Uncharted 4 (PS4) | Review – Hasn’t Aged A Day In 2020

I know, I know. I’m late to the party and all. It’s been over 4 years since Naughty Dog presented us Uncharted 4, and while the world raves/argues about The Last of Us 2 and PS5, patient (and well, poor) gamers like me are still catching up with the console must-haves of the last generation. Man, does it feel weird to call this game “last-gen” because it sure didn’t feel that way. I’ll be getting into each aspect of the game one by one – just like all my reviews.

It might look like I’m very happy with the game, but it sure didn’t come without its faults, and that’s what we’re here to discuss.

Time for another adventure!

Gameplay – 7

The gameplay revolves around 3 distinct activities – action, platforming, and puzzle-solving. And let’s say it’s a 30-65-5 ratio between them respectively. Now, some people might have a problem because the climbing takes prominence over the shooting, but I preferred that because the shooting was my least favorite aspect of the gameplay considering how much I hate aiming with the controller, and how much cover-based, third-person shooting fatigue I carry. I was already aware that it’s a narrative-driven game and just like any other story-heavy game, I had braced myself for utmost disappointment in the gameplay department. But hot damn, was I taken for a surprise.

One knuckle sandwich, delivered by air mail.

The platforming was fun to do because the visual design of the game made it clear where to go and what to do seamlessly (more about that later), but also because the platforming integrated well with the action itself. You can shoot people while jumping from one cliff to another, then hop underwater to reload and then swing across a chasm using your grappling hook to land straight down to sucker punch a bad guy mid-air. Speaking of which, the grappling hook was so fun and well integrated with both the action, platforming and even some of its puzzles. All these different gameplay elements flowed and transitioned smoothly into one another, rather than feeling like separate sections (even though they technically were). Then comes the set pieces. When things crack open and you’re improvising what to do – you could be jumping from one jeep to another, or hanging behind a car using a rope – the set pieces are what take it from good to great, and made me give the gameplay an 7 instead of a 6. I still considered giving it a 6 because a lot of times the game gives you no control over what’s happening at all, even in certain fights. Plus, there’s a stupid amount of boxes with wheels lying around. I would’ve appreciated some creativity, but the overall gameplay experience I had was very immersive and enjoyable.

I was not expecting to give Uncharted 4 an 7 in gameplay because I’d hated Tomb Raider, and these games look like cousins in the first look. However, there is a HUGE difference in the quality of the platforming, writing and visuals (more on those later). There was a little more handholding in the puzzles than I’d have liked, but I guess they wanted to appeal to as much of an audience as possible and also didn’t want people to spend too much time on one portion of the game. The devs have chosen pacing over gameplay at every instance possible and still managed to create a satisfying gameplay experience, which is really very commendable.

Narrative – 10

I don’t think anyone’s surprised at this. If you are someone who enjoys well-written games – this is a must-have. The characters are complex and written like real people. The lore of the pirates which is the foundation of the whole adventure is very intriguing. The banter among the characters that goes on with the gameplay is refreshing and better than any other game I’ve played so far. They’re written to be very likable and charismatic – yet flawed, which makes the story a joy to experience.

“I drew this map with a blue crayon. Impressive, huh?.”

I can’t get too much into the story without spoiling, so I’ll just say that the relationships of the different characters with each other and their inner motivations are all fleshed out and anyone who enjoys a good story is going to have a great time with this. When it comes to games though, I am more of a “gameplay first” kind of guy but this game never gave me a chance to complain much about that because of how crisp the pacing is and how the set pieces keep the gameplay fresh by integrating it right into the storytelling. Unlike most games that try to be immersive, this truly does make you feel like you’re an integral part of the cinematics, rather than just making it all about “run forward as things explode” or “press X to do cool shit”.  If someone were to make a list of the best-written games of all time, Uncharted 4 would definitely be somewhere in it.

Visuals – 10

There are games that have a more unique aesthetic design and use more polygons in their textures than Uncharted 4. There always will be. Yet, where this game shines is presenting us with such a huge variety of locales and corresponding visuals with each chapter. There’s 22 chapters and I’m sure each one of them was specifically designed to feel unique to the other – both in terms of gameplay design and visual design.

A view worthy of being used for a postcard.

A lot of attention was clearly put toward the design of the corresponding environments. The animations are flawless, both in the gameplay and the cutscenes, but what makes it get a 10 is how well the visuals are integrated with the gameplay – which I surprisingly don’t see done well in most titles. In a lot of games, I’m lost over what direction to go towards or what to do next, especially when they have such open-looking world designs. Thankfully, I can hardly remember getting stuck anywhere in Uncharted 4. It felt as if I know exactly where to go even though I was looking at everything for the first time. The world design was really beautiful, don’t mistake me – but what made it way better was the variety of the visuals within the game and their integration with the gameplay itself. So, if I were to say what are the 2 main selling points of the game – it would go to the narrative and the visuals.

