Naughty Dog released Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End in May 2016 as another roaring success in their critically acclaimed Action-Adventure, PlayStation exclusive series, yet one aspect about it is resoundingly clear, this is the final Uncharted game and the developer has chosen the right moment to put it to rest. The game has everything we’ve come to know and love about Uncharted while marrying it with much of their 20 year history with the PlayStation console, but for all the adrenaline the game fuels into the player, it’s weaknesses are all too clear once we dig beneath the surface.
After their success with The Last of Us in 2013, Naughty Dog surprised us all by making their PS4 debut a new chapter in the Uncharted series, meaning once again we’d be returning to Nathan Drake’s adventures on the hunt for lost treasure. After a disappointing finale in Uncharted 3 we’re given something that does the opposite and something that has learnt a thing or two from the wonderfully crafted narrative of The Last of Us; this isn’t our typical Indiana Jones, daredevil explorer/archeologist hero anymore but a man who has grown during our time away, now settled down but unable to shake the call of past triumphs entirely. The days of yore are calling Nathan and with the surprise return of his older brother, he’s all too prepared to convince himself he’s returning to the game for more noble reasons. Thus while the overall adventure nary strays from the dramatic action sequences of the PS3 trilogy before it (albeit with the ante upped in many places) it is all set against the backdrop of a narrative that’s a little deeper. This allows for quieter narrative segments such as the chapter at the Drake household, giving us glimpses into these characters more so as genuine people over the typical genre caricatures. This is integral to the game’s success, it doesn’t feel tired because it subverts the typical genre tropes to give us an experience we can genuinely care about that goes beyond all the exploding mummies.
Yet unlike The Last of Us the depth only runs so far, and these characters are better left where they are now then they would likely be if the series continued. Nathan Drake and co are indeed likeable, relatable characters throughout the series, but the depth given to them in Uncharted 4 almost surprises us, and drags us in because we don’t quite expect such care given to give each individual’s realisation. However they are still built upon those action-adventure tropes we come to expect of the genre, and thus we cannot take them any further without taking away the series’ identity altogether. We all know and expect the heroes to win out in the end, because the genre depends on that satisfaction for its success; here in Uncharted 4 that stance is no different. Therefore Drake and his wife, Elena, cannot have many more interesting stories to tell without destroying that satisfaction that the genre and themselves are built upon. Thus their depth can surprise us once, but to wholly allow them their realisation would ultimately destroy the series because the genre and the gameplay based around it would crumble.
This set piece is awesome, but how much depth can you give a narrative that wants to delight us in such a silly fashion.
However while narrative is a key feature in the series, it remains a video game and it is how the narrative affects the gameplay itself that highlights the series as one unsuitable for the next-generation of gaming. Uncharted 4 most certainly plays better than any other in the series with the gun and fist fighting smoother than ever and all new stealth sections inspired by The Last of Us making it feel more varied and challenging than the trilogy before it. The overall product may not be as awe-inspiring as Uncharted 2, but the stand out moments, such as the car chase through the city streets at King’s Bay, certainly shows this series at its most ambitious. Yet due to the nature of the narrative the game doesn’t allow much exploration around each location. We are given sprawling city landscapes and gorgeous Scottish Highlands, and that’s before we even reach the intimidating island that is home to Libertalia; however despite their beauty and scale we cannot venture from the beaten path. Boundaries are placed everywhere and if we take a moment to stray away from the narrative and perhaps look for treasures, we are constantly navigating around the barriers that are in place. Suddenly these beautiful locations are so much smaller than they appear to be and it is enough to discourage exploration altogether. This is twinned by the chapter progression which quite obviously blocks us from returning to the locations we’ve just traversed. It’s almost as if a great big boulder is plonked behind us when we reach a new chapter that again, makes these spaces feel all the more claustrophobic. The game feels like it wants us to explore, only it blocks our attempts at every corner to best navigate the narrative around it.
Now this doesn’t necessarily detract from the game as a finished product, more it highlights where it could feel most tired if the series decided to continue. In a new generation where games are capable of being bigger and more engaging than ever before, Uncharted 4 proves this series would struggle to find a place among them in future. Without a new narrative triumph to present to us, that practice of sacrificing exploration for the sake of the plot feels less relevant than it has done before. We see games that tell more sophisticated stories as common practice these days, but it is to marry this without boundaries that seems to be this generation’s focus. Uncharted was perfect for its PS3 roots, but given more time on PS4 and it might find itself left in the dark.
Thankfully, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a fantastic game, only its restrictions highlight its growing irrelevance in the current gaming climate. Thus the ending is all the more satisfying, as Naughty Dog has given it a proper and loving send off in this title and one done just at the right moment. Thus it is with fond memories we’ll remember Nate and his cohorts, as they have been given something we rarely see in today’s media, a good and satisfying ending.
To read more on Uncharted’s unique position in the video game industry, check the link bleow…