Today we were lucky enough to get our hands on the Madagascar chapter of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. In particular, we got our hands on the steering wheel of the series' new jeep; here are our thoughts.
We've just returned from a quick hands-on session of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End with Naughty Dog's community manager Arne Meyer - click here for the full hands-on). We played a section of chapter 10, entitled, The Twelve Towers. During our time with Nate, Sully and Nate's mysterious back-from-the-dead brother Sam, we spent a lot of time behind the wheel of a 4x4 jeep. It was rented by Sully, and despite his initial misgivings, it turned out to be fortunate he forked out extra cash for a winch). The jeep that was featured in the demo was used for traversing the harsh landscape and provide talking points for our three heroes.
The demo starts out peacefully enough, with the three compadres trekking it across the arid landscape of Madagascar, stopping infrequently to pick up the odd treasure. The three trade jabs and share stories about days gone by. It truly felt like a road-trip with three close friends.
As we've come to expect from Naughty Dog, the dialogue is real and down-to-earth, but there are a few little touches that make the dialogue in A Thief's End that much more immersive than your standard adventure title. The most notable examples unfold as Nate exits the vehicle to check something out, while his travel partners get on with the business of catching up. Early on in the demo, I hopped out to investigate a collapsed ruin and Sam and Sully filled the time talking about how the online space is changing the way spelunkers like themselves carry out transactions. This is typical of Naughty Dog: the jeep isn't just a vehicle or a puzzle mechanic, it's also used as a tool to strengthen the narrative.
How is the jeep used?
At the beginning of the demo, the jeep in Uncharted 4 acts just like vehicles in any other game. Press R2 to accelerate, L2 to reverse, square to use your handbrake and triangle to hop in and out. You've played GTA, you know how it goes. However, in our demo, we also got to witness how the jeep can be used to solve and create puzzles.
About halfway through the chapter, we reach a muddy hill that the jeep struggles to climb. Hopping out of the vehicle, you find that it's also too slippery for our veteran climber Nate to scurry up. It's then that you notice a few abhorrent rocks poking through the mud, providing traction for the jeep's tires.
Not too long after, you're met with another slippery slope, this time with no way around. This is the first time we got to use the jeep's winch. This is nothing like the batmobile from Batman: Arkham Knight as you can't fire a grappling hook at the closest ledge and drive vertically up the side of a building. Instead, Nate takes the winch in hand and climbs up a nearby ruin and around to the top of the slope before looping the wire around a thick tree trunk. This is not a quick-time event; the player literally must walk around the stump and secure the winch manually. Wrapping the winch around the tree brought back memories of lassoing an AT-AT in Shadow of the Empire for the Nintendo 64. This mechanic is furthered later in the demo and we're guessing there will be many inventive ways you can use the winch to your advantage in other chapters.
How is the jeep fun?
The stock standard driving experience is pretty arcade; it's not terribly unrealistic, but it's no Gran Turismo either. That said, when seeking traction in the mud and climbing over boulders and other obstacles, it does provide the sensation of off-road driving in a way we quite enjoyed. Plus seeking out little ramps in the natural environment off which to do jumps is a blast. While traversing the world from the driver's seat is certainly fun, it's the way that it becomes a key puzzle mechanic that is the most rewarding aspect. It's much like the climbing sequences, in which you need to explore and puzzle a way to get past an obstacle - only you're doing it from the driver's seat. So Naughty Dog must be congratulated for ensuring the jeep gameplay fits with the existing feel and tone of the series, and doesn't come across like bloat for the sake of a boxart bullet point. Plus you can run henchman over and send them flying, which saves you bullets!