Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – Review

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When discussing a game of this magnitude to it’s fullest, it’s unavoidable for there to be some manner of spoiler along the way.  Be it major or minor, consider yourself warned!


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Pro Deus Quod Licentia

Henry-AveryThe Uncharted franchise is a series that’s near and very dear to a large group of people, having been one of the flagship titles on the PlayStation 3 in it’s heyday.  I adopted the series late in it’s life (at around Uncharted 3), but I still feel a strong sense of attachment to the characters and story that developer Naughty Dog have managed to craft in each installation of the series.  After experiencing Uncharted 3, I replayed the other games in the series in preparation for this, the final chapter in Nathan Drake’s career.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the series, a brief introduction: Nathan Drake is an avid historian, adventurer, and treasure hunter.  With his knowledge of antiquity and the devil’s own luck, Nate sees himself into and out of trouble on a regular basis, making historical discoveries along the way and somehow never managing to come out with much to speak of other than scars and memories.

This particular chapter in the Uncharted series sees us visiting a few different areas of Nate’s life, as well as exploring his family background.  We see more of his childhood, an expanded view of his relationship with his brother Sam, and we finally learn what exactly set them on the course that they’ve taken in life.  I obviously can avoid spoiling that here, as it’s one of the game’s crowning achievements.

Generally speaking, Nathan Drake gets pulled back into the treasure hunting business and goes after the fabled Gunsway Heist of pirate captain Henry Avery.  But since nothing is ever that easy, there also happens to be a privately owned army of mercenaries on the trail of Avery’s loot as well.

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Narrative and Storytelling

Anyone who is familiar with Naughty Dog will attest to their skill with a developing narrative.  In 2013, they released The Last of Us to critical acclaim, primarily because the story was so damn good.  This is a trend that was established early on in Uncharted’s franchise, and the story has never felt so emotionally charged as it does in this final installment.  As I’ve previously mentioned, the game tackles some heavy topics, such as the bond of two brothers that keep finding themselves embroiled in conflict and danger, and what each is willing to sacrifice in exchange for wealth and glory.

I really couldn’t have been more pleased with the way that the narrative developed and where it left me eventually.  The story itself has all the hallmarks of what fans have come to love from the franchise, which is a thrilling story at a riveting pace.  While early doub1portions of the game felt a bit sluggish perhaps, and I think maybe some of the expository tutorial things could’ve been compacted just a bit more, it’s more than made up for throughout the course of the rest of the game.  From about the third chapter and onward things felt more evenly paced, steady and interesting.  This is a game that manages to balance all of it’s elements very well, and the narrative is simply one part of that mechanism.

While this is the last adventure for Nathan Drake, something tells me that we’ll be seeing more from family at some point in the future.

Gameplay

Uncharted games prominently feature lots of action, shoot-outs, and explosions and this iteration leaves nothing to be desired.  There are plenty of weapons and even more enemies that you’ll need to eliminate on your journey toward Henry Avery’s fabled treasure.

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The shooting in the game felt very solid to me, which is to say that the weapons behaved in the way I would expect them to.  Fully automatic weapons kick enough that you need to compensate for the recoil, and any weapon with an optic attachment allows you to zoom in for precision shots.  Ammunition felt plentiful on the “Hard” difficulty, as long as you can reliably hit your targets more often than not.  My main gripe with the game (and it’s a gripe that’s shared by a friend of mine) is that your aiming reticle/crosshair goes away while you’re not aimed down the sights.  In a game that prominently features blind-firing from behind cover, I felt that this should’ve been included.

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Other than that, combat consists of a relatively well conceived stealth takedown system, as well as a few explosive weapons that are just amazing to behold.  Grenades explode with a resounding THUD, rockets from your RPG zip off and impact the ground satisfyingly, spraying dirt and debris into the air.  The developers and artists really did a great job of conveying these little details into the action that really pull you in.

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The Pitfalls of Adventuring

Exploration in the game is achieved by a variety of free climbing and the use of a rope and piton.  This is another system that I felt was done rather well, as you get to explore much more vast and open environments this time around.  The rope swinging action is something that you’ll utilize both in and out of combat, and you’ll use it to solve puzzles just as often as you use it to set up a devastating aerial takedown on an enemy.

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The exploration and movement systems feel extremely polished and smooth this time around, with the routes and climbs taking you to some incredibly beautiful, scenic vistas while also throwing in a few nasty surprises to keep you on your toes and remind you that you’re on a very dangerous journey.

Later on, there is a significant portion of the game devoted to the driving of a jeep, as well as the use of it’s front-mounted wench.  This was something fresh and I felt that it broke up many of the larger areas very nicely.  As awesome as it is to have such massive, gorgeous environments to run around in, actually running around in them wouldn’t be very pleasant or practical.  There are some very fun portions of the driving as well, but I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own.

Convivium Oculos

Visually this game is stunning, with great care given to practically everything in the environment.  Wet surfaces glisten in a variety of light sources; fog is volumetric and affected by movement of characters and objects, as well as reacting to gunfire and explosions.

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Great care was taken to render each environment in an almost haunting beauty; from gunfights in a Scottish graveyard to fleeing a mercenary army on the island of Madagascar, each location had a unique feel, a variety of weather conditions and rules as to how you should best overcome the obstacles before you.

I really don’t know what else I can say adequately about the environments, so just take a look at some videos instead.

The sound design in the game is phenomenal as well, and is an absolute delight with any kind of surround sound setup; this works particularly well with the Gold Wireless Headset and it’s virtual surround sound.

Final Thoughts and Recommendation

While this title does feature a multiplayer component, I’ve decided to feature it in a later article that I’ll put out later this week; I feel it deserves it’s own space for discussion and analysis.

That being said, for anyone that owns a PlayStation 4 this game is simply something that you should play.  If you aren’t up to speed on the series you can always pick up the full Uncharted Collection that features the previous three games remastered for this system; if you’d rather not cough up the money then you can find a summary of the story and some cinematic scenes on YouTube.  I really recommend actually playing the titles, but that’s your call.

I feel that Naughty Dog really have outdone themselves with this title, and Nathan Drake gets the proper send off that he so richly deserves.  After so many adventures, this is easily the best and most refined entry in the franchise, and it feels like a very fond farewell to one of gaming’s most recognizable characters.  Do yourself a favor and pick this game up at your earliest convenience.

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