Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – Review
The developers at Naughty Dog have been a mighty force on PlayStation platforms since they first unveiled Crash Bandicoot for the PS1, and their games have continually built up their own cult fanbases. Crash put them on the map, Jak & Daxter saw the studio master the art of the third person platformer, but it was the Uncharted franchise that elevated the studio into the upper echelon of the industry. Following the launches of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, the studio took the time to explore, and further develop their craft in interactive storytelling. The product of this work was The Last of Us, a game that is now frequently spoken of as a genre defining moment for developers and players alike. Blessed with fresh experiences and new knowledge, Naughty Dog has returned to the tales of Nathan Drake for one final time, attempting to tell Nate’s grandest adventure yet, whilst also closing the book on an icon of the last decade. If you had any doubts that they could deliver, let me put your mind at rest now – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a masterpiece that all must experience
It’s rare that I begin any review by talking about a game’s presentation, but for the purposes of what is still to come, I must address the exquisitely detailed and superbly designed world that Naughty Dog has created. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a stunning game, but the technical wizardry is supported by exceptional attention to detail in the artistry. Every room, cave, jungle or even graveyard feels so incredibly real and truly feels as though it could be visited in real life. Each location has been painstakingly detailed and beautifully brought to life. Some of the vistas you’ll encounter could easily be considered the most spectacular you’re ever likely to see in any form of media and you’ll be treading on eggshells as you squeeze through some ominous and quite claustrophobic caverns. The cast of characters have been wonderfully realised thanks to incredible voice work, exceptional motion capture and a powerful script, but the musical score soars just as high the visual component. Henry Jackman’s debut at the helm of an Uncharted game is an incredible one, having composed a soundtrack that expertly pays homage to, and simultaneously expands the tone of the original trilogy.
Though it’s the fifth game in the franchise (the fourth by Naughty Dog), this is not a game that you could consider to be by the numbers. Though Uncharted games have a lot to thank Tomb Raider, Indiana Jones and a whole host of other successful IP, they’ve always done enough to separate themselves from those franchises that inspired them. The true power of the Uncharted franchise has always been in its incredible set-pieces, with Among Thieves’ train sequence being one that frequents the mind most often. In the case of Uncharted 4, it seems that Naughty Dog favoured more open expanses with large amounts of verticality to give you your cinematic gameplay moments. That’s not to say there aren’t a few set-pieces that don’t inspire similar feelings to those that came before, but it seems the idea pool was running a little lower in this fourth entry.
Moment to moment gunplay is as accessible and enjoyable as it has always been, but with the inclusion of both a sliding and rope swinging mechanic, as well as much larger battlefields, there’s more room to experiment. The inclusion of an enemy marking system will make it a bit easier for players looking to take a more considered and stealthy approach to combat, but for the thrill-seekers, the regular run-and-gun combat still holds up well. Enemies will also take some time to recognise you as a threat, so should you get spotted while skulking about you’ve got time to duck into cover or take down the threat before you’ve alerted the dozens or goons in the area – diving underwater or hiding in long grass are also handy ways of avoiding unwanted attention, or even for losing it should you have been spotted. There’s so much more to the combat of Uncharted 4, and while there’s probably fewer situations where a gun is required, the reduced number of encounters is the product of a somewhat slower, yet still superb storytelling that places you on one of the medium’s most enjoyable rollercoaster rides.
Retired after years of high-risk treasure hunting, Nathan Drake had joined the world of the commoners, working mundane jobs that clearly never quite inspired him like they should, while he continued to reminisce and dream of a return to exhilarating adventures that we’ve seen play out in the previous four games. Well the simple life is soon shattered when Nate’s older brother Sam (who Nate had thought was dead) returns, begging for the help of his younger brother and result sees the pair, with the help of Sully finding themselves on a trek to find the mythical Pirate colony called Libertalia and the treasures that the leader Captain Avery had hidden there. As you’ve come to expect from any Uncharted game, there’s deceit, betrayal and softer moments of love and care, but the writing doesn’t pull any punches – you’ll feel as though a key death could come at any moment while delicately poised relationships could break down at any stage. There are fewer cameos in this final act, with popular faces in Cutter and Chloe nary getting a mention, while even Sully doesn’t get the airtime that the legend himself deserves.
There was a tonne of controversy when Amy Hennig, the genius at the helm of Uncharted 1-3’s stories left the studio part of the way into development of A Thief’s End, with The Last of Us writers Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley stepping in to rebuild the story. While Uncharted 4 is much darker than previous entries the levity and general tongue in cheek approach present in all past games is once again here in this final chapter. Uncharted has always been a collectathon, but there’s more depth to the meta-game this time around with many collectables going a long way to expanding the sub-plot further, whether that’s the story of Avery and his crew or of Nate and Sam’s upbringing. There’s the DNA of The Last of Us all over Uncharted 4 and it’s benefitted the narrative experience enormously, and it makes we wish that this level of environmental storytelling was present in the earlier entries of the franchise.
Not to be forgotten is the franchise’s multiplayer component which you’ll be able to see a more in-depth look at here in a conversation between myself and fellow Player2 writer Stephen Del Prado (coming soon I promise – Ed), but in short, it’s more of what I loved about previous takes on Uncharted multiplayer, with some cool additions. Though it is relatively by the numbers, the addition of mythical objects, Nate’s rope and a currency system that allows for mid-game spending means that this take on an established formula feels new, fresh and exciting. One of the best things about the Uncharted multiplayer has always been that no matter your level of experience you’ve always felt competitive, and that trend has continued through to Uncharted 4.
I’ve been spellbound by the Uncharted franchise since it began in 2007, and I felt I knew all there was to know about Nathan Drake, Elena, Sully and co. but Uncharted 4 proves to tell a more powerful narrative than tugs on all the right heartstrings. Couple that riveting narrative with refined gameplay featuring more breadth of choice than ever before, otherworldly visuals and rock solid multiplayer and you’ve got a package that ticks all the boxes.