Uncharted 4: How far has video gaming come?

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A long way as it turns out since the early days of the 1980’s. Uncharted 4 shows how great video-games have become.

Back then, a game was simply a game. Players had to get from point A to point B, whether that meant avoiding obstacles, solving puzzles or defeating enemies.  Graphics were limited and sound was limited.  It was really all about the mechanics of the gameplay, a measure of skill that you could compare with your friends based on various points systems.  The idea that the gaming industry could compete with or even overtake the movie industry was laughable.

Over the years, as technology has improved, games have become about so much more.

Story telling and immersion have become critical components of gaming.  As developers have realised, games can take consumers on a journey in a way that movies can’t even come close.  Whilst your average movie lasts 90 minutes and a really long movie can stretch out to 3 hours, a typical game nowadays lasts for at least 20 hours and can stretch out to 100 hours and beyond.  There’s a ton of time to develop our characters, build our settings and tell a well fleshed-out story that can have all sorts of turns and twists.

Link leaving Kokiri Forest. Source: www.IGN.com

There are all sorts of ways that games will tell their story.

Some games do it through subtext.  RPG’s (role playing –games) like Skyrim and Dragonage encourage you to explore and find out more about the world you’ve inhabited by finding optional texts you can read through and by interacting with the hundreds of characters that you can encounter.  Other games, especially action games like Metal Gear Solid, make use of extensive cut scenes to tell their story.  Whilst some of theses scenes can be extraordinarily powerful, they can take you out of the experience as you literally can be putting your controller down for 30 minutes and you are no longer interacting with the game.

What really immerses us more than any movie though is the fact that we are controlling our main character.

Some games will let you design the looks, gestures and mannerisms of your character. We then take control and it’s up to us how long we take to get through each section of the game.  Whilst games used to be quite linear, we are seeing more and more open world games that let you choose the order in which you play the game in, and in some games, even decide the way the story will play out.  The emotional attachments I’ve made with some of my main characters are so much more powerful than anything I’ve experienced with TV shows and movies.

Snake from Metal Gear Solid Series. Source: www.konami.com
Snake from Metal Gear Solid Series. Source: www.konami.com

The Uncharted series is an example of getting the balance between gameplay and cut scenes just right.

Whilst the first game in the series (Drake’s Fortune) set the tone for what the series was all about, it was really the second game (Among Thieves) that gave us the feeling of being immersed in an action sequence.  Climbing a train that was hanging over a cliff whilst reminding ourselves of how we got there was a brilliant start to the game.  Playing a cat and mouse game with a tank was exhilarating and heart-pumping.  The third game in the series (Drake’s Deception) was basically more of the same with incredible sequences including escaping out of a burning and collapsing house and falling out of a plane mid-air.

So what is Uncharted all about? 

Whilst the villains of Uncharted are (sadly) very one-dimensional (they all want power and wealth), Nathan Drake is not.  When we meet Nathan (or Nate) at the start of each of the first three games, we see him interested in one thing: Treasure!  Or actually, maybe it’s the claim to be the one that found it that he cares about more.  Whilst he claims to look forward to being insanely rich and retired, it’s the journey to discover the treasure and solve the mysteries along the way that truly seems to motivate him.  And even though he’d like to believe that he’ll do anything to achieve these goals, the truth is he won’t.

The two people that accompany him throughout all four games are his sidekick/mentor Victor Sullivan and his love interest Elena Fisher.  Just like Drake, Victor (or Sully) pretends to care only about wealth and fame, but deep down, he truly cares about Nathan.  He’s like the son he never had and it’s during the third game that we see the history and depth of this relationship explored in detail.  Elena, in many ways ends up representing Nate’s conscience; she’s honest, fair and much more concerned with people’s well-being than in fame and glory.

The two are clearly in love, and that love gets regularly tested.

Whilst Nathan’s incessant drive to discover various ancient wonders before his rivals puts him and those close to him in all sorts of danger, they never abandon one another.  It’s this loyalty that really endears us to these characters.Nate doesn’t want to hurt anyone, especially the people close to him. I’ve faced this question many times as it’s probably my most recommended series for those with limited gaming time. 

