Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Developer: Naughty Dog
Platform: PlayStation 4
A review by Stephanie Pouliotte
Is this really the end for Nathan Drake? Sadly, yes. Without spoiling the potentially ominous implications of the title, Naughty Dog has already dashed our hopes of the franchise’s beloved hero ever returning for another game. This is Nate’s final adventure and what an action-packed, emotionally gut-wrenching, cinematic thrill ride it was! Like its predecessors, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has been cleaning up in reviews. It seems the game can do no wrong among fans and has been lauded as the best title in the franchise (though Among Thieves still holds that spot for me). The game definitely delivers where it counts, refining the tense platforming, thrilling chase sequences, and engaging shootouts that are the staples of this cinematic series. I hesitate to call A Thief’s End the perfect game however. There are a few missed opportunities and some nitpickings to be had, but the good far outweighs the bad. Uncharted is, without a doubt, one of my favorite franchises and this final installment was a fitting end that satisfied my craving for one last treasure-hunting adventure, while simultaneously killing it in the feels department.
The game begins in the middle of the story, with Nathan and Sam (soon revealed to be the elder Drake sibling) barreling through choppy seas amidst a barrage of gunfire. The opening chapters are flashbacks dedicated to rooting the new character, Sam Drake, into the franchise and to establishing a strong bond between the two brothers, especially since Nathan having a brother at all seems to come right out of left field. From sneaking out of his boyhood orphanage by rooftop in the dead of night to infiltrating a Panama jail in search of clues to a pirate’s long lost treasure, it becomes clear that Nathan always admired his impetuous brother and that he ultimately blames himself for his supposed death.
Three years after the events of the third game, Sam returns with a bounty on his head and convinces a now retired Nathan to pick up where they left-off in the search for Henry Avery’s treasure. Nathan may have built himself a peaceful life with Elena, but he’s drawn away by the allure of one last adventure as he wrestles with doubts about settling down. Despite being the quintessential treasure-hunting adventure, the story is truly about two brothers trying to reclaim a life they lost and how they reconcile their past and present selves.
Uncharted 4 introduces new gear that adds some interesting elements to the game’s iconic platforming, but it doesn’t really break the mold. You’ll largely be doing the same high-stakes climbing as the previous games, which can get a bit repetitive at times and calls for some suspension of disbelief as characters perform near unimaginable feats (though Nate’s signature lighthearted quips always make you laugh along with him at the sheer ridiculousness of it all). The addition of the grappling hook was a great choice that not only provided a cool new mechanic for platforming, but also the opportunity for awesome aerial take downs and great visual framing, as the camera zooms out to take in your surroundings when performing a particularly death-defying leap. I did find it odd when Nate’s companions were left behind due to something as trivial as a heavy cart rolling away, when he had a perfectly good rope on his belt he could have used to pull them up. I mean come on Nate, use your head.
Even if they didn’t change much about their platforming mechanic, Naughty Dog definitely perfected its fluidity and realism, moving away from artificially linear sets of handholds and skillfully ramping up the traversal gunplay. The enemies are also much smarter and less squishy than before, making stealth take-downs extremely useful. I just wish they had incorporated ways to attract the enemy’s attention, like tossing a rock or bottle, as waiting in the tall grass for an enemy to come by isn’t always practical. This seemingly slows down the story’s pace, but really just gives the player the option to take a bit of breathing room and actually succeeds in avoiding some of the lengthy shootouts of its predecessors. It encourages you to pare down potentially overwhelming enemy numbers before engaging them in combat and to methodically clear areas by targeting the more lethal enemies, like snipers, first.
Combat was definitely the most improved aspect of the game, the gunplay in particular felt tighter and more accurate. Entire encounters take on a cinematic feel without always resorting to QTE, something I felt was a bit overused in the third game. Combat features intuitive melee animations, combo moves with your partners, and more engagement from enemies, who stomp on your fingers as you hang precariously off ledges and frantically grab at your dangling legs when you pull them off.
My biggest gripe with the game is actually the puzzles. Though I love me some parkour and action-packed shootouts, what I really enjoyed about the Uncharted series were the engaging, elaborate puzzles. I loved how well they tied into the story’s lore and how you had to study your surroundings for clues on how to crack some really inventive mechanisms. This time around, I was a bit underwhelmed by the ease with which I figured them out. I felt they required little ingenuity on the part of the player, many were just line up the symbols or pull the levers and may have been simplified in an attempt to keep the story moving. Some even seemed unnecessary, as trial and error would have yielded the same result without having to decipher any clues at all. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy playing through these parts! There were amazing set-pieces that provided some of the most engaging and tense portions of the game, like the clock tower escape. As you near the end, the trials and traps become more entwined with the environmental storytelling, reflecting Avery’s mounting paranoia and illusions of grandeur.
Considering how deftly the game used its environment to tell the story of Henry Avery and his motley crew, I was surprised that they didn’t provide any engagement with the relics you collect throughout the game. Uncharted was always critiqued for having very linear gameplay, but that’s something they tried to move away from a bit in A Thief’s End by incorporating more open layouts, with branching paths that all lead to your goal. I only got turned around a couple times and enjoyed having more freedom to take the game at my own pace. However, I eventually lost the appetite to explore all the nooks and crannies of the maps as there was really no point to doing so other than locating relics, which offer no content payoff for the player. This is a small detail, but one I think failed to serve its purpose in the game, which was to get the player to roam around and immerse themselves in the beautiful and expansive world that was created. I would have liked a more content-driven motivation to relic hunting, similar to how Tomb Raider approached it, wherein by inspecting the object the player discovers something new. Only relics that directly affected the plot had this level of engagement and they were few and far between. Nonetheless, the hauntingly stunning vistas are truly breathtaking, and I often found myself stopping to take it all in.
The game also features four online multiplayer modes – Team Deathmatch, Ranked, Plunder and Command – where you get to play as any character in the Uncharted series! It incorporates all the familiar locales and re-purposes them for use with the game’s newer mechanics like the grappling hook. You can also summon AI sidekicks and wield mystical abilities through items from the previous games, such as the Cintamani Stone from Uncharted 2, which revives and heals your allies. Though Uncharted isn’t known for its multiplayer mode, this one offers an outrageously fun and chaotic firefight that harnesses everything I love about the Uncharted series.
Play it! Uncharted 4 may not be the perfect game, but its engaging storytelling, refined combat, and amazing graphics speak for themselves. Though I felt the story lagged in the latter half, it ended on an emotional note that satisfyingly concluded the long journey we’ve taken with this unusual group of adventurers. It’s definitely a game made for the fans, which is perhaps why it resonated with me so much. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the culmination of a groundbreaking series and its passing truly marks the end of an era. Lucky for us, it seems Naughty Dog’s next project never disappoints.