Stealing a look at Uncharted 4, 2016's potential game of the year

Preview: It's about dang time

Uncharted 4

This has been a long time coming. I can finally say that I've tried Uncharted 4: A Thief's End's single-player mode.

That might not sound like much of an accomplishment but, given the months of setbacks the developers at Naughty Dog have gone through, I can't help but feel a bit relieved saying it aloud.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, the latest in the line of ultra-successful adventure games starring treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his smuggler-turned-mentor Victor Sullivan, has been in development well before the PS4 launched in 2013 and has suffered one delay after the next.

It was teased for the first time in November 2013, before its two lead developers, Amy Hennig and Justin Richmond, jumped over to different studios.

Naughty Dog rallied and appointed Neil Druckmann and Bruce Staley, both of whom were creative leads on the recently finished The Last of Us, to fill their spots.

Despite the musical chairs going on behind the scenes, the developer promised us the game by March 18 of this year before pushing that date back to April 26.

Then it got delayed. Again. The new (and what I can only assume is the final) release date is set for the beginning of next month: May 10, 2016.

Like every entry in the series before it, Uncharted 4 will launch exclusively on Sony's console and, so long as it doesn't get pushed back again, it has the potential to be the best game on the PS4 this year.

Uncharted 4

The story continues...

But while the story behind Uncharted 4 is an interesting one, it's the story inside the game itself that gamers haven't heard about yet.

Set three years after Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, the fourth main entry in the franchise sees Nathan Drake return to his fortune-hunting ways with his trusted partner Sully in tow and a new character, Drake's brother Sam, tagging along under unknown – but definitely dodgy – circumstances.

The team is on the hunt for a pirate's treasure, the largest the world has ever known. It belonged to Captain Henry Avery, a 17th century buccaneer who Drake believes kept it in a place called Libertalia, the pirate mecca of Madagascar.

As is typical for the series, Drake isn't the only one with gold on his mind. Two other fortune hunters have a similar agenda, one with unlimited wealth and resources and the other with deep personal ties to Victor Sullivan.

The only thing we know for sure is that, if they don't find Libertalia before the others, Drake might not have a brother to pal around with for much longer.

Uncharted

Adventure on the dusty trail

While the previous games tested Drake's acrobatic abilities, giving you control of the character as he dangles off the side of cliff on an overturned train, Uncharted 4 will test how well Drake would fare in The Fast and The Furious.

The demo, shown to techradar at an event held in Los Angeles last week, starts with Drake in a jeep en route to beat his adversaries up a steep mountainside.

While Drake has often fallen out of plenty of vehicles over the last 10 years, this is the first time in franchise history that we're able to go behind the wheel to speed up travel.

To that end, Uncharted 4's Director Neil Druckmann tells me that the levels themselves needed to be made larger.

Druckmann calls the new level design type "wide linear." Essentially, that means levels in Uncharted 4 won't be as big as the ones found in open-world games like Far Cry or Just Cause, but they won't be so small that you feel confined to one path either.

But nothing, not even going for a drive in the middle of nowhere, goes smoothly for Drake.

Uncharted

The first 10 minutes of the demo is spent trying to navigate a car through dusty roads and over muddy hills. Getting enough speed to get up and over the slippery slopes becomes a puzzle in itself, one which was made easier by the use of a winch located on the front of the vehicle. These traversal problems are clearly intentional, a natural evolution of the climbing puzzles found in the prior Uncharted games.

Car puzzles might sound strange, but they feel right at home in Nathan Drake's world of accidental discoveries and fortuitous mishaps.

Uncharted 4

Metal Gear meets Indiana Jones

Speaking of bad luck, remember those other treasure hunters I told you about? Yeah, you're going to run into them throughout your adventure, and they won't be happy to see you.

After making my way over the rough terrain I run into a fortified tower that one of Drake's antagonists had taken for their own. It's here I have two options, either stealth my way through or go in guns blazing … of course, it's always possible that you might go in trying to do the former and end up triggering the latter.

Druckmann's team has included new gameplay mechanics that help in both instances. For stealth gamers, enemies now have a white visual indicator above their heads that fills up when you're in their line of sight. Stand in the open too long, and the white indicator will turn yellow and they'll move closer to investigate. Once they've got a clear lock on your location, it's time to grab some cover.

Uncharted

Combat is just like I remember it: fast, fluid and hectic. Uncharted has always been the farthest thing from a tactical shooter, like Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon series, and the game's levels almost encourage you to attack with reckless abandon.

The biggest addition to combat in Uncharted 4 is the grappling hook that allows you to use posts and tree branches to swing across gaps and surprise your enemies from above. Pinning an enemy down with an assault rifle, then swinging across the rooftops to deliver a knock-out punch, is easily one of the most satisfying experiences I've ever had in the Uncharted series, and something I look forward to exploring more in the game's online multiplayer matches.

As my demo comes to a close at the end of the combat section, it's hard not to be excited for one last go-around with Drake and crew. I know fans were disappointed by the delays (I was too) but, after seeing it firsthand, Druckmann and his team are on track to deliver a fitting farewell to a character that shaped the last console generation.

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