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‘Uncharted 4: Survival’: Our first take

Uncharted 4 adds a wave-based ‘Survival’ mode that adds good ideas to the ‘horde mode’ formula, including a boss fight with an invulnerable skeletal pirate.

Uncharted 4 is getting a horde mode.

An update to Naughty Dog’s latest entry in its treasure-hunting action series, dubbed Uncharted 4: Survival, comes out today, adding another take on the game’s distinctive multiplayer. Instead of competing against each other, players will band together teams of three to take on computer-controlled enemies. If that sounds familiar, it ought to be — this kind of game has become pretty popular.

Action games and shooters have been iterating on the wave-based, cooperative gameplay, where players fight to survive through increasingly difficult combinations of bad guys, for years now. The term “Horde” comes from the extremely popular version from Gears of War 2, and since then, plenty of games have picked up on the concept. Mass Effect 3’s multiplayer was all horde-like, the Call of Duty franchise has tried its hand at it with its “Zombies” mode, and titles like Left 4 Dead, Team Fortress and Halo 3: ODST have all had their versions of the idea.

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Uncharted 4 isn’t even the first Uncharted game to try a cooperative survival mode, kicking off a take on the idea in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and altering it some in Uncharted 3.

But in Uncharted 4, defending yourself against wave after wave of bad guys has gotten a little more creative. Throwing more than just different combinations of enemies at players, Uncharted 4: Survival requires you to change tactics to survive.

Earning, spending and fighting

As in most takes on Horde, the goal of Uncharted 4: Survival is, well, survival. Enemies come in groups, and you fight them off as a team, earning money for each kill you and your team rack up. When you’ve knocked out everyone, it’s time to buy new weapons, restock ammo, and prepare for the next wave. From a competitive standpoint, the idea is to be a team that wrecks all its foes in as little time as possible.

Usually, this kind of mode ups the difficulty over time by tossing a variety of enemies into the mix. First, you’ll fight regular, low-level mooks, but before long, you’ll face baddies with body armor, snipers, and guys toting grenade launchers to contend with. Uncharted 4: Survival does a lot of the same thing, throwing in enemies who rush in for close-range fighting or hit you with powerful rifles from far away. Like in the main game, teammates who take too much damage need to be revived by other players to return to the battle. You’ll also need to be careful about how choose your guns, because throughout every wave, ammo is pretty scarce.

Like competitive multiplayer, the unique mechanics of movement in Uncharted make Survival feel different. Swinging around levels with grappling hooks and climbing up on walls to get better vantage points.

Punches and pistols

The mode also adds a layer of difficulty by changing up the rules of engagement. In one wave, enemies suddenly couldn’t be killed with anything but pistols or melee beatdowns. The wave was flooded with fast enemies well-versed in hand-to-hand combat, who specifically would grab players from behind and take them out of the fight while they struggled to escape.

Naughty Dog has done a solid job of finding ways to make its take on horde mode tough.

In another wave, players were directed to a specific spot, ringed in gold, where they were forced to do battle. Holding the position was essential to winning the wave, and was made all the more difficult as grenades rained down behind player cover positions.

Both waves’ specific rules made it tough to kill enemies, and tougher to survive. In the pistols and melee wave, any bad guys killed with the wrong kind of weapon wouldn’t count toward ending the wave, and players who took them out wouldn’t earn any money. The same went for the wave that required players to hold a particular position: kill anybody from outside the ring, and it didn’t count. What’s worse, those ignored kills could potentially lead to getting overrun as more enemies streamed out to replace the dead ones.

Not every wave had a gimmick or extra requirements, but the variety not only adds to the challenge, but keeps Survival interesting.

Pirate ghosts!

Uncharted 4: Survival caps off its final wave with a extra-tough boss fight — In our demo at PlayStation Experience, we fought a ghastly, skeletal pirate.

Backed up by more of the minions we had been fighting all along, the pirate ghost was a wrecking ball on the field. It occasionally fired a flintlock pistol that could drop players in one blast, and it constantly bounced from place to place with short bursts of teleportation.

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The only way to bring down the pirate boss was to hit it with explosives, temporarily stunning it. The rest of the time, the big guy is invulnerable. We not only had to avoid getting killed and clear out smaller enemies whenever possible, but also needed to scrape up explosive weapons from around the battlefield, or double-back to the weapons cache where to buy supplies. After a hard-fought battle with several rounds spent pummeling away at the boss, it finally went down. Although the pirate ghost boss is a pretty hard departure from what the rest of Survival is like, it provides another big shift that demands players update their tactics and focus on working together.

Overall, Survival seems to be a pretty intense experience. Naughty Dog has done a solid job of finding ways to make its take on horde mode tough. Uncharted 4 players who’ve gotten good at the game will have a leg up, but it’s going to take solid teammates for players to get really good at Survival. The upshot is, with a couple of good teammates, it should provide players with plenty of Uncharted-flavored challenges.

Highs

  • Creative wave variations feel fresh
  • grappling hooks and climbing make Survival feel fast
  • Fighting a fiery pirate ghost is harrowing and awesome
  • Very challenging
  • Update is free

Lows

  • If you’re out of practice with ‘Uncharted 4’, expect to get pummeled a few times