Uncharted 4 is out. You. Guys. The real life disc is sitting in my real life Playstation 4 home entertainment console and I have been playing it for realsies and oh man it's really good!
So, it doesn't feel like the first three games. I'm thinking it's going to be a longer, more Last-of-Us-y experience, with a little more downtime between the big setpieces. The game takes its tie setting everything up, introducing its characters, and generally letting you just soak up the atmosphere. After maybe three hours or so, I'm only just beginning to get into big gun/stealth fights. But I like it. It isn't blasting me in the face with incredible setpieces (yet), but I know they're going to be there, and I'm enjoying just wandering about exploring levels. The platforming is still pretty much the same old automatic sticky stuff, but the level design has actually been quite clever and fun to clamber about. Plus Nate's new climbing animations are pretty much endlessly enjoyable to watch, even when you're just pointing the analogue stick this way and that.
What little combat I have seen so far, though, is exactly what I was dreaming about for this game. It's the stealth mechanics from The Last of Us, with the weapons and ammo plentifulness of Uncharted (and regenerating health, obviously), and it feels amazing. You stealth your way around, get spotted, shoot it up, climb up something in a desperate attempt to escape, lose the bad guys again, screw up, work it out again; it's the best. It almost feels a little easy at this point (playing on the default difficulty), but I'm still early in the game.
Everything is gorgeous, everyone's faces are still wrong but oh man are they good-looking wrong faces. The animation is spectacular, the attention to detail is second-to-none, as you'd expect. I've been slamming my PS4 Share Button every few seconds. The people all look like people, in really distinctive ways. Rafe has these amazing Steve Buscemi eyes, Nadine's curly hair is just right (and those arms), Sam looks just the right level of haggard, and has this unusual mouth that makes him look like more than just a character model some artist drew, y'know?
Anyway, this game's good and I'm going to play more of it after I get food in my face.
EDIT - Oh boy oh boy, this game is something special. This is what my PS4's been waiting for all this time; now it's a real console.
I'm eleven hours in, and I know I'm getting towards the end of the game but I wouldn't expect the credits to roll for a few more hours yet. This is a long one, blowing way past the lengths of all the other Uncharteds, but it just feels puuuurfectly paced. While the basic Uncharted formula of platforming into a place and shooting your way out is still there, they've also done plenty of experimentation. Sometimes you'll shoot your way in and platform your way out!
No, srsly, it really is a constantly surprising game to play. You spend a surprising amount of the game not shooting anyone, and playing what essentially feels like Naughty Dog's version of a Gone-Home-style walking simulator, enjoying the scenery and soaking up some environmental storytelling with interactable objects you'll pick up and eyeball like you're playing LA Noire. Simply getting from A to B is much less obvious than it was in the earlier games; levels are much more open in general, which multiple pathways forward, and sometimes Uncharted 4 just feels like a straight up open-world game.
Once you get to Madagascar, everything is just crazy. Forget your jumping/climbing/shooting down a linear path; Uncharted 4's favourite trick is to give you a landmark off on the horizon and leave the getting-there up to you. While there are built-in hints to point you in the right direction if you get stuck, I absolutely loved just exploring and getting myself un-lost at my leisure. For the most part, the level design makes these places feel genuinely real, and not just big corridors where you need to climb that thing, swing on this pole, clamber across these ledges, y'know? Sometimes a particular pattern of grabbable ledges on a rock face will be a little too obvious, but not often.
It must take an amazing level of, I don't know, craftsmanship to strike this balance between not making the way forward too obvious, but also not letting players just miss it. There's a bit where you're puttering around in a motorboat looking for a map to pirate treasure which I don't know that I can come up with any comparison for in any other game. Shades of something like Dishonored, where the game just trusts you to explore and find the way forward, with the peaceful atmosphere of exploring the wilderness in Red Dead Redemption. Definitely a lot of classic Tomb Raider in there, before the reboot's minimaps and waypoints (I honestly haven't even realised until just now that Uncharted 4 is totally HUDless when you're outside of combat; you just don't need one, so you never think about it). Tomb Raider Underworld is probably the best touchstone; Uncharted 4 gives me that same feeling of being set loose in a gargantuan, intricate level with nothing but my wits to help me find the way ahead.
Of course, Tomb Raider Underworld didn't have Naughty Dog's art team behind it, so now imagine those enormous levels but with the actual best graphics you've ever seen. I mean, I don't know how else to phrase it: Uncharted 4 is the best-looking game. It just is. I just want to wander around and look at stuff, and click my Share Button like a tourist. You can spot a little bit of shadow shimmering here and there, maybe a tiny bit of aliasing when a straight line of geometry hits just the right angle off in the distance, but 99% of the time it feels like you're playing a CG movie.
Ah, but don't let that little cliche give you the wrong impression, because this isn't one of those Order 1886 kinds of "playing a CG movie", where the actual playing part is an afterthought. Oh no no no, Uncharted 4 feels incredible. The whole combat part of the game, which encompasses basically every mechanic from climbing to sneaking to shooting and all points in between, is just so good. When I played MGSV last year I thought I was playing the best-controlling third-person action game ever, but while Uncharted 4 feels totally different to that game, I honestly think it feels just as good. Where MGSV offers you pinpoint precision in every animation, Uncharted 4 cultivates that perfectly-Uncharted feeling of barely-controlled chaos while still feeling unfailingly tight and responsive. Every time I encounter guys it starts out as a stealthy offensive, then I screw it all up and have to run for my life, then the fantastic AI loses me and starts searching, then I do a little more stealth, screw it up again, come up with an amazing plan involving rope-swinging, get stunned by its success and screw up again... I love this game
Anyway, it's no good doing all this raving before I've finished the game, so I'll get back to this tomorrow. Obviously, though, my overall mood is positive. I can't wait to see how it all ends.
P.S. Nadine is my new favourite Uncharted character
EDIT - Just finished it. I loved it. To get it right out of the way at the start: I don't think it's as good as Uncharted 2, but it's right up close. 2 > 4 > 1 > 3 is my personal Uncharted heirarchy. Uncharted 4 is ultimately a liiiittle too long, with some unusual game design that I'll get into under my spoiler tags, which hold it back from the GOATest of all time perfection of Uncharted 2. It's still an absolutely wonderful masterpiece of a video game, though. Did I mention I loved it?
OK, here we go with spoilers: