A Frank Discussion About Uncharted 4
Perhaps the only reason why I haven’t yet traded in my woefully underused Playstation 4 was due to Uncharted 4. I’ve played all of the UC games except for the first (which I will probably remedy when I can get a good deal on the uber-collection), so I have a stake in the series that must be seen through to completion.
All Uncharted games are contain four conceits, it seems. First, there’s the jumping and climbing puzzles that make up the bulk of the game. Nathan Drake is usually hanging from something — a wall, a ledge, a bar — and usually over some kind of precarious drop towards certain doom. When not dangling from something, Drake is jumping. Overall, it’s like a really high fidelity platformer, which I guess goes to show that while I have an intense dislike of platformers, slap some paint on one and I’ll get a big kick out of it.
The second phase is the shooting, because unlike his cousins Lady Croft and Doctor Jones, Drake is (or was) a treasure hunter for profit. That means the safety comes off when it needs to, which happens to be quite often since most of the treasures Drake is after are also being sought out by even more unsavory types. Traditionally, I’ve not been good at the shooting in UC games, but this time around I’m playing on “Explorer” mode, which is the stupidly easy mode. I am more interested in the story than anything else, and this also enables snap targeting. All I need to do is zoom and pull, and I’m OK with that.
The third phase is puzzles. It’s amazing how high-tech our low-tech ancestors were when it came to safeguarding their booty. I’ve not run into any puzzles yet in UC4, but I remember one particularly annoying one from a past game which had you twisting metal poles that held up parts of a complete shape. The puzzle was that these poles were spaced well apart from one another, and you’d only know if you got the solution correct by standing back and using perspective to complete the complete visual. I hated that damn puzzle, but it obviously stuck with me over the years.
The fourth and to me the best and most important part is the story and its execution. UC4 has, without a doubt, the best cut-scene execution I have seen in a game. Naughty Dog’s mo-cap game is on point; I find myself watching character’s facial expressions, hand gestures, and posture for conversational cues that actually work, and unlike a lot of animation which is kept minimal for obvious reasons (namely, the sheer amount of effort), the characters in these scenes exhibit all of the natural tics and unconscious mannerisms you’d expect from real people. The dialog always seems totally plausible, and aside from the fact that we’re talking about a group of adventurers seeking out the likes of El Dorado and Shambhala, the more realistic circumstances seem to be quite plausible.
If you don’t mind spending eighteen minutes watching a play through (with spoilers), check out this video.
In UC4, Drake has “retired” from treasure hunting, married Elena, and operates a salvaging company (putting his recovery skills to good use). He’s now as domestic as anyone else, and chapter 4 (?) begins with Drake in his attic office considering One Last Job while you get to review some of the spoils gained from adventures past. Eventually, you take Drake downstairs and get to walk through his house. While this doesn’t sound very awesome, it’s got some amazing touches.
@Scopique I liked how messy the house was. It spoke volumes about the characters and how neither of them is innately ‘domestic.’
— Peter Smith (@pasmith) May 12, 2016
It probably would have been really easy for the developers and designers to create a nice, Martha Stewart-esque approach to the Drake household and saved themselves a whole lot of design-time, but they made a conscious effort to make this house looked lived in. Not just lived in, but relatable. The place is generally a mess, with towels and clothes on the floor, bathrooms with grooming and cosmetic supplies on the counters, papers and books everywhere (and not in the “see how academic they are!” kind of ways). There was very little difference between the Drake’s house and my own house, and it helped to sell the “realism” of the situation.
I also got a massive kick out of Nathan and Elena’s “dinner” on the couch as seen in the video above. Nolan North’s and Emily Rose’s execution of their lines just sound like married people talking about their respective daily experiences. The best part was when they argue over who will do the dishes, and settle it by playing Crash Bandicoot (“Your…TV game thing”, Nate calls it). Of course, you get to play Crash on an aged PS2 while Nate and Elena provide a comically self-aware commentary on the loading speed of the ancient system (exactly how kids today would react to playing on the PS2), learning how to play games (exactly how your mom would react to playing for the first time), and most importantly, how Crash’s running and jumping is something Nate could school him on.
I think the game does a pretty good job of balancing the cut-scenes with the action, but the Uncharted series has always been one where I’ve never minded having to sit through the narrative, because the execution has always been stellar. In fact, if you need to catch up, or haven’t ever played an Uncharted game, you can catch a super-cut of all of the narrative scenes (with relevant action sequences added when necessary for cohesion) from each game on YouTube. I was going to link them, but found that there are several iterations from several sources, and without having reviewed them, I can’t say which one is best, so I’ll just urge you to search them out when you’ve got some free time if you’re interested.
As a footnote, I would have had more screens if A) I’d remembered to take them while playing, and B) I’d remembered how to take screenshots and share them on the PS4.