Naughty Dog are almost ready to let players have free reign with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The final instalment in Nathan Drake’s adventures went gold very recently, but ahead of it’s launch on May 10th I was able to go hands on with part of the single player; mission ten, entitled ‘The Twelve Towers’.

Suffice to say, as a big fan of the Uncharted trilogy – and even that one on vita – I was excited to give it a go. I came out of the preview very impressed and eager to play more. Before I get into my thoughts there’s a little background information to cover on the Drake brother’s adventure.

At this point in the game Nathan, Sam and Sully are in Madagascar, on the trail of the real and legendary pirate Henry Avery. They’re hoping the twelve outposts here will give them a lead on the hidden pirate haul of Avery, who completely disappeared after his raid of the Mughal empire’s fleet.26151981256_d15ae720a4_hReal life history and mystery mixed with Naughty Dog’s flair for storytelling has served them well in the past three Uncharted instalments, and it’s shaping up to deliver a compelling narrative once again in A Thief’s End.

Starting off on the backroads of Madagascar, you’re introduced to two of the biggest additions to the franchise – larger, open areas and the ability to drive vehicles. These go hand in hand with each other in sections like this, giving you an effective way to move about the world.

It’s in no way open world, nor are these sections actually that open, rather they serve as a way to make the big parts of the world actually feel large. Described as ‘wide linear’, sweeping panoramas, weaving paths and little secrets and ruins dot the road between outposts. It felt really good to explore but I found I never wanted to stray too far, more interested in the conversations between travellers and the next beat of the mission.

These conversations between Nate and his companions have been a hallmark of the series, helping pass the time on journeys. As you move about the world you’ll chat and trade quips with the duo, neatly reintroducing the conversation should you leave your 4×4 or wander too far. It’s as clever and amusing as ever, with Nate’s quick wit and sarcasm shining through even in firefights.

The addition of a car to the game provides a nice dynamic. I wasn’t expecting it to control as well as it did, especially across the mix of terrains shown off. Muddy areas where you struggle to find traction and shallow water provide some interesting room for puzzles. That said, I definitely had most of my fun simply drifting around as my wheels struggled to find purchase, or watching water spray everywhere behind me. The mud also ends up everywhere after a while, flicking all over the car, and should Nate venture into it, he’ll throw mud onto the windscreen when hopping in – a nice touch of attention to detail.26151980806_b6a1fa08a0_hIn the last section of the demo you assault an outpost, populated with enemies. You can go in all guns blazing, or attempt stealth to get you into a good position. While the enemies detection timers and perception is fairly generous, it’s a lot of fun to find that perfect spot to assault your foes from, or to grab a sniper rifle and fight them off from range.

Grappling hooks and Nate’s signature climbing all factored well into the combat, especially vertical in this instance. Swinging in for a knockout punch is very rewarding, and climbing can get you to some really great vantage points. It’s a really smooth combat experience that felt more cinematic than I’d remembered, as if you’re playing out a battle that’d feel at home on a cinema screen.

As my time with the demo came to a close I had my initial thoughts confirmed. It’s Uncharted at it’s peak. With the strong foundations in place, A Thief’s End capitalises on the PS4’s power, realising the world vividly. With smooth gameplay and compelling combat, Uncharted 4 is looking better than ever, and I can’t wait to sit down and enjoy it all come launch day.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End hits the Playstation 4 exclusively on May 10th, 2016.