It’s easy to say that it’s basically an action/adventure game that follows an Indiana Jones type story. Each game involves our main character, Nathan Drake, chasing after an ancient treasure, in competition with varying bad guys.  A pretty straightforward premise.  But what makes these games so great is the underlying themes that are explored throughout: family, loyalty, sacrifice and the struggle to know what is and then do ‘the right thing.’

Nathan Drake. Source: Sony

Uncharted 4 (A Thief’s End) puts a new spin on the series. 

Nathan and Elena are married and retired from treasure hunting.  Nate might not seem completely happy but he doesn’t question where he’s ended up.  All of a sudden, his older brother, presumed dead due to an incident Nate felt responsible for, turns up and needs Nathan’s help to find yet another treasure to pay off a massive debt.  Instead of consulting Elana, Nathan lies to her and sets off with his brother and Sully on another adventure.  Nate is constantly torn between his loyalty to his brother and his fear of letting Elena down.  He convinces himself that his only motivation is to help is brother when really, he can’t help but be thrilled to be back doing what he loves most.  In the end, our lies will always catch up with us and Nathan is left with various strained relationships to deal with.

The music score is just as outstanding.

Consumers don’t often appreciate the importance of music in both movies and video games, but it does a crucial job in setting the tone and subtly telling us how we should be feeling when watching the action in front of us.  Uncharted 4 has a full orchestral accompaniment behind it and it’s the swell of strings, the blasting of horns and the pounding of drums that give the game a sense of grandeur, but also a strong emotional core.As the first entry for the series on the PS4, A Thief’s End makes full use of the tools that modern technology in gaming has at its disposal. 

The graphics are simply amazing. 

I don’t think I’ve even seen a better-looking game.  The facial animation and motion capture really brings the characters to life.  The scenery is so beautiful whether it’s the lush jungle landscapes or even just the waves in the ocean moving so fluidly.  Uncharted has always been creative with its camerawork and the way it pans out at critical moments are a thing of beauty.  After all the climbing you do, you can’t help when you reach a peak to spend a few moments checking out the 360 degree view to take in just how amazing this game looks.

There’s the usual amount of fantastic climbing sequences and this time we’re aided by a new rope and grappling hook combination.

This leads to some exhilarating moves as you don’t always know what’s around the corner.  There are plenty of puzzles to solve and whilst they aren’t too difficult, they help to tell the story of famous pirate Henry Avery and the hidden city of Libertalia. Putting together this story is another fantastic sub-plot of the story that keeps you wanting to find out more.

And of course, let’s not forget the most important part of any video game: the gameplay.

All Uncharted games are basically made up of 3 elements of gameplay.  Fighting, exploring and puzzle solving.  Some of this has been a bit more fleshed out in Uncharted 4, but it’s essentially the same successful formula.  Combat has been given a new aspect to it, as along with the usual gun and fist battles, there’s an element of stealth now as well.  We have the option to sneak around and take our enemies out one by one.  And if you get caught, well, it’s back to another gunfight.

The absolute highlights of the game are the intense action sequences and whilst there is quite a lot to live up to, A Thief’s End does deliver. 

Whether it’s escaping from a prison in revolt, pulling off a heist or chasing down a cadre of armed trucks and motorbikes, these heart-pumping moments show off that brilliant mix of gameplay and cut scene that truly elevates Uncharted games above their competitors.   

Uncharted 4. Source: Sony
Uncharted 4. Source: Sony

All of these elements put together give us a terrifically engaging and interactive experience that highlights just how far the video game industry has come.

Whilst there is plenty to look forward to in the future, don’t miss out on this masterpiece that shows off everything that a good game can and should be.Whilst there is a multiplayer component of this game, you have to question what’s the point of it being there. 

Even if they do a decent job of it, I can’t say I was that interested in sinking my teeth into it.  This is a game that’s all about its single player story epic.  Drake is almost never alone throughout the game, so we’re always hearing little bits of engaging conversation or observational humour that keeps us hooked in.

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