Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Format: PlayStation 4
Release Date: May 10, 2016
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is an unabashed love letter to the millions of players who have followed Nathan Drake on his adventures. It’s filled to the brim with subtle nods to past installments, contains some of the best Easter eggs in gaming history, and has the strongest emotional payoff I’ve ever felt from a game. For those who have been with the series since Drake’s Fortune in 2007, this is bound to be one of the most memorable and intimate gaming experiences you’ve encountered.
However, with that being said, I have a hard time recommending Uncharted 4 to anyone who hasn’t played the previous games. A Thief’s End is the end cap to Nathan Drake’s story, and it requires the knowledge and love of its past installments to be enjoyed thoroughly. This is a game that answers fans questions, gives background to certain events and relationships, and delivers an immaculate send-off to one of PlayStation’s most revered franchises.
A Thief’s End finds everyone’s favorite treasure hunter now living a life of monotony.
Nathan has traded in the thrill of adventure for a normal job, including long nights of boring, tedious paperwork. Sure, he’s finally settled down and married to Elena — his love interest from the previous games — but he’s beginning to miss his old way of life. When his long-lost brother shows up, Nathan is thrown back into the world he thought he left behind. When the possibility of finding an ancient pirate treasure starts to become a reality, Nathan becomes torn between family, friends, and destiny.
Uncharted 4 is easily the most ambitious and emotional game in the series.
It tells a vastly more mature and complex story than past entries, has a stronger sense of consequence, and delves into some surprisingly deep territory for the series. If anything, the storytelling in A Thief’s End is more in line with The Last of Us than any other Uncharted title. While the game itself is absolutely gorgeous — easily the most beautiful video game I’ve ever seen — the story is truly brought to life by the flawless character designs and facial animations. This is a game that explores many emotions, and developer Naughty Dog achieved a technical masterpiece by delivering characters that look near lifelike, helping to draw the player into the story and emotional depth. Subtle facial expressions lend a grounded reality to the story, resulting in several points where I was more invested than I’ve ever been with a video game.
This graphical fidelity extends to the rest of the game as well.
With a tale that sends our heroes to multiple countries, there’s several chances for Naughty Dog to astound players. Snowy hillside ruins, vibrant flower filled fields, and massive dessert valleys and deep jungle locales all come together to create the largest and most diverse Uncharted game to date. One segment in particular takes place on a beach during a rainstorm, and it’s the most jaw dropping display of water physics I’ve ever seen. Uncharted 4 is full of these moments. Naughty Dog takes every opportunity they can to impress the player, a feat they’re able to accomplish in every single one of Uncharted 4’s 20+ chapters.
There’s also a surprising amount of new additions and updates to the actual gameplay.
Uncharted 4 is a still a third-person cover-shooter with platforming segments, but it refines a lot of these mechanics to make the smoothest playing Uncharted experience.
One of the biggest complaints raised against Uncharted in the past is that the platforming segments were finicky, leading to a majority of people complaining about accidental deaths. In Uncharted 4, I never once had a jump go the wrong way, overshoot, or simply not register. This might sound like a small thing, but it eliminates arguably my biggest complaint against the franchise. Also, the inclusion of a grappling hook completely changes the way you play the game. You can swing through environments to cover ground faster, reach far off places, and scale certain walls more efficiently. There’s even the ability to jump off of the rope mid-air and land on an enemy with a punch, knocking them out instantly. Not only is this super effective for thinning out the ranks in combat, it’s extremely satisfying.
Another huge addition is the deeper use of stealth.
Uncharted has only had a handful of stealth encounters in the past, but it’s actually an incredibly viable approach to a majority of situations in A Thief’s End. With the new ability to hide in large grass or plants, it makes sneaking through enemy encampments way more fun and satisfying. There’s also the new ability to tag enemies so you can track them through walls and floors –similar to Metal Gear Solid V– but this addition feels extremely out of place and underutilized.
As far as the actual combat itself is concerned, not much has changed.
You’re still just hiding behind walls and shooting at waves of bad guys. Sure, the aiming mechanics have been tweaked to feel a little bit better, and the AI has been upgraded to actually work together and attempt to flank you in firefights, but it’s more of the same shooting experience seen in previous games.
Last, but certainly not least, the puzzle have been drastically reworked as well.
There’s actually a fine balance in the puzzle difficulty this time around, including one or two puzzles that I found to be quite excellent. There are a few that are a little too easy, and one or two that almost stumped me, but for the most part they’re just right.
The thing that caught me most off guard though, is that Uncharted 4 focuses more on story, exploration, and platforming than any of the past games. Sure, there’s still combat sections, but they’re drastically reduced, putting the focus first and foremost on the actual story and its characters. Admittedly, I still don’t know how I feel about this. On one hand, it lets us spend more time with our favorite characters, but it also makes certain segments drag on.
Thankfully, the game is just so terrific that a majority of these issues can be overlooked.
Is Uncharted 4 a perfect game? No, but it’s without a doubt one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had with a video game. As a fan of the series from the first entry, I’m satisfied with what I played, and I’m sure to come back to it multiple times.
Put simply, Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece.
The game is a gigantic “Thank You” message to the fans of the franchise, one full of satisfying payoffs and nods to the Uncharted legacy. The amount of times references were made, Easter eggs were discovered, or questions were finally answered was almost staggering. This is the perfect end to one of the greatest franchises gaming has to offer, and with the exception of a few minor flaws, it’s an absolute treat. The story, characters, visuals, and deep connection to the past games all comes together to form one of the greatest and most memorable experiences I’ve ever had.
– Zack Burrows.