I've just started chapter 10 of Uncharted 4. It features this verbal exchange, the most natural thing in the world.
"Your brother insisted on getting a 4x4 with a winch," Victor Sullivan says to Drake's brother Sam, a little shitty at the situation.
"So you sprung for the winch, but you couldn't spring for the suspension," replies Sam. "Got it."
Nate's reply: "Hey, its important. Going off-road, it might rain, it might get muddy."
"I bet we go through this whole goddamn thing and never use that winch," says Sullivan.
This is what people refer to as foreshadowing. Of course you use the goddamn winch. It's pure genius, and one of a many subtle aspects of Uncharted 4's new winch mechanic that's expertly applied. The winch might be my favourite thing about the game and, considering the dramatic improvements Naughty Dog has made to the game's climbing, that's saying something.
The above conversation: that's the first time anyone mentions a winch. To be perfectly honest, I wasn't even completely sure what a winch was. I'm not into off-road driving, I barely know how to change a tire.
But five minutes later, I'm driving this car. I'm stuck. I'm trying to drive up a muddy incline our 4x4 clearly can't handle. Should I turn around, try and find another route? Nah, that doesn't make sense. Then it occurs to me...
The winch. Of course. The goddamn winch. Uncharted is good at many, many things but if there's one thing it's terrible at it's giving players the time and space to figure things out by themselves. You can't stand still for a second without a "HEY NATE, CHECK OUT THIS LEVER. WHAT IF WE TRY TURNING THIS STATUE AROUND".
Jesus wept Sully could you give me a minute. Just a minute.
But this winch situation: it represents a moment where Uncharted plays things perfectly. That conversation, that easy natural conversation — the kind anyone might have off-road driving in a 4x4 — it preps the player. So when a situation where a winch might be useful does occur, you're able to figure it out yourself.
And that feels really good.
I didn't know what a winch was, I'd never heard the term. But I instantly understood. I went to the front of the car. I pressed triangle. I took the winch up to a tree, wrapped it round the tree by pure instinct and latched it on.
Could it be? Could this be the actual best functional puzzle in the history of Uncharted as a series? I think so.
Then there's the physical implementation. The first time I tried to apply the winch I tried to run up the muddy hill. Of course, it was way too slippy. I got halfway up and slid all the way back down. A miserable failure, but...
It was so much fun to slide back down the hill. I took the stairs next time, but when the winch was successfully attached I did what any reasonable human being would do: I slid down the muddy hill, all the way from the top this time.
What a gloriously simple little gameplay loop. Grap the winch, drag the rope to the tree, attach it and then wheeeeeeee slide back down the hill to the 4x4. Perfect.
But the best part is still to come: driving up the muddy hill with the winch attached.
The mud splatters, the car struggles, it slides from side-to-side, it fights for traction. Slowly but surely you inch up the hill. You get to the top. What an achievement — we did it! Then, a final flourish. You unhook the winch and it does that awesome thing, the thing your vacuum cleaner does when you unplug it from the wall: it has a retractable cord! Is there anything more satisfying than pushing that button and watching the retractable cord doing the hard work for you?
Honestly, it's the little things.
And the winch: it has other uses. It helps you destroy a goddamn bridge.
It's also part of one of the most interesting set pieces of the game, but I won't spoil that for anyone who hasn't played yet.
There's only one problem.
My brother in-law, who happens to be a fan of off-road driving, was watching me play through this section. I attached the winch, I drove up the mud, I unclipped it.
"What the hell man," my brother in-law said, "this guy is a wanker."
"Why isn't he using a tree-protector?"
Apparently if you attach a winch to a tree you're supposed to use a tree protector.
Nathan Drake: mass murderer, destroyer of historical landmarks.
Hater of trees.