When we first played Uncharted 4 we worried about its new-found obsession with jeeps, a focus on new features that other games have already had for years and a general resounding meh.
But as we sit back and watch the credits roll, we're wondering if we can think of a single negative. Is Uncharted 4 the first perfect game? Well, Naughty Dog has certainly surpassed all our expectations with this one. It's the most ambitious and accomplished of the developer's games, and most other studios to date. Even compared to the masterpiece that is The Last of Us.
Like the famous Uncharted 2 beginning where Nate was left hanging from the end of a train dangling off the edge of a cliff, Uncharted 4 also starts with a metaphorical shotgun blast to the face. Think thunderstorms, a speed boat and explosions and you're only about half the way there. It's hard to convey how hard a punch Uncharted 4 throws as its opener. We were only 5 minutes in and we were hooked like a toddler having its first taste of chocolate.
But it's not our first taste, of course. This is Uncharted 4 after all, but it's the first (and last) Uncharted sampling we're having on PS4 (aside from The Nathan Drake Collection, but that doesn't technically count). And thankfully it's all very much Uncharted, but cranked way up to 11 and beyond.
Firstly, the graphics are regularly breathtaking. The story weaves a path through various locations including a heather-dotted Scotland, an impressive Italian villa and sun-dappled Madagascar to name but a few, but every location had us reaching for the Share button, filling our PS4 hard drives with enough Instagram-worthy snaps to make even David Attenborough jealous.
And that's because Naughty Dog have cleverly crafted stunning vistas that serve as your constant backdrops. Climb up the side of a cliff and the camera will pan slightly so that Nate is perfectly positioned for a quick photo (using the in-build Photo Mode of course), or reach a new location and he'll suddenly find himself positioned on a high point, just to highlight that lush scenery.
It might sound a little cheesy on paper (or screen), but Uncharted 4 is anything but. Naughty Dog's passion in creating each location oozes from the game's every pixel to the point you are helpless to do anything but applaud the team. It's like having that giraffe scene from The Last of Us at every location.
It feels like the PS4 was built for Uncharted 4. Or at least has been waiting patiently for it since launch.
But of course, a great-looking game is nothing if the gameplay is a flaming bag of poop. Thankfully, Uncharted 4 doesn't disappoint. Nate and his merry band of old and new faces will be swinging, climbing and pistol-whipping their way into your hearts once more.
We adore the new combat options that allow you much more freedom with the way you approach each gunfight. You'll usually see them coming before the folks over at Shoreline descend on you, so you have time to map out your tactics.
It's still the usual cover, run and gun at its heart, but this time stealth can play a huge part in your approach - if you want it to. There's stealth grass - aka long grass that you can hide in - or you can use the grapple hook to swing around out of enemy's sight.
There's still the option to head in all guns blazing, drawing as much attention to yourself as possible. But there's always another way. Sometimes it's even possible to bypass a group entirely if you're quiet. It's refreshing to have a variety of approaches up your sleeve to make sure the combat continues to feel fresh, no matter how long you've been playing for.
This freedom extends into the level design too. It's certainly more beautiful than ever, but it's also bigger. That glorious backdrop you just expertly photographed isn't just a painted scene, it's another sign of the way Uncharted has changed.
The series has generally been seen as fairly linear, with the player herded from scene to scene along one straight path. Uncharted 4 might not be entirely open-world, but it is a lot less restricted than previous games. Each area always opens out so you can explore more, finding treasures or lost letters, or even opening up extra conversational paths that you wouldn't have found if you hadn't played with object X or Y and just carried on along the set path.
It's these smaller exchanges that are often the most telling in terms of the underlying character relationships too. There's so much to this game that will reward you if you're willing to take your time with it, whether it's lore or just a joke between old friends.
Plus, with over 190 of these extra pieces of content to find there's plenty to come back for, especially as collecting them will unlock bonus content and gameplay variations for subsequent playthroughs.
The game manages to walk a careful line blending combat with exploration and traversal, peppered with engaging puzzles. Each set piece – including that awesome car chase shown off way back at E3 2015 – is balanced by an emotional or at least intense cutscene, all of which keep you constantly on the edge of the sofa.
Naughty Dog has done well to make Nate and co seem more human than ever in Uncharted 4. The developer weaves together story strands of love, family, trust and lust for adventure into a rope that Nate's life literally hangs from. Sam Drake as the brother that everyone thought was dead adds an interesting element to the usual mix of Sully the mentor and best buddy, and Elena, the love of Nate's life. Throw in the biggest mystery of them all and some new antagonists and you've got a story that will go down in videogame history for its twists and turns.
We're obviously not going to drop any spoiler bombs here, but you just wait. It's the game that really made us fall in love with Nate as a person, not just a handsome adventurer – and you'll see why when you play it.
That's why, when the credits finished rolling and we managed to close our dropped jaw, we immediately started playing it again, attempting to find the lost letters for our journal, all the snippets of conversation we missed, applying some of the effects we'd unlocked.
There aren't many games we'd willingly play twice in a row.
But beyond playing through the story again, which we'd definitely encourage, there's also the Uncharted 4 multiplayer to consider.
Although we've not been able to spend as much time with the multiplayer before launch as we'd like due to the servers not being continuously live yet, but what we have played has really engaged us.
We've played a fair few rounds of Deathmatch, got to grips with the Uncharted quirks that Naughty Dog has brought to multiplayer and devoured it all. It's a nice spin on a traditional multiplayer portion and while we doubt it'll get any Call of Duty or Battlefield players' pulses racing, it's certainly an approachable PVP for those who mainly dabble in single-player games.
We'll certainly be ploughing a lot more of our free time into it, and will update this review with our verdict come launch.
UNCHARTED 4 VERDICT
We definitely had our reservations when it came to Uncharted 4, and the series being one of our favourites means we were always heading into it with our guard up. But Naughty Dog has surprised us all. It's taken everything it learned from the success of The Last of Us and all the elements that make Uncharted so great and created one amazing hybrid.
It's the most appetising game smorgasbord we've ever had the good fortune to sample, with just the right blend of impactful storyline, cinematic cutscenes, explosive set pieces, exploration, discovery, puzzle solving and good old shootouts.
Uncharted 4 is the perfect ending to this console-defining series.
From: Digital Spy