I’ll get straight to it: just under a week ago, Sony released a new gameplay video for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It’s likely you’ve already seen it, but maybe you haven’t. In any case, it’s incredible. For the uninitiated, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series follows the adventures and misadventures of one Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter armed with as much completely improbable upper body strength as he has truly unbelievable luck. Previous installments of the game have seen Drake chasing treasures in increasingly improbable situations all over the world, from the Rub-al-Khali desert to the fabled city of Shangri-La. I’m a big fan of the series, and I’ve written a couple of posts about it on this blog.
The first, second, and third games in the series, Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves, and Drake’s Deception, respectively, have been lauded for their innovative combinations of platforming and combat gameplay, excellent voice acting, and engrossing story lines. Among Thieves, in particular, collected a number of Game of the Year awards. I’ve played through every one of the Uncharted games on every difficulty level at least twice. I’ve found the Strange Relic in every game, and picked up all the treasures. I’ve even taken a break or two from my usual heavy-breathing love of this series to critique its treatment of female characters. Watching the video from this past weekend’s Playstation Experience event in Las Vegas, what I was seeing felt fresh. The gameplay in Drake’s Deception really wasn’t that different from Among Thieves, but A Thief’s End feels exciting, just from the fifteen minutes of gameplay in the video.
At 5:02, we see Drake change up his usual monkey/freerunner antics, acquiring a pick from the corpse of a 19th century explorer and using it like an ice axe to climb an otherwise impossible rock face. That’s one of a couple of new platforming elements we see in the video, which ought to bring some newness to the series’ extended platforming sequences. At about 7:10 we see what appears to be a new in-game stealth mechanic which, as Kotaku notes, looks like “it was inspired by The Last of Us,” another Naughty Dog title.
At about 8:20, the real fun starts. The player, who is obviously pretty good at this, takes Drake through a fast-paced five-minute sequence that blends gunslinging, platforming, and the game’s new melee combat and stealth options. Mechanically, this game isn’t reinventing any wheels, but every element seems a step better than the previous game.
What the video shows us is also visually appealing, especially taking into account Naughty Dog’s remark that “we are still in the pre-alpha stage of development…and we still have quite some time to optimize and refine our technology to make this the best looking and playing Uncharted game to date.” Take a look at these models for Nathan Drake on the PS4, and check out this panel discussion on their development. My advice: skip around a bit, the video’s about an hour long.
Really, the only downside here is that Amy Hennig, writer and creative director for the series, is no longer involved in the project after her early 2014 departure from Naughty Dog. It really does seem like Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley (who worked on The Last of Us) can handle this one, though we don’t know how much of the project is Hennig’s work.
There’s still so much that we don’t know about A Thief’s End. We know that some of the action takes place in Madagascar, and maybe this was the jungle action we saw, though no Uncharted game has ever confined itself to a single location. But the bigger mysteries are about what the plot may contain. There’s yet been no word about whether characters from previous Uncharted games, like Chloe, Elena, or Sully, will return. The gameplay video does end with a certain surprise about Drake’s family, which leads me to believe that as with Uncharted 3, we’re going to learn some big things about Drake’s past.
So far, the series was at its best in Uncharted 2, but each successive game tells us more and more about Drake. The one thing that I would like most out of this new game is the opportunity to play in single player mode with a non-Nathan Drake character. This should be limited of course—Drake is the lifeblood of the series—but consider how excellent The Last of Us was while playing as Ellie. Since it already seems that Druckmann and Straley are bringing over elements from that game, they have a lot of opportunities in terms of both mechanics and character development. If they can achieve the level of storytelling quality that they brought for The Last of Us, Naughty Dog may again be drowning in Game of the Year awards.
Long story short: if Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is as awesome as this gameplay trailer, it could be the best Uncharted game yet and a strong addition to the PS4’s game library. While we still don’t have a release date for A Thief’s End, it is slotted for 2015. I really could not be more excited for this game’s release, and it is honestly the sole motivation for my PS4 purchase. You should check it out for yourself, though. Here: