Naughty Dog is back after a lengthy hiatus from the Uncharted series to introduce Nathan Drake’s final adventure in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Can the fourth game in the series live up to the sky-high expectations, or will it crumble under the pressure?
The Uncharted series has been a series that is near and dear to the hearts of many gamers around the world since the first game in 2007 on the PlayStation 3. Since then, there have been 3 other games in the main series (including this latest one) and a few different mobile games including Golden Abyss on PlayStation Vita. Bluepoint Games even decided to remaster the 3 main series games for the PlayStation 4 late last year in anticipation of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. With all of those games in the span of 9 years, it’s easy to forget that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the first main games in the Uncharted series in almost 5 years. Those 5 years must have been well-spent though as Uncharted 4 is possibly the best game in the series and arguably one of the best games ever created.
Sony has a large stable of exclusive franchises and Uncharted is easily one of my favourites. Playing through Nathan Drake’s saga takes you to another place as a gamer. It’s like you’re playing an Indiana Jones movie with endless action, shocking betrayals, and deep friendships that last across the entire series. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End continues this pattern in bigger and better ways than ever before. The most striking difference between this game and the previous three though is that Nathan has grown up. Nathan and Elena are married now and have a house together. You get to see the human side of the adventurer as he lives the life of a retired fortune hunter; until his brother Sam shows up with an offer he Nathan can’t refuse.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End ties everyone together so well with conversations and cutscenes adding so much more to the story. It’s rare to have more than a moment in Uncharted 4 without some kind of interesting dialogue or something pertinent to the story. The writing is superb (if not emotional at times) with many layers to each character that aren’t fully revealed until the late stages of the game. The main performances of Nolan North (Nathan Drake), Emily Rose (Elena Fisher), and Richard McGonagle (Victor Sullivan) better than ever, while newcomers Troy Baker (Samuel Drake), Laura Bailey (Nadine Ross), and Warren Kole (Rafe Adler) breathe some new life into the series in smaller, but equally as important roles.
Companion characters are smarter than they’ve ever been in the series. These characters provide witty commentary throughout while holding their own in battles (especially if you’re being held by an enemy and need a hand). They’ll crouch with you in tall grass to be stealthy and even add in little hints about gameplay when you’re stuck. There was the occasional time where they would end up running around randomly while I was getting ready to engage the enemy. This lead to me almost shooting them thinking they were our foes more than a couple times. They never did alert the enemy to our presence though so it ended up being a fairly minor thing.
Uncharted 4 is full of polish from top to bottom. The added power of the PS4 allowed the Naughty Dog team to experiment with some different types of terrain like slippery gravel, deep mud, and tall grass. Each adds a lot to the gameplay and keeps players on their toes as to how to get to the next checkpoint. Climbing feels more fluid than ever and Nate can now reach for different ledges as he’s climbing. The grappling hook makes is a tool that also provides some different opportunities to climb, swing, and generally save your life from falls. I will say that it’s kind of ridiculous how far Nate throws that hook with perfect accuracy sometimes though, but it is what it is. The environments are still fairly linear with some different options here and there. This is a finely curated story though so to even have a little bit of choice like there is here is all you really need.
As far as combat is concerned, this is classic Uncharted while adding a bit more stealth into the mix. Nate can still toss grenades and be the one man army that players are used to, however, there’s the added element of stealth that’s a little bit more prevalent than before. Tall grass can be used to hide (I even hid a Jeep in there oddly enough) and Nate can perform a quick stealth kill without being detected. Be warned though, the AI in Uncharted 4 is not stupid. The enemies will switch to an alerted state at any sign of trouble (a dead body, a shot fired, somebody being killed). The sad thing is that Drake can’t move bodies so the stealth aspect only goes so far. Enemies will flank you and don’t forget where you are if you attempt to hide. The shooting mechanics are just as polished as ever. Couple that with the stealth mechanics and refined climbing and it makes for a very satisfying experience.
What bring the whole game together are the graphics though. This is easily the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. There isn’t a moment in Uncharted 4 that doesn’t look incredible. From the beautiful landscapes to the underwater sea life, it’s an incredible sight to behold. More than that though, it’s the little things. Snow settles in Nate’s hair, water ripples and crashes into the rock formations, and explosions light up the screen. The most incredible thing graphically in the game for me though had to be the facial expressions. There was one scene where Elena was on the verge of angry/sad tears and it was like looking at a real person’s emotion. It was amazing to see and to be that immersed in a character is something incredible. Uncharted 4 evokes emotion better than any game out there.
I feel like the pacing of this game fit the game perfectly and I might be in the minority there. The third act did become a bit long and after an insane car chase and a crazy clock tower puzzle, it was a little bit mundane to run and gun and repeat for a while, but that to me added to the suspense of the end. Naughty Dog could have ended it a couple hours early but then people would have been complaining about a short game. It does drag on a little bit but since this is likely the last time I’ll be playing as Nathan Drake, I welcomed it. Uncharted 4 picks up near the end stays true to its characters in the process.
There isn’t much left to do after you complete the the campaign other than to go back and grab the treasure. Lucky for us, Naughty Dog has brought back the popular Uncharted multi-player modes. There are 3 modes: Plunder, Command, and Ranked Team Deathmatch. There’s really nothing like using all of the game mechanics against other people. There are so many options opened up with the use of a grappling hook. The biggest addition to the multi-player mode are the new abilities like Teleportation. There’s also an AI sidekick that can heal, snipe, or even pin-down your enemy. It’s good to have friends.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is every bit as good as I could have expected. It’s a proper send off for a group of characters that we’ve become attached to over the past 9 years and a fantastically polished game. While the third act drags on just a bit, this is one game that should be on every gamer’s list. If this is the end of the series, what a great series it was.