Game of the Year: Uncharted 4
Uncharted 4 is an acknowledgement of the end, for players and Naughty Dog alike. Both step into the series finale with begrudging maturity, reminiscent of its spectacular past, and taking the first real steps away from thrilling adventure. Slipping into the shoes of Nathan Drake for the final time feels more profound than ever before, because he is haunted by these same thoughts.
The thoughtful script and expert cast performances are rife with self reflection and double entendres. For the first time in the series, the most impressionable moments are delivered in subtle words and glances rather than self-destructing set pieces. Uncharted 4, in all this, holds a mirror up to what has always been an unquestioned and unquestioning hero. What fate ultimately comes for a man built by the grandeur of adventure?
For the very pirates the Drake brothers pursue, the answer was a grisly, lonely death. They pillaged and sailed until the world moved on without them. Following their trail, we learn their losses: families, limbs, and oftentimes their own purpose. “I am a man of fortune, and I must seek my fortune,” Captain Avery’s words ring across generations and like everything else, sound less heroic and more dire with time.
All this thematic strength is supported by technical marvels accrued through Naughty Dog’s time with Uncharted. Facial animations are stirringly human, maps are open and gorgeous, yet intelligent level design always points you towards your goal. For the first time, combat mechanics don’t feel antiquated against the smooth traversal system, and stealthy approaches to enemy encounters are satisfyingly viable. Bombastic set pieces return with the familiarity of an old friend, yet burn less brightly than they did in the past, and notably less than the intimate moments shared by characters between gunfire. Naughty Dog has learned that those moments are what matter most of all, and urges the player and cast to feel the same.
The entire journey is a lesson in greatness. An impeccable farewell to an iconic adventure series, Uncharted 4’s brilliant direction and unmitigated reflection will be remembered for years to come, and is bravely worthy of 2016’s game of the year.
You can read Sharon Coone’s full thoughts on Uncharted 4 here.