The latest Uncharted 4 footage that Naughty Dog’s shown off is clearly being presented as a counterpoint to its debut gameplay reveal. The developer’s intentions with the first A Thief’s End gameplay it unveiled was to show us an Uncharted that’s far more open than what we’ve seen before. It showcased arena-like combat that contrasted starkly with the glorified corridors and enclosed spaces of past games in the series, demonstrating the possibility of a more creative approach to combat where we will be able to leverage Drake’s athleticism to move swiftly around our enemies, turning the environment into a tool that’s just as important as the firearm in Drake’s hand. It told us that Naughty Dog is seeking to smooth out the sharp distinction between ‘the jumpy bits’ and the ‘shooty bits’, treating climbing and platforming as something that’s always a part of Drake’s repertoire, rather than something he does when he’s done killing. It also told us that Naughty Dog has brought what it’s learned from The Last of Us into this game. Rather than stealth being something that’s over once you’re spotted, here it is possible to transition in and out of the two states more fluidly, bringing enemies out of patrol patterns and manipulating them into danger by playing a game of cat and mouse.
If that gameplay was a demonstration of how Uncharted has evolved and how The Last of Us has informed the game’s development, the spectacular footage that we’ve seen most recently is designed to remind us that those changes don’t mean that Naughty Dog has forgotten what Uncharted does best. To show Drake fight his way physically and realistically through those market streets before jumping into a jeep to speed down roads, over cars and across mud tracks while being pursued by an armoured vehicle and then grapple on to a moving truck to be left hanging off a bridge, is Naughty Dog saying: “We’re still top of the pile when it comes to setpieces”.
Then there is the graphical prowess for which the studio has become famed. It has a reputation for getting the best out of PlayStation hardware and we have to admit, this looked a step beyond what we’ve come to expect from the current-generation. There’s an insane level of detail in evidence, from the way that sand pours from the sandbags behind which Drake is taking cover when they are pierced by bullet fire, to the way that mud flicks in the air and cakes Drake’s clothing as he’s dragged through the dirt holding onto his grapple hook in the extended version of the E3 Uncharted footage that we got to see behind closed doors.
There’s every indication, then, that Uncharted 4 will continue to excite us with the technical excellence and directorial flair with which Uncharted setpieces have come to be associated. However, the law of diminishing returns suggests that presenting us with more setpieces with prettier graphics may not be quite enough. You can only see so many explosions, car chases and collapsing buildings before it starts to become run of the mill, however impressively those scenarios might be presented from a graphical perspective.
Our hope is that this issue will be addressed by interspersing those trademark Hollywoodesque scenarios with more open sections that call back to that original Uncharted 4 gameplay reveal. In other words, we need more than a prettier version of Uncharted 3. It is the idea that Naughty Dog has adjusted combat to bring Nate’s climbing skills to the fore and to give us more freedom in how we approach each encounter that gives us hope that we’re going to see that. Get that mix of new and old right, nail the balance between funnelled but spectacular setpieces and sections where we’re given agency, and this could just be the finale that Uncharted deserves.