Content – 7

If you’re looking for something to spend over 50-60 hours on, this might not be the thing for you. There is no side-content. Straying from the path will get you access to the notes and letters and some little collectibles to pick up, but overall the pacing of the game is very tight and every player who plays this will end up with pretty much the same experience (difficulty varies it though). The quality alone more than makes up for the lack of time you will be spending with the game. Uncharted 4 takes a little over 15 hours to finish, and it’s packed with storytelling, set pieces, and very little redundancy.

High-octane action is always a guarantee when you’re using the grappling hook.

Some might argue that the platforming making for a bulk of the game is a negative point, but I think that the platforming goes well with the characters themselves and their backstories, while also highlighting another of the game’s strengths – the visuals. This game has one of the highest “quality concentration” among the games I’ve played. It’s just a term I use to highlight how many good bits the game has. A lot of titles will give you some great moments between a lot of mundane stuff – to be honest, that is fine. The slow stuff is what makes the great stuff stand out and feel special. Conversely, this game strikes a great balance over how frequently to bring the good stuff, which makes it very hard to get bored with. There are only 2 chapters out of 22 where I looked at the clock and that is saying a lot about how interesting this game manages to keep itself. For almost a year – I haven’t spent long stretches of time playing a single game. I usually game in bursts of 2 hours or less, but this game had me playing for well over that because of the intrigue of the story and the consistency of the quality.

However, if you are short on money and want to buy a game that keeps you entertained for hours before you can finally get another game, I would suggest adding Uncharted 4 to the wishlist for now.

Mechanics – 8

The platforming mechanics were perfect. Probably the best 3D platforming I’ve seen in it’s kind. And by that, I mean better than the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Tomb Raider, and such. I know I’ve said this, but the inclusion of the grappling hook makes the whole thing much, much more fun – both in terms of the combat and platforming. The shooting mechanics are good. This was the first third-person shooter I played with a controller, and while I did struggle with the aiming, I didn’t find anything was lacking in terms of movement fidelity.

Nathan Drake’s not to be messed with from afar or up-close.

I would have preferred having more options to utilize stealth than simply hide in the bushes and pull people in, but I’m glad they didn’t include the “whistle” or “throw rock” options because those things make the gameplay a complete breeze and would have likely ruined the experience for me because of how easy it comes to “cheese” the game after that. The AI seemed to work well enough as well. They didn’t take any risks in the mechanics and gameplay though, and the grappling hook was the only innovation I could notice. One complaint I did have was with the ‘taking cover’ mechanic. A lot of times I wanted to roll and Nathan would take cover on a surface that was FACING the opponents. Maybe the devs should have just added an internal priority system in place which made the player take cover against the bullet fire or roll instead of take cover with your back towards the enemies.

Apart from that, I think the game really well made, mechanically speaking, and is probably the best of its kind.

Challenge – 5

When I use the word “challenge” to rate games – I don’t mean how hard it made my asshole clench to get through levels, rather how well the game integrates a good challenge into its gameplay loop. Every game does revolve around one of these, and the one around Uncharted involves the following: “Platforming -> Cutscene -> Stealth/Shooting”. The platforming doesn’t make for much of a challenge since the visuals direct where exactly to go, and you can’t really “lose” in any particular way. Now, you could say that improves the pacing of the game, sure, but it also makes the activity which constitutes a large part of the gameplay a little more of a breeze than it should be, in my opinion. There are definitely portions where timing plays a role, especially when you need to use the grappling hook (yeah, just take a drink already).

Coming over to the second activity – shooting. I hated the shooting bits. I’m not a fan of cover-based shooting anyway – but at least this game doesn’t let you hide behind the same cover all the time. Enemies can destroy most of the surfaces you choose to hide behind, or at least shove grenades at you. So, you’re not safe in one place, and you need to keep moving. A lot of the levels are designed in a very open-ended way where you can lose enemies and mix up stealth and shooting together. That makes it really fun to do, but that isn’t a case with every fight. A lot of times, especially during the last 1/3 of the game, you are forced into gunfights and the levels don’t really give you too much flexibility. You just need to play it like a generic cover shooter itself. And if you’re playing on hard difficulty or above – it is exhilarating. The enemies kill you very easily, which actually forces you to hide behind covers instead of being a little more cinematic and gut-punching them, or jumping from roof to roof, or of course – using the grappling hook to jump on enemies to take them down. This is one of the main reason I rate it so low on “Challenge” – they mistook “frustrating” for “challenging” when it came to combat.

Don’t be fooled – you don’t need to be a clever clogs to solve this puzzle.

