This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
The one thing everyone knows about Naughty Dog as a developer is that they've never had a franchise outlive a console. They tossed in Crash Bandicoot with the PS1, Jak & Daxter went down on - I mean down with the PS2, and Uncharted was a creature of the PS3 until now. So what does it mean when a Naughty Dog franchise spreads onto another console generation? That fire will soon rain from the sky and I shall behold the great beast rising from the ocean with seven heads and seven tragic early 2000s haircuts? Or it could just mean that the new console generation is wank that has made no significant steps forward and has chosen instead to lie down on the floor and look for treasure in its bellybutton.
Anyway, Uncharted 4 is very decisively the final game in the series about exploring marvelous lost cities in many exotic international locations while controlling an insufferable, murdering pillock whose dialog is 10% smug quips and 90% exertion noises. And Uncharted 4 has concluded that the insufferable pillock is the part we're invested in. I feel this is making the same mistake as the new Tomb Raiders: trying to focus on the protagonist of the adventure story rather than the adventuring part. Claim to be invested in Lara Croft's character all you like, but she'd know you'd rather watch her outrunning an avalanche than talking earnestly about her commitment issues.
I mean strip the adventure out of Uncharted 4 and it's just people with no idea how to communicate with each other - the game. I know that's kind of the point when Nathan Drake creates a rift with his wife by not telling her he's going on an adventure, but towards the end, when they're together again and are having a big reconnecting scene, these people who have been married for years still can't fucking communicate. All they do is quip and talk into their shoes. It makes me fucking cringe. I want to step in, shove them aside and do the dialogue myself with sock puppets. If you dropped a Shakespearean character into the Uncharted universe, the would stand out like a neon-pink johnny in a cucumber patch. "Come join me now / you gentles all, / and crouch behind / yon chest-high wall!"
So you're out of luck if you're not interested in Nathan Drake as a person and would rather get on with the action and adventure part of the action adventure, cause before things kick off you've got two flashback chapters to get through and then a chapter in which Nathan Drake bums around the house being mildly frustrated. You know what though, I talk shit, but I was actually starting to like the bastard during that whole segment. I wanna see more of the boring, suburban life of the ex-douchebag adventurer. It's like Han Solo getting dropped into the middle of an Alan Bennett production.
When his long-lost brother shows up and pulls him back into the thug life, I was rooting for Nate to tell him to piss off and go back to browsing the IKEA catalogue. But no, you can't keep a good mass murderer down and things swiftly descent into the usual mix of linear climbing sequences, gun battles and elaborate puzzles created by ancient explorers with apparently very little else to do with their lives.
You have already picked up on the potent whiff of retcon in the air. Nathan Drake having an older brother who was his inseparable partner well into their adult careers is something that might have been worth mentioning in the flashback sequence of the previous game, when Nathan Drake was a street kid ostensibly all alone in the world. But I suppose if I tanked as many blows to the head as Nathan Drake does, I'd probably lose count of how many relatives I've got too.
Nathan's brother needs his help to pay off an evil dictator, so they set off in search off for a buried pirate treasure, which rather illustrates my earlier point because buried pirate treasure is the kind of placeholder plot that gets yelled over the head writer's shoulder as he hurriedly exits the planning meeting at bang on the hour the bar opens.
So the game takes a long time to get going. It may be too long overall, because by the end I was going "Jesus Christ, this game's long!", which is the usual sign of being overlong. Then again, I could just have been bored by the continual string of incredible stunts and chase sequences in picturesque exotic locales because the series has already taken it up past eleven more than once, and I'm not talking about bed times. So Uncharted 4 can't help like feeling that we're repeating ourselves. After the mythical lost cities of the last three games we're after a B-grade treasure at best, hence I suppose the focusing on Drake as a character. But the problem with that is: he's a pillock.
There's yet another prolonged flashback chapter in the midgame where we learn the circumstances under which he and his brother took the name 'Drake' and began adventuring. And it's treated like the moment when Bruce Wayne sees a bat flopping about and decides, as any sensible person would, to start wearing black pyjamas and a bucket on his head. For me it's like having a drawn-out flashback scene revealing the exciting origin of his trousers. I didn't think it was that important, I just assumed he put them on that morning cause his ballet tights were in the wash.
If it weren't for all the character stuff being used as a crudge, I could take Uncharted 4 out of the larger context of the series, where it could probably fair better because it wouldn't get so bloody predictable. Oh look, an area full of conspicuous chest-high walls before a puzzle room, a glib assurance from Nathan Drake that the villains can't possibly catch up with us now. I wonder if completing this puzzle will serendipitously coincide with them doing that very thing.
You can definitely see the influence the new Tomb Raiders have had as the major mechanics besides the climbing and the shooting include swinging on ropes and sliding down hills on our slab-like masculine buttocks. The combat's got the good old stealth-focus again, and of course we have plenty of entirely linear predetermined action sequences very artfully disguised as open-ended ones.
But I can't get up its arse too much, cause I know this is the kind of game I miss when I'm having to play shit like The Division and other games one should be very strongly advised not too play prior to operating heavy machinery. I couldn't call Uncharted boring, but it has now done all it can do, in which case: well done for ending it.
And that's pretty conclusively ended cause it's got the kind of epilogue you can't roll back from without a time machine or, more realistically, a particularly exorbitant cheque from Sony. Happily the developers made all my dreams come true by having an American as the main villain, hooray. And all of his henchmen are Sooth Efricens, boooo. Oh well, no one gets along with Sooth Efricens, and least of all other Sooth Efricens.
But even without the us-versus-foreigners subtext, there's still something obnoxious about Uncharted. Possibly it's the self-congratulatory air as characters laugh at each other's non-jokes and say things like "My, what incredible scenery. I definitely wouldn't regret the purchase of any console that could render shit like this." There's even a bit where you have to play Crash Bandicoot, which is about the most blatantly masturbatory thing a developer can do short of put packets of their own jizz in the box. Something to think about for the special edition, lads.
- Swelling orchestral soundtrack: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Crash Bandicoot 1 being played on a giant flatscreen TV? When the fuck is this series set?
- Chalk up your hands once in a while Drake mate