The Time Uncharted 4 Trolled Me And The Time It Didn't

There was a time when players could look upon a series of conveniently placed, hip-high crates and feel confident strolling without an assault rifle slung over our shoulders. We could stride forward in ignorance, blissfully unaware that a horde or armed goons would — in a split second — pin us behind that series of crates before engaging in a bloody battle of bullets and wits.

That time is over. It's been over since 2006 and the release of the original Gears of War.

But for those with innocent eyes, those halcyon days might have been extended till 2007 and the release of the first Uncharted. But today, almost 10 years and three sequels older, we're world weary and cynical. All of us. In a game like Uncharted 4 we are all painfully aware of the drill. Any player worth his bitterness can stumble across a new area and immediately recognise that he or she will soon be blasting fools.

Overturned crates. Check.

Hip-high obstacles. Check.

Destructable cover? Of course. What is this? 2005? We're living in the future people and Naughty Dog is a master of technology.

War never changes, but sometimes you could be forgiven for secretly hoping it might.

I want to talk about an interesting moment I had whilst driving Nathan Drake's 4x4 in the dusty, oftentimes muddy landscape of Madagascar, circa chapter 11 in Uncharted 4.

Close to the end of a sustained driving section, I had to clamber out of my rented 4x4, climb up a small building and lower a drawbridge, allowing one 4x4, complete with one Victor Sullivan and one Sam Drake, passage to the next section. Almost as soon as I exited the car I saw the warning signs.

Overturned crates, hip high obstacles, long grass tailor-made for stealth takedowns.

Yep, I said to myself. I'm gonna be blasting some fools in a hot minute.

But then something strange happened.

More precisely: nothing happened.

I climbed to the top of the building. I found the appropriate lever. I started cranking the thing, tapping triangle as you do. No goons appeared. Zero. I was confused. So confused.

Then I thought to myself, what if Naughty Dog deliberately constructed this scene to mess with players — to make us feel like gunplay was imminent — but then subverted all those expectations by not sending in the bullet-sponge squad?

How cool would that be.

Then, tragically, that thought was interrupted by — you guessed it — the sponge squad, who had presumably gotten caught up in traffic en-route to a date with the bullety-end of my AK47. It was, if I'm being perfectly honest, mildly disappointing. Naughty Dog were so close, so achingly close to doing something supremely cool. They could have toyed with our expectations but instead they succumbed to them.

That scene, and the rest of the game for that matter, would have been better off had that whole section not resulted in the kind of combat scenario we expected. For one, we would have been surprised. Perhaps more importantly, as a result of that surprise, we'd be far more likely to interpret things differently the next time we approached some upturned crates and hip-high obstacles. It would keep us on our toes.

And it would have also worked as a subtle piece of universe building. In Uncharted crates and cover exist to be shot at. This is their only function. Wouldn't it be cool if some sat there just because? Because those are the types of objects that should exist in that space? Because the pirates/bad guys/treasure hunters left them there? Wouldn't that add a subtle layer of depth to the universe Uncharted exists in? Wouldn't that go a long way to justifying the other crates left lying around Madagascar?

A missed opportunity perhaps.

But later, a similar opportunity that didn't go squandered. Nathan Drake is climbing in the middle of a torrential downpour. Usually Drake climbs with confidence, as does the player because he or she is aware — if you push the right button at the right time there is absolutely no way that Nathan Drake will slip off a hand-hold. No chance in hell. That hold could be covered in butter and Drake would stick it. He might swing out wide dramatically, but he's safe. You — the player — are safe.

But it is wet and a couple of times Nathan Drake's feet have slid from beneath him. What could that mean?

Almost certainly nothing, I think to myself. This is drama. This is an attempt to create suspense and nothing more. There is absolutely no way Nathan Drake slips from a designated video game climbing hold. Impossible. Uncharted has done a few cool things in the past — it allows holds to break, does a great job of creating this illusion of a dynamic climbing space where anything is possible.

But there's no way he slips off a hold and comes careening down this cliff. No way.

Then it happens. His hand slips, but he recovers. I leap up again. This time I'm not so fortunate. Not only do I slip, but I fall all the way to the bottom of the crevasse.

What the hell is going on here, I ask myself. This is heresy.

But it's actually not. It's all part of the plan, part of the experience. Nathan Drake fades from consciousness and we fade to black. Clever right?

You're goddamn right it is.

Uncharted 4 is at its absolute best when it's unpredictable. The only problem: it's actually extremely difficult for a game like Uncharted 4 — a linear rollercoaster built upon incredible set-pieces — to surprise players. Most of us have played the past three games. Most of us are painfully aware of the tropes. We know when we're going to climb, when we're going to solve puzzles and we know when we're about to start shooting some people in the face.

And that's why I was a little disappointed when that group of Johnny-come-latelies arrived to the scene in Madagascar. That's why I was beyond chuffed to fall, almost to my virtual death, from a slippery hold in the rain almost two hours later.

The surprise.


    The climbing in the rain part has been by far the best part of the game for me.

    Some of the enemy placements really bug me as well, you do all this awesome climbing to get somewhere and then bam enemies, how'd they get their, and with all that gear!

    I think the game would work really well as an open world experience, specially with the climbing mechanic and having stuff break from you climbing.

    I've also found falling/dropping down inconsistent as some parts that look like a short drop kill you because they're out of bounds, where other parts that look too far the game forces you to drop down there.