The puzzles were pretty fun to do and pretty easy to figure out. In a couple of them though, it was only a matter of opening the journal and the solution was pretty much in front of you. So, I think they should have toned down the handholding initially. If someone got stuck, there is always a “Hint” option that shows up later – another feature I appreciate.

The set pieces create tension and an illusion of challenge is really fun, but overall, I don’t think this game gets the challenge aspect “right”. I toned down to “Moderate” and finished the game on that, but I’d recommend “Easy” with auto-aim OFF for the best experience. Just have your fun. Run around while hip-firing and sucker-punch dudes down, and accept the fact that this game is supposed to give you a more cinematic experience than a challenging one.

Diversity – 8

There was a lot of diversity when it comes to the structure, visual design, and even the gameplay experience from chapter to chapter. The set pieces add a lot of variety to the overall gameplay and are definitely an important part of the experience. The game wouldn’t be what it is without them. But even keeping those aside, I loved how most levels were designed like playgrounds where you could take any route you chose to. I remember one where I decided to climb up a tower and play as a sniper – taking out one enemy after another. While in another I mixed up stealth and gunplay by diving into water and hiding into bushes as soon as I got spotted, only to come out later and take 3-4 bad guys down.

That bloke’s remaining lifespan has been cut to 2 seconds.

There is variey in the puzzle designs as well, and it didn’t feel any idea was being reused at any time. I liked the structure of the game. It allowed to separate different locales and gameplay segments from each other and make an episodic, yet connected experience, and that variety across different episodes is what made me go for a 9 instead of an 8. Alas, I would’ve gone for an 8 or even 7 if it came only to the gameplay. It’s the diversity of the visuals and set pieces that stands out.

Mapping – 8

The maps are breathtaking to look at. It must be multiple times and even 10 hours into the game that I stopped and looked around to see how intricately handcrafted every room, every corner, every level felt like. A lot of those levels which involve the action are well designed as “playgrounds”, as I’ve already mentioned. Unfortunately, a lot of them in the last 1/3rd of the game are pretty linear, where you are supposed to play in a certain way. Mind you, I’m not saying the last 1/3rd of the game is bad at all. Heck, the climax fight scene was one of the most interesting bits for me, yet there are definitely levels out there that restrict your options and make things even more linear than they already are.

What’s the time, Mr. Drake?

Another thing I would have appreciated is multiple routes to reaching the same path. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t any at all. There is an instance where I found my way up a certain area but if I hadn’t been able to, my companion would have thrown down something for me to get up from. That was one that I noticed, and I’m sure there are a couple of others. SAnd some levels had a lot more of an open-world feel than others, such as a specific driving section. Overall, I do think the game would have benefitted from a map that was actually expansive rather than just seeming expansive.

It’s not really much of a complaint, but more of a “that’d have been great” suggestion, if that makes sense.

Sound Design – 10

The voice acting is top tier. The music is superb and goes very well with the gameplay. Plus, the sound design is very well done and captures the environment perfectly. Did I mention how great the voice acting is? So yeah, that’s about it for the sound design of the game.

Interface – 8

I come from the PC audience so I’m used to having a lot more customizable options to change. Apart from not having much to change in the settings, I didn’t have any complaints from the interface itself. It was clear about what path to take due to the visual design itself. But I do remember one instance where I didn’t know where to go and the accompanying character suggested where to go. There was also the “Hint” option that showed up if you were stuck too long in the game. The interface was well done and showed prompts wherever needed. I do wish there was an easier option to mark enemies than literally point a gun at them and click L3.

Pricing – 10

I don’t know about the full release price, but so many years after release, it’s going for a price I would describe as a bargain and would recommend anyone who has a PS4 to buy it. If you don’t have a PlayStation, consider this game among the reasons you should get one, first time you get the chance.

Performance – 9

Except for one instance where the game felt laggy for a couple of seconds in an intense firefight, I had no complaints with how the game ran. Despite how great it looks, and how many things may be happening on screen, it doesn’t stutter and runs very smoothly, even on my classic PS4.

Replay Value – 7

I’d say it does have some amount of replay value depending on how long you wait. The set pieces, the writing and the visuals are definitely worth a revisit. Although, since this is a fairly linear game, I don’t think it has too much replay value for at least one year or more after you play it.

Final Rating: 8.2

All I’m going to say about this game is, that if you like playing single player games, – this one is a must-play. Even someone like me who prefers more gameplay-heavy experiences than narrative-driven ones in video games was left impressed by the quality of Uncharted 4. It’s one of those perfect games to play if a friend, sibling or so is watching you play. If you already have a PS4, I’d be surprised if you haven’t played it yet and am gonna insist giving it a shot without a doubt. And if you don’t have a PS4, well – with the release of PS5, it’s probably not a bad time to pick one up cheap. I’ll be reviewing more PS exclusives I’ve missed out on over the years, so stay tuned if you want more reviews like this one!

    Rating:

4 Stars

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