Bumbling NPC allies have long been troublesome for narrative-driven action games, but our hands-on with Uncharted 4 showed that Naughty Dog is one step closer to fixing that problem.
Sidekicks in video games have a varied history, either helping out gamers or frustrating them no end. There's the bad, like Sheva in Resident Evil 5 who constantly dies and obstructs the player, and the really bad, useless escorts like Emma Emmerich in Metal Gear Solid who do nothing but cause the player grief. However, every now and then we get a partner who not only enriches the game's narrative, but also proves useful in puzzle-solving and combat scenarios.
Some of the best examples of useful NPCs are Naughty Dog's own Ellie from The Last of Us and Sully from the Uncharted series. Both characters offer advice on tough-to-tackle puzzles, strengthen the narrative of their respective titles and prove themselves useful in combat. In Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, Naughty Dog has managed to make its NPCs even more useful by allowing them to take out enemies via stealth.
In previous titles, these characters would have no trouble picking up a gun to provide cover when a firefight broke out. When it came to stealth, they would mostly hang back in cover to prevent being caught.
We had the chance to spend 15 minutes inside the world of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End with Naughty Dog's community manager Arne Meyer. During the pre-recorded demo used as part of his introduction, Meyer pointed out that your allies will now "dynamically" take out enemies when stealthily approaching an enemy stronghold. Meyer carefully explained that interactions between allies and enemies are dynamic and that it "may not happen" during our own playthroughs. While I appreciated the sentiment (we've all been duped by orchestrated demonstrations), it was hardly necessary.
Upon approaching an outpost crawling with enemies during my own chance with the game, Nate, Sully and Drake take cover in the tall grass and discuss a plan of attack. While the option to go in guns-blazing is there, I took the stealth route to trial out these dynamic interactions. Taking notes from many stealth games before it, Uncharted 4 uses am indicator system (white, yellow and orange) to show if an enemy is alerted to your presence. There's also the option to tag enemies, as seen in the Far Cry series and Metal Gear Solid V.
After deciding on an approach, I surreptitiously clamber around the side of a ruin and go in for a silent kill. After taking out one enemy, I am almost immediately spotted by another. I jump from the ledge and hide in the tall grass until the enemy's curiosity fades. Just as the wary merc thinks all is well he turns and is taken out by Sam (Nate's brother), who I didn't even see coming. This kind of interaction occurred at least three more times during my short hands-on session with Uncharted 4 and each time I let out a quiet "wow" of amazement. Somehow, Naughty Dog has managed to balance the AI of Uncharted's NPCs so that they effectively aid the player, but don't completely take over the show. You still feel in control of the action.