Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

By Blair Nokes on May 16, 2016

Naughty Dog Studios have been an exclusive developer for Sony right from the beginning. They began with the creation of what used to be Sony Computer Entertainment America's mascot: Crash Bandicoot. Well before Activision bought the rights to the series and has continued to do nothing with it, Naughty Dog released three main titles and an addictive Mario Kart-inspired kart racer called Crash Team Racing for the PS1. When Sony brought out the PS2, Naughty Dog brought over another trilogy focused on exploration, light-hearted humour and puzzle-platforming with Jak and Daxter. Naughty Dog then made a rather dynamic shift from the cartoony aesthetic in the Jak and Crash series, to a more realistic style with Uncharted on the PS3. Uncharted was a trilogy that essentially played like an Indiana Jones or National Treasure video game; a grandiose adventure full of puzzles, mystery and a very interesting incorporation of history and mythology as the foundation for each adventure. Complementing this were stellar performances and deliveries from the cast members, and genuinely humorous dialogue and witty banter to get audiences to really feel for the characters. Towards the end of the PS3's life cycle, Naughty Dog tried to squeeze every last bit of performance it could out of the then 6-year-old console with the release of The Last of Us "“ a far more realistic portrayal of a gritty zombie-survival tale across America. Fans were left waiting in anticipation for what Naughty Dog would release on Sony's new PS4. They tested the waters by porting The Last of Us over to the PS4, making a then gorgeous game even more spectacular. For fans of the Uncharted series they let developers at Bluepoint games port the Uncharted Trilogy over to give players something to do while the main team was busy developing Uncharted 4. This serves as Naughty Dog's first title made with the PS4 hardware, so naturally expectations are through the roof. The most important factor here is that this is intended to be the final installment for the series.

The story begins in medias res "“ with Nathan Drake and his brother Sam steering through a stormy sea towards an island while fleeing from armed thugs in boats. It's clearly very linear in the sense that you need to get to a specific point, but there's a flexible degree of control; the traversable area you can drive your boat along is fairly wide, allowing for a number of interactions with opposing drivers. This doesn't last for far too long, as the boat is suddenly scuttled, jumping our place in time back to when Nate was a teenager living in the St. Francis orphanage. He's greeted by Sam and helped him sneak out, only to tell Nate that he would be taking on a job that would keep him away for a few years. This was a good establishment of the relationship between the two brothers, and you can immediately get a feel for the two. My only issue is that we're never told of Sam's existence in the prior installments. Not even during Nate's childhood portion in Uncharted 3. After this segment, we get a glimpse of where the true story lies; years before the events of the first Uncharted, Nate and Sam were on the trail of Henry Avery's treasure. The real life myth of Henry Avery is that he enacted the largest heist in history, making away with 400 million dollars. The brothers sneak into a Panama Jail along with a wealthy treasure hunter Rafe, where they were in close proximity to a cell where Avery's first mate was hanged. They find a cross of St. Dismas, which they then deduce could be a clue to a St. Dismas Cathedral in Scotland. Things go horribly wrong for them when Rafe brutally murders the guard who snuck them in, forcing them to flee. Sam gets shot in the process, and is presumed dead and the game flash-forwards 15 years later.

It's a wonderful process of seeing Drake age so much. It definitely resonated with me on a personal level, as I've had the chance to experience the Uncharted series from the beginning and, much like Metal Gear Solid 4, you really get attached to the characters in this series, and so seeing Drake age since 2007 is both pleasing and discomforting at the same time. Here, Drake is retired from the adventurous life, salvaging from underwater wreckages and going through the motions of normal life with his wife, Elena. Still, you can tell by the facial animations that Drake just doesn't seem satisfied "“ to the point where he was lost in thought at a painting of an island while Elena was trying to talk to him. Drake snaps back and we as the players are left to choose between three guesses to make it seem like we were actually paying attention. Obviously failing, we then offer to help Elena with the dishes which leads into Drake wagering to beat her at a video game. Noticing the corded PS1 controller and hearing the classic start up in the background, we then get to interact with a playable level of the first Crash Bandicoot! It also has Drake and Elena commentating throughout, with Elena explaining the concept of the game, and Drake critiquing the "unrealistic graphics." It was a bittersweet moment to replay a piece of Playstation and Naughty Dog history, and that entire moment, devoid of any action or set pieces, still remains as one of the most fantastic experiences of Uncharted 4. That's not to say that the action and set pieces aren't all top-notch; they most assuredly are. It's just a wonderful character driven segment that didn't need to exist, but was deliberately put in the game to try and emulate the idea that these are just normal, living people outside of their extraordinary lives we've seen them in with the last three games.

Drake eventually has his want for adventure reignited with the reappearance of his brother after so long. Sam informs Drake that they can still find the lost treasure of Henry Avery, and they decided to pick up from where they left off 15 years ago. The rest of the game takes you all over the globe, with some of the largest level designs incorporated in any Uncharted game. Without spoiling the end, it's one of the most fitting and well deserved endings for a character so far.

