For fans of the Uncharted series, the idea of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End being its swansong is a hard pill to swallow, but rest assured – Developer Naughty Dog is making sure that the franchise goes out with a bang.
Speaking with developer Arne Meyer on the studio’s biggest game to date, it becomes clear that Naughty Dog isn’t resting on its laurels, with a significant evolution in this linear action series’ gameplay mechanics, scope, and the technology behind it all.
“So much of what we’ve been doing with the gameplay mechanics and everything has been not only an evolution, but really a massive iteration for us in terms of how much we’re able to layer stuff that we were only able to do individually before,” said Meyer regarding the game’s more immersive approach.
Our hands-on session with the game revealed new ways of moving around and getting closer to the action, such as the ability to swing (and shoot) from a grapple hook to swing – a mechanic you may have experienced in the game’s recent multiplayer beta.
“We’ve always said you can do traversal, combat and stuff like that, but now, you’re on a grappling hook that you can swing into combat, that you can fire from, so it’s really about being able to layer these things that were distinct in the previous games that’s a huge step forward for us,” said Meyer.
Combat has also been refined with fleshed-out stealth tactics, such as the ability to crouch through tall grass and tag enemies Metal Gear Solid-style, complete with coloured threat indicators.
As we tried out the game’s tenth chapter, a Jeep-focused level set on the open plains of Madagascar, we immediately noticed a much larger traversal area than has ever been attempted in any Uncharted game prior.
“A lot of it has to do with the technology for us as well, same thing for how wide the environments are,” said Meyer while speaking on the team’s “philosophy of trying to create ‘wide-linear’ spaces for the player.
“We’ve done it for the combat, from different angles and different heights, we’ve done it with exploration where you could climb in different paths, so this is same thing, but now you’re in a vehicle,” Meyer explained. “The environment has much more expanse, you’re able to hop out of the vehicle and explore, take your different routes.”
What becomes evident while driving the Jeep is that although it looks like a scenario from a sandbox game, traversing the terrain feels a lot like a traditional Uncharted climbing section, with different surfaces determining how your vehicle handles, and whether or not you can actually progress.
Meyer explained that advancements in technology have allowed the team to “provide different surfaces for the Jeep to be on or drive through – some of them are slippery, so we’re now introducing some problem solving with the Jeep as well, so just like when climbing on foot or traversing on foot, you have to problem solve in terms of how to get everywhere.”
He’s not kidding, either – try to drive up a muddy hill in your Jeep and you’ll find it splashing mud all over the place and sliding back down to the bottom again. Getting around involves keeping an eye out for dry surfaces and rocky areas, as even one or two wheels on these surfaces can be enough to pull you out of a slippery situation.
You don’t always have these surfaces on hand, so you’ll need to hop out of the Jeep and make use of its winch, which you can wrap around a tree and use to pull your vehicle up a steep hill or out of a bog.
You might also drive across a bridge that suddenly collapses. In this situation, you can use the winch to pull down the posts holding up the remaining portion of the bridge, effectively turning it into an instant ramp.
In a way, it’s a little bittersweet that the Uncharted series would introduce these intriguing and refreshing new elements in what has already been announced as Nathan Drake’s last adventure, though if our hour-long session with the game can attest to anything, it’s going to one hell of a final ride.