After we finished recording the podcast last week, I hunkered down into the last six chapters of Uncharted 4, and once the credits rolled I found myself feeling very positive about it. Far more positive than I'd suggested on the last episode. I'm not prepared to spoil any significant part of the game - particularly the ending, obviously - but I will say that it was precisely what I wanted from the game, and the series.
Uncharted 4 is not as uniformly excellent as The Last of Us. I stand by that. A big part of that is the amount of time you spend with Young Nate - and it's not much - it functions as kind of a forced gameplay pacing beat. If you just got out of a super-crazy shootout as Adult Nate, and Adult Nate is about to head directly in to another one, Naughty Dog will just throw you back in time for some platforming-and-or-stealth as a kid to break up the gameplay so it's not just all shooting, all the time.
|They also serve to showcase that Nate's brother, Sam, is the worst babysitter evarrr.|
"Hey little bro, let's do some freerunning like a hundred feet off the ground.
Get a move on, ya chicken!"
As a mechanic of gameplay pacing, it works great. In terms of storytelling - which is one of Naughty Dog's greatest strengths - they're some of the weakest parts of the game.
Perhaps it's the limited amount of time we get to spend with Young Nate, but he's no Ellie. He has little in the way of personality, and mostly functions as a sentient sponge that soaks up heavy-handed (for Naughty Dog) foreshadowing that clearly informs why he grew up to become a globe-trotting treasure hunter, generally, and specifically repeated suggestions that his desire to find Awesome Treasure 2016 will result in the death of him or his brother or someone else that we care about.
And it it heavily foreshadowed.
Now, it's worth noting that the only story work Uncharted 4 compares poorly against is The Last of Us. Compared to the industry as a whole, it's still the top of the line - it's just that (a bit like Uncharted 3) when compared against what Naughty Dog can accomplish, and has in the past, it's not quite there. In certain moments. A weak actor here, a dishonest story beat there. S'too bad.
But those are the prickly little moments that stand out, in hindsight. Taken as a whole, it's almost more of a love letter to what Uncharted gave us before Naughty Dog moved on. The storytelling is slowed right down, but that's really the only cue the game pulls from the studio's last game - elsewhere, it's pure Uncharted with a nice little addition here (the grappling hook is awesome), a nice little tweak there (the way it handles free climbing feels a lot more controlled and tacticle, now).
I don't know - can't be sure - what one would think of Uncharted 4 if they hadn't played the first few games. I have to think you would have a slightly better impression of it than you would have of The Order: 1886 - it too is a rather linear, totally-story-driven shooter with absolutely gorgeous graphics, and little else. There's a bit of platforming, of course, but it's no big thing. It's not particularly fun platforming - and there's super-simple puzzles, here and there - but that's it. It's a gorrrgeous linear story-driven third-person shooter.
As someone who has played the last three games, as someone who loves Elena and Nate and Sully, Uncharted 4 is a fitting sendoff. The ending was so affecting and so strong that I actually turned right around and started up a NG+ on the famous Crushing difficulty. And then I started enjoying those sections playing as Young Nate well more than I had the first time, because now everything that felt like foreshadowing the first time became pregnant with meaning on a second viewing - everything resonated with the power of that ending.
It's on Crushing, I think, that I'll really be able to come to a final opinion on Uncharted 4. It's on Crushing that I discovered how insanely brilliant Drake's Deception was, years ago, and to me is the definitive experience of the game. Of course, I didn't spend enough time on Uncharted 4's Crushing to beat it, because...
But that's for another day.