It's been five years since Nate’s last outing on PS3, so you’d expect a few new ideas for Uncharted 4. How about a completely new game? While this is definitely still 'Uncharted,' the mechanics have had a big overhaul, with better enemy AI, more flexible combat and bigger levels giving you more space to play in.
The basic 'shoot dudes, get treasure' flow feels the same but this is a much more modern-feeling game compared to my memories of the wall-hugging, cover-shooting past. There is still a lot of that here though to be honest - it hasn't changed that much - but oh my God the walls are pretty this time.
Here’s a run down of the new stuff that really stuck out for me.
The Jeep’s great
It took me literally seconds to forget the Jeep was a new thing once I took off across the mud. The handling - the way it slips in the wet, or slides around corners with a nudge on the handbrake - is instantly familiar and enjoyable. It’s always a good sign when you’re fishtailing around hairpins simply because it’s fun to do.
The vehicle exploration works nicely too. The area I played wasn't exactly hard to get lost in, with a few forks in the road, mostly more or less all going the same way, but the freedom to poke around on wheels is welcome. There’s also an element of traversal puzzling as you grip and slide across muddy patches in search of rocks to grip on, or find the way up a tricky slope.
There’s also a winch which Nathan can unravel and wrap around trees to haul himself up tougher inclines. Plus it got a work out pulling down a bridge to make a ramp, so there’s more to the wheels than hitting go and avoiding rocks.
There's 'stealth grass'
There’s a fully functioning stealth system in Uncharted 4. True, there’s actually been one in every game, it’s just never been well explained or incorporated. This time it works well as a constantly usable option. When around enemies and not in active combat Nate drops down and skulks around, crouch-jogging up to enemies for a quick neck snapping.
That’s where the stealth grass comes in (that’s what Naughty Dog actually called it). Patches of undergrowth are dotted around levels and they mask Nate and co completely, allowing you to slink around unseen, plotting the violent death of generic guards.
You’re absolutely part of a team now
Nate's away had company in Uncharted but it's usually felt more like set dressing than bringing an actually useful friend along to help out. This time the gang are beneficial companions, and Uncharted 4 makes its supporting cast work for a living.
When shit kicks off and bullets are zipping past your head, Sully and Sam get busy: returning fire, swinging at nearby guards and piling in to help if you get grabbed. It’s a very different dynamic and a clear extension of, and improvement on, Ellie’s brick swinging skills in The Last Of Us.
The levels are way more open
Previous Uncharted games have always been about ‘in front’. That’s the direction you’re heading and where the enemies are coming from. The series has been a resolutely forward-facing action corridor until now, but number four is more of a bowl. A bowl full of angry men.
It’s not completely open world, more a hub, and while things have definitely expanded, the action’s still very familiar - cover-based shooting, grenade dodging and running punches to the face. However, being able to take your time to scope an area out, locate enemies, and maybe snap a few necks before opening fire, creates a lot of replayability.
I played through one fight a number of times and there seemed to be a range of angles to attack it from. Like ramming though the guards with the jeep and mopping up the remains, or sniping from a guard tower, and of course the traditional ‘shoot all the things from behind walls’. As a test I even managed a full stealth run through the whole thing, taking out every guard without raising a single alarm. A lot of necks were broken that day.
It's gone a bit Far Cry
Drake can tag enemies now by aiming at them and clicking L3 to leave a little arrow floating over their heads. It means you can now scope out an entire level, keep track of all the guards and plan your attack before firing a shot. Nate can also now see a bad guy's awareness via an indicator that appears, slowly filling as he notices you more. There’s a colour warning as well: yellow means they’re looking, orange is investigating, and red means it's gun time.
The changes in combat and level design mean the usual faceless grunt isn't up to scratch any more, so the AI's been reworked. The new breed of Uncharted 4 bad guy now has a much greater awareness of his surroundings to deal with the more open spaces. The first time I opened fire I was immediately overwhelmed and backed into a corner simply because I wasn't expected such a coordinated attack from every angle.