FPS’s.

    This game made me laugh out loud, get teary eyed or at least choked up and satisfied me at a fundamental level. I found myself grinning like an idiot several times when I realized how much fun I was having. Fun. Yeah, a lot of games forget about that.

    The one word you mention and the one that sums up this acting, storytelling, action and technical achievement is “effortless”. That’s what Uncharted 4’s real genius is. All of the details you mention are programming for God’s sake. Not acting or filming or special effects (although I’m fully aware those elements happen in the production). But it all comes down to code. Code that disappears in this effortless and beautiful story.

    Thank you Naughty Dog and all involved in making this a joyful and fun thing that exists in the world.

    *too much? I don’t care. I’m 54 and have been playing games since consoles started. I haven’t felt this way about a game since I was a kid.