US: 10 May 2016
Stealth has never been a word associated with the Uncharted series. When I think about Nathan Drake’s adventures, I think more about spectacle and swashbuckling and stunning scenery. Yet Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End makes stealth combat just as viable, if not more so, than the typical running and gunning action of past games. It’s a surprising addition to the game, and it’s a surprisingly fun addition to the game, but it’s also, for me personally, kind of an unwelcome addition to the game.
When I play Uncharted, I don’t want to play efficiently, to strategize, to plan, or to be smart about things. I want to throw caution to the wind and be irresponsible: to fire wildly at a bad guy before leaping across a chasm, to get into an unwise fistfight with another guy, or to get myself into trouble and then improvise or just luck my way out of that trouble. Because that’s what Nathan Drake does. He’s the quintessential rogue, cocky and charming and just skilled enough to not get himself killed when he inevitably screws up. Stealth just isn’t befitting a character like that, but I find myself gravitating towards it in every combat encounter in the most recent game—almost involuntarily.
I blame Dark Souls 3, a game that encourages methodical calm in the face of monstrous spectacle. I’ve been playing that game so much over the past several months that I’ve gotten too used to being careful. I think I’ve forgotten how to go rogue! That’s fun to think about, but it’s not really the whole truth. The truth is that I like slow, methodical games. I don’t mind watching enemies walk their routes, moving into an ambush position, and then waiting for them to come back around several minutes later. All that time spent on one kill. I find that kind of waiting and planning and waiting to be both relaxing and exciting at the same time. Much like Dark Souls.
And then sometimes I just want to shoot things. Uncharted was supposed to be that game that broke me out of my routine (should have played Doom, apparently), but it wasn’t because it decided to give me a choice in the matter.
I finally had enough of the stealth after quietly killing my way through a multi-tiered forest arena. Afterwards, as I ran around after looking for the path forward, I noticed all the obstacles in the environment that could have made for a wonderfully dynamic fight: a dirt slide through the center of the battlefield, various spires to climb and hide behind, grappling hook points that would let me swing around the area. I felt like I had missed out on something awesome, so I made a vow to be reckless. To take a pot shot at the first guy I saw next, starting the fight without even that first kill advantage.
The result was a harder fight, but also one more along the lines of what I expect from Uncharted. This continued to the end of the game. Admittedly, many of the fights started automatically, taking away the option for stealth, and this felt like a natural extension of the story as it built to its climax. Regardless of why, however, I got the action that I wanted.
For as much as I complain about the stealth being too good, the truth is that how I play is entirely on me, not the game. Sure, the game can encourage certain kinds of play, but I have no obligation to follow along. Just a few weeks ago, I was at a convention and watched some guys play Dark Souls 3 as reckless fools. They ran past enemies, picked fights with those damn giant crabs, ignored bonfires, and went into boss fights with a wealth of souls instead of going back to the shrine to level up. It was a foolhardy endeavor, but damned entertaining, which was their main goal. They were playing for the audience, not for themselves. I may love how Dark Souls encourages me to play into my natural methodical tendencies, but that game still gives us a choice in how to play. It still allows the player to go their own way if they really want to.
Uncharted 4 lets you play in a variety of ways. When I started playing like a reckless fool it got harder, but also more fun, more in tune with the adventurous spirit of the story. That change didn’t come from the game. I didn’t turn off any option or setting. That change had to come from me.
The stealth in the game is very well done, but the best thing about it is that it’s optional. I can play like the reckless rogue of the earlier games or like a more mature adult, like a man with something to lose. Either way is fine. Play the way you want to play.