Uncharted games are typically third person action adventure games, with a large emphasis on puzzles, platformer and shooting segments peppered throughout. The easiest way to describe Uncharted 4 is that is possesses all of these qualities but that they're amped up to 11. The shooting has been drastically refined, which used to be a notable issue with the former games. It's never really a prominent aspect in the past Uncharted games, and served more as an accessory, so it made some sense that there wasn't as much attention put into it as say the core platforming and puzzles. It seems that Naughty Dog really learned a lot from The Last of Us, which definitely had a larger focus on shooting, and a lot of it transferred nicely over to Uncharted 4. The platforming can be downright jaw-dropping at times, thanks to the new grappling hook mechanic. Now, Nate can hook onto placed anchor points and swing to nearby scalable walls, or to even swing and use that momentum in a highly stylized aerial attack. You'll have to suspend some disbelief that his grappling hook and rope can magically reset onto his waist after each successful landing, but it's a very welcome mechanic. Stealth was introduced in Uncharted 2, and was very loose and had a lot to work on. In Uncharted 4, they seem to really improve on the core stealth aspects, by showing enemy cones of alertness to you and your movements that would seem out of the ordinary to their normal patrol patterns. It's not perfect in the sense that there can be times where you think you are very out in the open and it doesn't seem to register to the enemy AI, but as a whole it's well done.

Uncharted is typically regarded as a generally linear series, and Uncharted 4 isn't going to break that mold. It does however vastly open up the possibilities to get from A to B, to the point where it doesn't necessarily feel linear. Maps are significantly larger than any other Uncharted game, with explorable areas being nearly 10 times larger than previous games. The result is having lush environments that offer multiple ways of progression, and it also makes finding all the treasures more challenging than before.

As mentioned with the scene with Elena, there is an inclusion of a dialogue tree. This is only superficial, as it does not impact the way the story progresses in any meaningful way. It's just there to serve a choice for players.

As introduced in Uncharted 2, competitive multiplayer is present in Uncharted 4, and still has a great feel to it. Back when Uncharted 2 released its multiplayer, it felt really fresh and unique, as the platforming in the series served as a focal point to how levels were designed competitively. Now, rather than sticking to flatter areas, players were forced to scan horizontally, and vertically for any opponent. Like the past games, you can play as a selection of fan-favourite characters from the series. And as a treat to fans and consumers alike, it was announced that there will be no fragmentation of the online community by having maps exclusive via paid-DLC. Instead, all future maps and modes will be included at no additional cost, and any in-game store DLC can be unlocked through gameplay. This was a very wise decision, as the release of the later maps in Uncharted 2 and 3, while excellent in design, created a rift in the community as some of the players refused to purchase them. It is also worth noting that vehicles for competitive multiplayer were thought of, and may be considered at a later date.

I haven't been very subtle in my views of the game's visual fidelity, but it goes without saying that this truly is the Playstation 4's most shining achievement to date. Every layer of the game, from top to bottom, has been meticulously crafted with an almost absurd level of detail. With the way the trees and foliage blow with the wind, to how the weather effects look and feel, to how Drake moves and stumbles about with the varying planes in terrain, Uncharted 4 is close to a visual masterpiece. The lighting is top notch, with beams piercing through openings, shadows beautifully cast in flames and light sources, and the overall atmosphere in each level is so believable it's almost jarring. The best way I can describe this is when you reach Scotland, and you eventually find yourself in an underground Pirate cave. As awe-inspiring as it sounds, how it looked really hit home for me, as the way bridges hung, the way the water looked and how hollow the cave was triggered my senses to think of cold, damp, wet, and open yet claustrophobic feel of what a cave ought to feel like. I can try and describe it as best I can, but it really just comes down to playing it for yourself.

Final Thoughts

Uncharted 4 serves as a touching conclusion to a series that is almost a decade old. Everything about the game, from top to bottom, has been polished to the point where I am grateful that the game was delayed for as long as it was. That extra time has resulted in an experience I will not forget, and has been one of this generation's strongest entries. The single player is a thoughtful finale to the aging adventurer, and the multiplayer serves as a strong installment to the community it created on the PS3, and seems accessible enough to welcome a whole host of newcomers, thanks to the thoughtful consideration of DLC and future updates. Uncharted 4 is an exceptional game, and is absolutely recommended.

An incredible story, from start to finish.
The game is a visual marvel, and even manages to have levels larger than ever before.
Touching moments in between the action-heavy bits are as memorable as some of the action-oriented set pieces.
It’s sad to see the end of a series. That being said, I’m glad it ends on the note it did.
Playing Crash Bandicoot was great, but also sad knowing we still probably won’t see a new entry.
The dialogue tree was a neat inclusion, but ultimately didn’t affect the course of the game.
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