I am, after extensive research, willing to concede that I might not be the first person to bring the Uncharted series to your attention. However, it seems everyone else has failed me by not letting me know just how utterly wonderful the fourth game’s climbing is.
The least I could have hoped for would be a major gaming site specifically reviewing this one aspect of Naughty Dog’s epic adventure, but nooooooooo, no one could be bothered. So it’s left to me, some five years later. (Yes, if nothing else, this article has achieved making you feel miserably old, as you realize it’s been five goddamn years since A Thief’s End was released. A game that, for no good reason, I only started playing last week.)
I have to admit, the whole Uncharted series completely passed me by. Originally releasing exclusively on a console I didn’t own, in a year when I was co-launching a PC-specific website, I failed to climb on board the Drake train at its origins, and then never caught up. Last year I had a quick go at the original, but in 14 years it’s dated pretty significantly in that way only third-person action games can, and I didn’t stick with it. Then last week, having taken my first time off since Christmas, I figured I’d boot up the most recent and see what it was. Turns out: great!
Not all great, certainly. I’ve completely lost track at this point of whether Tomb Raider is ripping off Uncharted or the other way around, but Naughty Dog clearly lifted far too much from Lara’s toolkit at the start. Goodness gracious, like every Tomb Raider game ever, it doesn’t need the shooting. Each shooty-gun section is an ordeal to get past, to the point where I started seeing how much I could get away without joining in.
It turns out, early on, a surprising amount! I got through Sam’s prison escape without firing a single shot, letting the NPC and enemy AI’s drunken bullet-frenzy take care of it all for me. I had to be innovative in places, realizing I could somewhat choreograph the action by where I was hiding, directing the haphazard garden hose approach to combat until everyone eventually accidentally killed everyone else. But my hands were clean of gun residue. Later, sadly, this becomes less possible, until I was eventually resigned to the deeply incongruous mass murder of strangers in order to reach the next bit I’d enjoy. Which is to say, the climbing.
The last time a game completely divided itself in two like this for me was Prince Of Persia: The Two Thrones, which so dramatically flipped between its polar opposites of Sands Of Time’s wonderfully balletic platforming and Warrior Within’s dumbass grimdark fighting. Uncharted 4’s mercurial nature feels very similar, if somewhat more elegantly blended. “I’m a bit of an everyman, hoping to find treasure against the odds, by bonding with my long-lost brother! Oh, sorry, wait a moment, I have to murder these seventeen people, three of them by snapping their soft necks between my hands.”
But that climbing! I’ve played so many games like this, where the world is a series of white-streaked ledges upon which I must impossibly dangle. I know the deal, pointing the analogue stick toward the next rock, then hitting X to jump for it. I’ve shuffled along as many sills as the next man, before leaning to reach a jutting flagpole and acrobatically flinging myself off it to catch the three millimeter grip on the other side of this ravine. But I cannot remember another time when I’ve reached for those things.
I cannot get over what a difference that reaching makes! As Nathan’s arms stretch out for the next ridge or windowsill, it magically goes from incomprehensively unrealistic to just daft. It feels fluid, achievable, possible. It’s not. At all. It’s ridiculously impossible. As a very poor and very occasional amateur climber, I’m at least vaguely aware of what’s actually possible for a human, and it’s definitely not falling diagonally for twenty meters and then catching yourself on a three-finger rocky outcrop. But when he reaches first, it seems like maybe it could be?!
It’s at its best when you’re finding your way up the side of a building, and his arms can reach the next ledge or drainpipe, and you start to weave together a natural, fluid progression, his arms exploring and finding their target. When it comes together like this, it’s almost poetry! It just feels so damned good. It makes me happy in my tummy.
Sure, it’ll all be ruined moments later by having to senselessly kill a large group of men, who presumably only took on this mercenary job due to a lack of employment in the country, and had no idea they were going to face a genocidal spider-human that afternoon. But while it lasts, gosh, that climbing is the best. Why on Earth hasn’t every game since unashamedly ripped it off?
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