Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a wonderful thing to behold. It’s the first game I preordered and quickly completed in years. It’s such a good game, that we gave it a 9/10 in our review and even went into excruciating analysis on all the aspects that make Uncharted 4 great. Nevertheless, like any video game, Uncharted 4 is not flawless. And considering how few those imperfections might be, they are even more interesting to delve into.
Uncharted 4 is a gorgeous game, but that’s not news to anyone. The Uncharted series has always been breathtaking in terms of its presentation. But unfortunately, Uncharted 4’s single player mode runs at 30fps. This is understandable, given that Naughty Dog chose to allocate resources elsewhere, but perhaps had the multiplayer mode not been included, they would have been able to have more time to work on making the single-player 60fps.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means a disaster, but when you see how well the game could have run by playing the 60fps multiplayer mode, it is a bit of a downer. Exploring the expansive vistas would have been mind-blowing if it had all been achieved in 60fps.
While interesting, the banter, the dynamic between Nathan Drake and his various companions, never quite hits the heights it could. Needless to say, Nate’s dynamic with Elena is as good as it’s ever been, made all the more convincing by the magnificent facial animations. Despite this, the game unfortunately falls short when Sam, Nathan’s brother, is by his side. Sam is the companion who joins Nathan for the majority of the game, and that is a real problem.
Voiced and acted by Troy Baker, it’s reasonable to expected an awful lot more than what we get in the end with Sam. His character is incredibly monotone and the quips between the brothers don’t manage to be as heartfelt as you might expect. There were no laugh out loud moments or even moments that just make you snigger. Playing through the incredibly long Scotland section (more on that later) is made all the more painful by the totally uninteresting script given to Sam and Nathan throughout the sequence.
Nolan North and Troy Baker can make people laugh by just being themselves and it wasn’t too much to hope Uncharted 4 would allow them to do just that. But it seems as though the pair were told to follow a strict script and barely given room to bring their own personalities into the performance. Again, this is a shame given the high hopes the combined acting pedigree engendered.
This is a fairly strange one considering it is a criticism more aimed at Sony and Naughty Dog’s advertising team, rather than those who actually made the game. Because I knew this game would be great I didn’t want to indulge too much in watching footage on YouTube. Nevertheless, I allowed myself to consume the odd trailer or two just to be sure that this is a game that I would get behind. Unfortunately, Naughty Dog dropped the ball by spoiling some of the games major plot points in their main trailers.
Whoever thought this would be a good idea needs to consider that the moments like meeting Elena when she flew out to find Nathan would have had so much more impact if they were not spoiled before we even went hands on with the game. I felt nothing when the duo met in that moment because I already knew it was coming. As for Sam, his ‘death’ at the beginning of the game also felt fairly pointless personally, given that we all knew that Troy Baker was going to be heavily involved in the story.
When the game got in some gamer’s hands early and people were finding out what happened during the story, Uncharted 4’s co-designer Bruce Straley said that “we work hard to preserve the experience. So when you play, it feels fresh & the beats land properly. Sucks it could be spoiled.” Yeah, it really does suck, and in many ways the experience wasn’t preserved, outrageously because of Naughty Dog’s actions.
Finally, the pacing in Uncharted 4 is what really needed the most work. Sometimes it gets it right, but there are far too many occasions that have the player repeating the same cycle of platforming/combat/puzzle/platforming etc. without any meaningful story progression. As a matter of fact, the story makes a parody of itself, endlessly hopping from location to location where the treasure is supposed to be.
The treasure is never there but there is always a map pointing Nathan to where the treasure is actually supposed to be. And so the process goes on and on and on. You’ll shoot a few generic bad guys along the way, climb a few buildings, and perhaps solve a puzzle. But the theme of going from point A to point B, where the treasure should be but isn’t, had me rolling my eyes on more than one occasion.
And that’s not even counting the horrid number of physics puzzles yet. You better like physics puzzles if you’re picking up Uncharted 4, because it has a lot of them, and not one of them is interesting.
Meanwhile, by far the worst-paced section of the game is the fairly early segment that sees you playing in the snowy Scotland cathedral. The section drags on for far too long and takes away from what had made the game great up to and after that point, building up the character’s in cutscenes and finding out more about the ways their personalities have changed.
For example, despite my disdain for Sam Drake, his character manages to shine near the end when he shows that he is so desperate for the treasure that he ditches the rest of the crew in search of it. It helped to highlight an interesting development between the brother’s characteristics, but unfortunately these kinds of smart plot devices are few and far between, and sections like Scotland or the Caribbean do nothing to help progress the story besides finding that the treasure is not where we thought it would be. Thankfully, when it all seems to be getting a bit tedious, chapter 10 comes along and throws you in a Jeep to mix up the formula.
Ultimately, it’s quite baffling how this was even allowed to happen. Uncharted 4 director Neil Druckmann recently conducted a talk at GDC, regarding the pacing of Uncharted 2. “What we don’t want to do is this. Any kind of repetition, whether it’s in gameplay, story, setting, if players are forced to repeat their actions then they will lose their interest, the pacing becomes repetitious and boring,” he explained. Having stressed the importance of pacing you’d think they’d get it right for Uncharted 4. However, wildly, it appears that the studio did not consider their own advice.
Uncharted 4 is magnificent, but it’s far from perfect, mostly due to the inconsistencies it suffers throughout. You get the sense that Naughty Dog knows what they’re doing and knows how to make a really well-paced, promoted game, but that for whatever reason it just did not apply that knowledge to its full potential with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.