    I've played a few games where areas looked like there was going to be some kind of fight but nothing happened. Usually it was because they were saving it for a later part of the game though.

      "Oh boy, player-controllable mounted turrets! Hm. But they're facing the wrong way, they're pointed back the way I came. HM. I WONDER IF THERE WILL BE A CAVALCADE OF ENEMIES COMING UP BEHIND ME, AFTER I REACH MY NEXT OBJECTIVE. THAT WOULD BE A SHOCKING SURPRISE."

    I played that section climbing in the rain last night and it made me think of you Serrels!

    I noticed that you couldnt jump at all - you pretty much had to lean to the right holds and take it slowly - an element im sure the climber in you would have admired!! It made it so much more realistic and just gave me a sense of wanting to look after Drake, rather than him being so tough it just doesnt matter!

    That fall was awesome. Also hit me totally by surprise, as ND had done so well by then in the slick conditions. And then suddenly it's all down hill. Painfully.

    I feel it's difficult to make such a broad statement whilst looking at such small samples of game design.


      Did you perhaps want a list of citations? How many examples of the trope would be acceptable by your standards to actually qualify it as a trope, thus validating the broad statement? Seriously?

      Are you in your 30s? Have you been gaming for a few decades? Have you played 1st or 3rd-person shooters across that time? That's where Mark is coming from.

      We're talking about someone with decades of gaming experience talking - most likely - to other enthusiasts who've got similar experience about points of commonality that we're likely to have seen in game design. There shouldn't be a bibliography required.

      (Hell, he even hedges his bets by cutting out any factor of being aware of the industry tropes from broader experience alone by making reference to the fact that if you're playing Uncharted 4, there's 3 games prior to that and really good odds that you've played them instead of jumping straight into the end-point of a series. And if you have, you've thus been exposed to the trope enough in the preceding 3 games that you'll be aware of it, no longer surprised by it, and more likely to benefit from the enjoyment of the trope's subversion.)

      (Edit 2: Fuckit. Here's some supporting evidence. These aren't peer-reviewed by any academic institution I know of, but until an accredited professional conducts an exhaustive study, we'll just have to rely on the expertise of amateur enthusiasts.)

      Last edited 17/05/16 2:23 am

    I get why they feel they need action beats every 15 mins or so after all it is a very set piece heavy triple a action game, but I hope if they continue the Uncharted series they do it without a villain or at the very least without the gunplay. Why not make the game about finding the treasure and the journey?

      I don't think they have to do away with it, just have even less of it and more exploration. But they'd probably have to move away from linear map designs.

      I felt like they'd already moved away from it significantly with this one. Combat encounters make up about 20% of the total gameplay. There's tons more cutscenes and a huge amount more climbing and exploring areas. Much better paced too as a result, there's some quiet moments that actually let the game breathe. Not saying I wouldn't go for an Uncharted with even less gunplay - IMO the shooting sequences in the game are awful - but I think take much more out and it might as well be a walking simulator.

        Nothing wrong with melee combat or just having to RUN AWAY, or even having to stealth and avoid combat.

        The shooting just feels forced.

          The stealth bits in Uncharted 4 are extremely frustrating though. You can't bypass the fights entirely (which would be nice) and you're not really given enough tools and tricks to really make it all work without a firefight at some point. Enemies tend to get alerted way too fast, have inconsistent view distances, and there's no way to distract them with a thrown rock or something so you have to wait for them to all path around to where it's safe to move. That coupled with the finnicky annoying controls that sometimes make you stick to cover you weren't intending to or jump not quite to the thing you wanted to do (Assassin's Creed curse) makes it massively frustrating, I found. Toward the end I'd just try and go into each encounter with a sniper rifle on as high ammo as possible and quickly take as many dudes out as possible in quick succession then mop up the rest, because it was faster than dicking around with stealth to take out two guys before alerting everyone and having to do it anyway.

          So yes, I agree, but they'll need to improve the actual sneaking gameplay a lot before that becomes a truly viable mechanic rather than just an extra challenge.

          Talking of subverting tropes, I would love to see more instances that recognize - in-universe - the truly absurd amount of murder a protagonist commits across a long-running franchise.

          "Holy shit, I recognize that dude, that's Nathan Drake!"
          "Oh fuck, the guy who single-handedly wiped out multiple mercenary companies and entire platoons of general infantry in open combat, with small arms and no support? But... but he's just one man."
          "Yeah, there's like six thousand dead men who probably said exactly the same thing. Six thousand. Roll that number around in your skull for a minute, get a feel for how that sits. He's the god damn terminator. Fuck this shit, I'm out. Like yesterday."

          And then everyone runs away and your character has the decency to act a little embarrassed, or if you try to hunt them all down anyway, proving that your history wasn't just an endless string of convenient 'self-defence' justifications, but actually the actions of a compulsive, homicidal maniac.

            Metal gear Solid played with this idea a bit. hearing guards talk about the actions of your character as a legendary soldier and then screaming in terror when they recognize you ect.

    I thoroughly enjoyed the supernatural fake out in the cave with the matches. It would be the perfect moment to introduce a ghost pirate enemy, and the scene plays exactly like a number of scenes from 1,2 and 3 only to go "Ha! Fooled you!"

    I wouldn't be surprised if play-testing determined that people felt disappointed rather than pleasantly surprised by the absence of men to shoot in the face for more than ten to fifteen minutes. I know I sometimes get restless if I'm not shooting virtual men in the face often enough. pew pew!

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