In a wonderful and borderline satirical piece of marketing speak, a representative of Naughty Dog at Sony’s recent press event hit on the perfect phrase to encapsulate what we have now
seen of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – ‘wide-linear’.
The Madagascar Preview that was showcased recently revealed some new ways to play in what looked as much like a varied and nuanced new experience as it did a particularly juicy vertical slice. Picking up pieces of the wreckage left in Ubisoft’s wake, the new game seems to have incorporated the ever-popular ‘base-capturing’ mechanic that has infiltrated the ranks of Metal Gear Solid after being featured heavily in the Far Cry series and flirting with Splinter Cell.
Not only this but the ‘wide-linear’ – the more I say it the more I cringe – approach means that Nathan Drake will now have multiple ways of getting where he needs to go and stealing what he needs to steal. But perhaps most importantly, now he will have to explore. It sounds strange to say it as if it were a novel new way to play; given the premise of the series, it’s remarkable how little time we spend exploring and discovering treasure – outside of the over arching confines of each game’s script.
Golden Abyss has been the only game in the series to actually take a rolling pin to the level design, widening them out for some nosy snooping. It was one of the facets that helped elevate that game from being a portable also-ran; hopefully in Uncharted 4 this new found freedom will elevate the game above a linear shooter platformer, and something resembling more of an adventure.
So how does this make us feel? Well, a little conflicted I would think. The trappings of scripted events have given the Uncharted games both a level of cinematic polish not yet bettered in video games, but also the feeling that your involvement is a necessary evil in a series of happenings that would be better off if your controller weren’t plugged in. The nature of this glossy sheen has meant that when the strings are well-hidden, and you are nudged just subtly enough – as is the case more often than not – the breezy blast of playing through an Uncharted game has been an unrivaled cinematic roller coaster.
The new approach could either break down the confines of the script and truly set us free, or it could deliver us into territory that lacks direction, into a story that would really be better off being pursued at break neck pace. Do we want to be set free? Will the game be linear enough to keep the movie magic feel? all this depends on just how wide this ‘wide-linear’ approach is going to be…time will tell when Uncharted releases on May 10.