Preview: Uncharted 4: A Thieve’s End – The one with the winch

Once upon a time Nathan Drake went on an adventure, and 22 million copies later we’re facing the supposed end. I sat down with Uncharted 4 today, controller in hand, to see what Madagascar had to offer me and my companions. It turned out to be quite a lot.

First of all you start in a jeep. While it’s not technically the first time in the series you get to drive one, it is the first time you get to control one. And for good reason. Naughty Dog didn’t just tackle the current gen by upping the the look and feel, but they made it all so much bigger. Calling it an open world is stretching it, but the plains of Madagascar were inviting me and my jeep to explore and we were much obliged. There was a nice and natural feel to the driving which was further amplified by Naughty Dog’s obsession with details. The way Nathan (and Sam and Sully) move in the car depending on what you do with it is not only entertaining, but helps complete the picture. Mud flies everywhere and the jeep struggles to keep traction as you try to ascend a small hill. Hitting the rocky parts of the surface helps, but when everything else fails it’s time for the first environmental puzzle in the demo: The winch. Because if you’re going to rent a jeep, it’s gonna be one with a winch. By attaching it to a tree on top of the hill you can easily pull the car up. “Success!”, I thought as I marveled at the fact that Nathan actually switched what hand he held the winch with depending on where he walked and what side of it he was on. Again, the details. It’s hard not to gush.

In previous Uncharted games, finding treasure was a matter of basically taking a step or two to the left and the shiny trinket would reveal itself. The increase in landmass in Uncharted 4 had me leave the jeep multiple times to go explore caves and climb ruins. If it’s more exploring and treasure hunting you want, this portion of the game gave a pretty solid impression of what to expect if they keep this up in other parts of the game. This alters the pace quite a lot, but with a vertical slice of gameplay like this, it’s impossible to say how it affects the game in the grand scheme of things. And while you might have huge open areas to explore, you’ll eventually find yourself on the path that Naughty Dog intended. The words wide linear have been uttered to describe this.

So far in the demo a lot of things had come together nicely. Exploration seemed fun, everything looked amazing, the banter between all characters was highly amusing, and hearing Nathan yell “I can do it!” as I tried to run up a muddy path only to slide down and mumble “No, I can’t” gave me a chuckle. It’s all very familiar, it’s what you’d expect but better. But then came the explosion in the horizon and I knew that this was the moment of truth. I’ve never been a fan of the shooting in previous Uncharted games. It’s always been too loose, lacking oomph and precision. And not enjoying the shooting in games that have you shoot almost all the time is a bummer.

There is a lot to the combat in Uncharted 4 though, more than just shooting. Stealth has been made super useful and is not just something loosely attached to certain scenarios. You can tag enemies to keep track of them, and since your new best friend is a rope there’s a big chance that arenas contain stuff to attach said rope to so you can swing around and punch people in the face. I played through the demo twice and decided to approach the combat scenario a little bit different in both. The first time around I was sneaking through grass, tagging people and meticulously taking them down one by one. I messed up of course, so the situation had to be resolved with trustworthy friends like the FAL, the shotgun and the sniper rifle. The second time around I decided to see how fast I could get the jeep to go while also hitting as many people as I could. That number ended up being two but I’ll work on that when the game comes out. The result was a little more action than my first attempt, but there’s plenty of room for a dynamic fight in such a big area so I ended up victorious yet again. And the shooting? Feels a bit tighter. I can probably accept this.

I mentioned earlier that I felt a lot of stuff had come together nicely. At the end I felt so even more. From the slow pace of the exploration to the elegant and hectic flow of the combat, there wasn’t a lot, if anything, to nitpick. But this is just a slice of what’s to come, and who knows what tiny monsters rear their ugly heads when you get the full game in your hands on May 10th.

Unfortunately I was too lazy/ignorant to bring anything to transfer footage and screens to, which is why this post contains images from PlayStation. My apologies.

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