I finished Uncharted 4 last night, and I’m in a real funk about it.
I’ve loved this series since game #1. That makes me an oddity within my ‘circles.’ While my twitter feed is full of folks gushing over Overwatch or Battleborn or Doom I don’t have the slightest interest in any of those games. I have friends who are playing Uncharted 4, to be sure, but I don’t get the sense that they LOVE the series like I do. I’m not sure any of them have played through all the other games in the franchise.
Naughty Dog is one of a small handful of developers who seem able to tell [what to me is] a really compelling story with characters that I really care about, and do it over the course of a generous, but not grueling, single player campaign. (According to the statistics screen, Uncharted 4 took me a little over 16 hours to play through.)
There are certainly games that deliver spectacle or compelling characters, and lots of RPGs tell a good story if you’re willing to devote 50 hours to extract it. But Naughty Dog just gets the mix so right. The only other developer I can think of that nails the mix so perfectly is Rockstar. Red Dead Redemption remains one of my all time favorite games.
I will miss Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher as much as I miss the characters from beloved books and TV series after they end.
I don’t want to talk any more about the story because I do hope folks will experience it for themselves, but I just need to gush about what a great job the team did. The voice talent is all top notch and you get the feeling there was real chemistry between the actors. The characters were beautifully flawed gems. It took me a while to warm to newcomer Sam but I got there after a few hours. The environments were truly breathtaking. Several times I said to Angela (who got hooked early and was there for probably 14 of the 16 hours I played, acting as co-pilot and puzzle-solver) that I’d love to meet the people who created these amazing spaces because they must have spectacular imaginations. There were so many “Oh shit!” moments and audible gasps from both of us.
Now admittedly in terms of gameplay, this isn’t the greatest series ever. The shooting is just OK. There’s a lot of climbing that I find super-fun but not all that challenging. There’s a lot of driving in this one and it was surprisingly fun. But the biggest issue with the gameplay is that there are times when I was so engrossed in what happens next in the story that I felt like the gameplay was interrupting me. 🙂
Y’know I guess it boils down to the fact that I don’t approach Uncharted games as games, really. I approach them as experiences. (Is that a vague enough term?)
I mean clearly these ARE games and you need to accept game weird-logic like the fact that a character who can throw a grappling hook 70 feet across a chasm while hanging to the side of a cliff with one hand can’t also throw that rope to a partner on a ledge six feet overhead. And of course there’s the dichotomy of Nathan Drake, the charming, wise-cracking and easy-going vagabond adventurer, and Nathan Drake, the dude who killed 600+ enemies during my playthrough (again, statistics screen).
Naughty Dog has said this will be the last game featuring Nathan Drake but maybe not the last Uncharted game. And I’d give Uncharted featuring another character (and I have a good idea who that character would be, and I’m sure you will too after you finish) a try for sure, but to me Nathan & Elena ARE Uncharted. Without them, I’d treat any future game as a new franchise.
It’s worth mentioning some awesome features that Naughty Dog gave us in this game. First, there are QTE’s that have you tapping a button many times. If you don’t like this kind of mechanic, there’s a setting that allows you to just hold down the button for these events. If you think that’s not a big deal than you don’t have arthritis in your fingers like I do; the constant rapid tapping of a button really hurts me fingers so I was happy they offered an alternative. They also gave us an amazing photo mode that lets you manipulate your screenshots in all kind of ways, including hiding the characters if you want. Last, the game seems to auto-save every time you pause. While I did save my progress manually at the end of every session I don’t think I needed to. I never touched the Load function.
Oh speaking of loading, did I mention the only time you see any kind of loading screen or break in the action is if you die. It’s a hard game to put down because it just flows seamlessly from start to finish, transition in and out of cut scenes and between characters without any kind of boundary event. Also they’re very generous with checkpoints so if you do die you rarely have to repeat much content. And if you get stuck for too long the game accommodates, giving you the option to pull up a hint, or perhaps by having an AI colleague point out something you missed. I also suspect, but can’t confirm, that the difficulty of a combat encounter eases up a tad if you die many times in one battle.
The whole experience just feels so polished and well-thought out, and my goodness the game looks amazing. And now that I’m done with it…I just don’t know what to do with myself. I feel like I’ve experienced the best that gaming has to offer and anything else is going to feel like a step down. Now CLEARLY I’m being hyperbolic and I’m still basking in the glow of having such a wonderful experience, but I honestly can’t think of another franchise that I’m looking forward to, at least not it terms of characters I want to spend time with, if you know what I mean. (And now a brief moment of silence for when Halo games told a compelling story about Master Chief and Cortana rather than focusing on e-sports.)
Everything changes, and that includes gaming. I’m sure Uncharted 4 cost a ton to make and I’m not sure there are that many of us who love single player games left. Heck even GTA V skipped single player DLC in favor of producing multiplayer content that Rockstar could monetize. I’m not saying single player games will go away, but I think we’ll see fewer and fewer lavish single player productions like the Uncharted series. Damn, I’m going to miss this series.
Heck maybe I really HAVE seen the best that gaming as to offer, at least in terms of my own personal preferences. Farewell Nathan and Elena, and thanks for all the wonderful adventures.