You’ve undoubtedly seen the demo for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End from the Sony press conference this year at E3. It was, also beyond the shadow of a doubt, a banger of a demo. With the frozen Nathan Drake, we learned that the project was far along enough to show it live. And we learned that it is a big, beautiful, and exciting game.
I guess we already knew that last part, or at least assumed it. Coming from Naughty Dog and after three other very successful and rather good Uncharted games, that kind of quality and scope is expected. What we saw, though, appeared to be almost exactly what we’ve seen before: shooting dudes, jumping on stuff, and slinging sass.
Apparently, that is not totally representative. Uncharted 4 sounds like it’s going to be skewing slightly towards the ideal of an open world, not that we see it even in this extended demo with Drake’s brother Sam working alongside his explosive antics. (Hot damn is it gorgeous, though.) In this interview with Polygon’s Megan Farokhmanesh, it’s stated that there won’t just be vehicle set pieces like in the past but they will rather play an integral part in exploration.
During the demo, for example, players are free to escape the market at their own pace. All roads will eventually take you to your destination — which is essentially just the bottom of the hill — but how you get there is up to you.
Lead designer Kurt Margenau continues on to say, “Everything you see, you can go to. We’re not going to arbitrarily block you.” They’ll still continue to bring the heat in terms of huge, memorable beats and whatnot, but there will apparently be a lot more flexibility in terms of where Nathan can go.
That’s an interesting decision because I never quite found the linearity of the past Uncharted games to be all that limiting. The entire franchise was built around the premise of bringing the flawed but enchanted heroism and adventures of Indiana Jones to the video game world, and to that end, they succeeded. They hit all the marks of what makes Indy, well, Indy.
But perhaps this is playing into some idea that this game needs to do something more than just incrementally improve on what many viewed as a platonic ideal for action-adventure games. The series has already gone the predictable arc of trilogies, and there’s certainly nothing wrong in proving you can do something better than you’ve done before (and we have seen the truck-jumping bit before), which makes this seemingly internal pressure to try something brazenly new all the more interesting.
If you recall the demo from the PlayStation Experience last year, we saw Drake clamber around a rather sizable jungle environment and take out a bevy of bad guys. Looking back on it, it definitely felt like the breadth of the geography was indicative of an open world. It’s the kind of setting you would cross a few times between hub-like structures (I doubt it’s going that open) before getting into a scrape.
Or maybe that’s confirmation bias. Who knows. The Uncharted 4 development story gets more interesting considering how much of The Last of Us is going into it. Not only is the enemy AI making a showing (guess that The Last of Us Remastered port to PlayStation 4 is bearing bonus fruit) but since former series creative director Amy Hennig and game director Justin Richmond’s departures in March of last year, The Last of Us leads Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley took over.
And in that transition, they apparently scrapped eight months of work, according to voice actor Nolan North (who plays Drake) in a recent MetroCon panel. It doesn’t quite sound like an entire finish product was thrown away but rather Druckmann and Straley took where the game was already headed and added their own creative spice to it, which is totally understandable. It’s difficult to take something in someone else’s voice and both finish it and make it better when both the past and present styles are so specific and recognizable.
Of course, it’s all up in the air. You can’t and shouldn’t judge an unfinished game because, very obviously, it’s unfinished. You can express opinions regarding that thing that it is, but that’s not a product for you to hold with or against a studio, just like you don’t look at a stack of notecards and tell Steven Spielberg it’s a terrible movie. But as it sits now, Uncharted 4 looks like a particularly interesting thing.