Uncharted 4 – Hands-on Preview
I know many of you are looking forward to the conclusion of the much loved and hyped finale in the Uncharted series, which is due to land down under on PS4 on May 10th. Recently, Player2 had the pleasure of being invited into a swanky office in Sydney’s Surry Hills to meet Naughty Dog’s Director of Communications, Arne Meyer, as well as get our mitts dirty with a section of their hotly anticipated action adventure title, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
Of course, instead of sending the intrepid Paul “I am Nathan Drake” James, the powers that be sent little old me, a complete Uncharted noob, whose only experience with Uncharted is watching my brother play through the ‘train off a cliff’ sequence from Uncharted 2. From memory, it was pretty awesome.
After reminding myself not to refer to Nathan Drake as Nolan North, and also fully aware of the fact that I had only used the PS4 controller once in my life, I headed into the aforementioned ‘swanky office’ and got myself comfortable. We were greeted and quickly led to a room full of PS4’s and sizeable TV’s, each running Uncharted 4.
Meyer was introduced before he set the scene, explaining the story of little-known pirate, Henry Every. Every and his crew took control of the commanding ship of the Mughal Fleet, as well as the millions of dollars worth of treasure that was riding on board. Nothing is known of what happened to Every after he made off with his share of the loot, but Drake and Co are convinced it’s out there to be found.
The game loads to a large, open plain, somewhere in Madagascar. Drake is accompanied by his brother, Sam, and old mate Sully, and are sitting in a hired jeep looking out over the plains. The scene is incredibly striking, and it doesn’t take long to notice the smaller details that Naughty Dog so frequently nail. The jerry can in the back of the jeep bounces around as Drake races across the wetlands. Dirt and mud will accumulate all over the paint work the more you drive through it. I giggled like an idiot when I saw the mud build up in the tyre tread as you slip across it, only for it to flick off once you hit rockier terrain.
I’m calling it now. Uncharted 4 will be the 4WD’ing game of the year. Some of the terrains are as harsh an off-roading experience you’ll find short of driving literally off a cliff. Thankfully you have a pretty rad winch – which for some reason is far cooler than a winch ought to be – to help you get through some areas that are downright impassable. The difference between making it up a hill or not is all to do with the path you take. Rocks and hard ground have much more traction than mud, as Sully so handily reminds you time and again.
On that point, the banter between the Drake brothers and Sully is so natural and genuinely funny – it’s hard not to appreciate the sheer talent of some of the most experienced voice actors in the business, as well as the quality of the writing involved. At one point I found a waterfall and drove into the cave that was clearly visible behind it. Nathan immediately quips “Of course there’s a cave behind the waterfall!”. Stopping to get out of the jeep and explore in the middle of a chat and the other will ask what on earth you’re doing. Those gorgeous little details aren’t just visual.
Leaning on my vast wealth (read – deep abyss) of Uncharted knowledge, I asked Meyer if Naughty Dog had opened the level design up a bit more throughout the rest of the game, and if there would be more open and explorable sequences such as this one.
“Not really,” he says, almost reassuringly. “We just wanted to use it sparingly – when we thought it was the best thing for the story”. It’s a sentiment that echoes in a lot of Naughty Dog’s prior work, and as the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
After slipping and sliding my way through the stunning Madagascar plains, over a rickety bridge that half collapsed under the weight of the jeep, and somehow navigating a bunch of high rocks and narrow paths, I made it to a tower that was crawling with hired militia goons. This was a chance to check out some of the combat, as well as some of the stealth mechanics that had been mentioned.
Stealth in Uncharted felt reasonably familiar despite being a relatively new idea to the series. You can hide in the long grass though enemies will spot you if you poke your head out into the open for a peek. AI companions are reasonably useful in combat, killing enemies from stealth if they can, and shooting mostly on target when everything goes upside down. Gun play itself felt a little uninspired, which was a surprise considering how perfect and on point everything else felt.
I mentioned to Meyer how sharp the movement and animation felt, and how great it looked in tandem. “Well, it’s like anything we do, really.” He replies. “We try to iterate on it over time. That way we can be sure whether what it is we’re trying to do is working or not. It can be a long process.”
After finishing my play through, Arne took over my machine, and as he expertly navigated the Madagascar plains I took the chance to enjoy the cinematic spectacle. Even in a more open environment, Naughty Dog still seemingly achieve that feeling of a highly directed and polished experience. Whether that trend continues with the rest of it, we’ll have to wait and see. Based on my promising hour of play, I’m thinking of finally making that PS4 purchase I’ve been threatening for so long.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is out on May 10th on PlayStation 4.
James Swinbanks is a Games Critic currently writing for GameSpot, although you’ll still occasionally see him popping up on Player 2, because frankly, he loves the smell of the place.