What does it mean when a game is linear? A Google search of the word linear digs up a strict definition of “arranged in a straight line” or “sequential, occurring in a series of steps.” Some linear games have been described as boring, while others are considered cornerstones of the Role Playing Game (RPG) genre and of adventure games in general.
Several sections, if not the majority, of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End matches what is expected of a linear game. And yet, most gamers and reviewers, myself included, believe the contrary: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may be a linear game in concept, but can arguably match the depth of content found in an open-world game for the keen-eyed and patient player.
The first three titles in the four-game Uncharted franchise each much better suited the title of “linear” in several aspects. They all, with the first Uncharted being the prime example, allowed for little freedom of exploration, and the initiative to want to explore what little there was to explore was limited by the lack of reward for collecting treasures beyond getting the platinum trophy. Firefights were mostly one-dimensional, tedious, and repetitive, offering little to no dynamics, although the second and third titles, to their credit, greatly improved in that regard as well as in exploration. Even puzzles were a bore in the first, but the second and third again made immense strides when compared to it. Lastly, story in all three lacked any depth, feeling of satisfaction, and finality to them, though, again, two and three each had their strong points. (A short clarification: This is not to say the first Uncharted was horrible. In truth, it was revolutionary at the time on the Playstation 3 in its infancy as a platform. Further, I loved the game from first sight, even if I died a lot.)
Having said that, my recently-completed playthrough of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End left me in awe at its excellently-executed open-world-like elements and dynamics in all four criteria mentioned above. Let’s focus on exploration.
Staying as spoiler-free as possible, the explorable areas of the game are absolutely immense, and that’s no exaggeration for the Madagascar locales. Treasures are scattered in the areas you won’t expect to look, which is code for “look everywhere, especially off the beaten path.” One problem, though, is accidentally choosing the wrong path to take leading to an point of no return, permanently not being able to go back to collect or talk about something in a previous area you could have gone to instead. On a side note, Nate’s Journal entries and notes that you consciously have to find and note or collect both also add to the depth of the story and backstory of Uncharted 4, and were, in my opinion, a worthy time investment to complete the experience of a first playthrough.
But looking for treasures is very hard to do anyway while you’re too distracted trying to soak in the beautiful scenery and environments of the game. I do mean that quite literally in areas where the glare of sunshine imitates the “glint of gold” flashes indicating the location of a treasure.
The freedom to explore is essentially an illusion in Uncharted 4. Basically, Naughty Dog did a nearly-perfect job of stuffing a boatload of content into defined areas that in and of themselves make it hard to have the patience to search through. This is not as scathing a comment as it may seem, for do not nearly-all open-world games share the same base characteristic?
Half the fun of the game is discovering the limits of what one can do in an area and/or situation, specifically how or what the character says or does, or how they interact with others. Focusing in on exploration, there’s so much to attempt to find, see, discuss with NPC’s, and more. That’s not to mention how much I realized I missed only when it was too late to go back. A cute nuance to one of the conversations between NPCs in Madagascar is the continuation of whatever was being discussed when and if the player leaves the jeep or notices something.
Perhaps that is the spirit that Naughty Dog wanted to impart on players new and veteran to the franchise alike: being able to tackle and approach all aspects of the game in an open-world fashion however the player wants to, like a real-world Nathan Drake would be able to, and like John Wayne and other action movie stars always pull off in style.
And so, I leave you with a phrase which Uncharted 2 and 3 fans ought to know and which applies perfectly to however you go about taking out every enemy in all four games, especially this masterfully-written and nearly-flawless finale:
Kitty Got Wet.
The opinions in this editorial are the author’s (a.k.a. mine only) and do not represent OnlySP as an organization.
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