Following yet another delay, any glimpse of Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 feels like something to be cherished. Although May 10 is but a reckless rope-swing away, the developer’s unexpected deferment of gutsy gunslinger Nathan Drake’s final hurrah suggests that the team isn’t entirely confident. Last weekend, Naughty Dog opened up a free beta multiplayer to PS4 owners (regardless of PS Plus subscription), in order to garner as many simultaneous players as possible in a ‘stress test’ of the online mode. The beta concluded yesterday at 11:59pm Pacific Time, and offered a satisfying precursor to some the elusive adventures that lay two months ahead.
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Previewed on: PS4
Also Available On: N/A
Release Date: May 10 2016
A free beta was downloaded for the purpose of this review.
The series – aside from an emphasis on fiery, fast-paced action – prides itself upon its exotic landscapes. I’ve always traipsed joyfully through the games’ lush green jungles and upturned shanty-towns, and they’ve always been an integral part of Uncharted’s filmic style. With the PS4 now in hand, however, it finally feels as if Naughty Dog can do true justice to the series’ scopic realms.
Now in spangling 1080p, there’s a depth to surroundings that went previously unnoticed. Colours, lighting and textures are understandably more vibrant, and although there’s only three locations to house your brawls to the death here, each one feels intricate and creative. None of these are spectacular, per se – those will likely be reserved for the finished game – but the environments certainly feel more alive; they breathe without always being breath-taking.
As with the multiplayer affairs of the previous entries, the heart of Uncharted 4′s online mode -at present – lies upon team-based matches. Players are split into two teams (either the Heroes or Villains) in a battle to the death, with the first team to reach a certain number of kills prevailing. You were able to tear through each of the beta’s three maps as a selection of notable characters from the series- including those yet to appear in A Thief’s End such as the battle-painted Knot and Nate’s older brother, Sam. Noticeably more familiar faces include Lazarevic, Sully, Elena and Harry Flynn- with a distinct lack of appearance from Among Thieves‘ Chloe Frazer.
If you haven’t clapped eyes upon Nathan Drake since 2011, three days isn’t much time to get back into the Uncharted series. The in-game controls are instantly recognisable, but include a number of added features to keep the old system fresh. There’s even a brief, unobtrusive tutorial to acquaint (or reacquaint) players with Uncharted’s intuitive control scheme.
Basic controls are left untouched, with players still able to crouch for cover, jump and automatically grab and clamber onto nearby surroundings. The new grapple mechanic allows players to propel themselves across particular chasms, allowing them to switch up the pace and avoid enemy fire. It’s a fitting addition to the game’s other bombastic tendencies; swinging through the air like a frag-wielding Tarzan really contributes to the action – and in 60fps, it’s even more satisfying.
It’s a shame – in this way – that the single player will be locked at 30 frames, as I expect there’ll be many moments that’d benefit greatly from a heightened fluency. But considering the sparkling detail overlaying the test’s vibrant worlds, it’s likely that a spectacle will be made of the completed game’s action sequences regardless.
Although responsive, movement can be too free at times; something that led me to catch myself on scenery and roll precariously out into the open, rather than ducking behind a mindfully-placed crate. The control scheme acquaints quick changes in direction and perilous ravine-swinging, but when there’s a gang of bloodthirsty Nates after you, controls felt a touch imprecise. Climbing is, however, much more efficient than it has been previously; allowing players to alternate freely between valiant leaps and edging up rock faces, and at a noticeably quicker pace. This does wonders for the multiplayer aspect; as split-second dodging and reflexive diving for cover often go hand-in-hand with online battles, time is of the essence, but it’s also something I hope will transfer into the game’s single player, as some climbing sections during previous campaigns felt drawn out.
With the PS4, Naughty Dog seem to have realised they can push Uncharted into territories the PS3 left previously unmapped. The open beta introduces the use of sidekicks: purchasable NPCs you can use to cover your hide during a match. These guys are fully exploitable, allowing you to distract opponents, bagging a few extra moments to sneak in a well-aimed headshot.
There’s also the option to collect various trinkets on your travels, which can be exchanged for in-game cash to buy additional weapons. You can bulk out your armory with grenades, RPGs and newly introduced ‘mysticals’, the latter of which take the form of haunted coffins you can plonk down in the midst of the action to deplete the health of nearby opponents. When a mystical suddenly turns up, it’s amazing how quickly a battlefield can turn into a ghost-town, and they’re naturally rather handy for when you’re feeling outnumbered.
There are tons of added customisation features, too. As challenges are completed and matches had, you gain ‘Uncharted coins’ that can be exchanged for taunts, as well as an assortment of vanity items. Items and taunts are available for each of the game’s recognisable characters, and range from bandanas and berets to cowboy hats and tuexdos.
Taunts, on the other hand, look cut from the ludicrous heart of Saints Row IV, with many just as hilarious. Having Sully take a selfie with his newly downed victim, or Marlowe thrusting in vehement celebration is inspiring, and there’s a greater variety at play here than ever before that makes matches that little bit more personal. And truly, watching Nathan Drake blow a kiss like an aspiring Pageant Queen really does a lot for morale.
There’s clearly a lot of fan service woven into Uncharted 4‘s multiplayer; something that aligns nicely with this being Drake’s final adventure. There’s a lot riding on Uncharted’s single player this year, and with the technical turbulence of Arkham Knight‘s launch all too fresh in recent memories, perhaps a month longer in the works will ultimately pay off. The multiplayer proffers sparky new features and heightened responsivity, with the familiarity of past entries smirking behind; I can only hope that A Thief’s End will allow those elements to roar.