Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
With amazing production values, characters I cared about, an entertaining story and plenty to see and do along the way, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may not be the best game in the series overall, but it is a fitting conclusion that shows Naughty Dog continues to deliver the goods with their games.
Now, when I say that Uncharted 4 is not the best game in the series, I am talking about the heart of the games. There was something fundamentally new and exciting about the first Uncharted title, despite a handful of flaws. I felt that the second game in the series was actually the best overall. The platforming had been improved upon, the story telling was great and it improved upon the already very good visuals from the first game. Uncharted 3 was something of a mixed bag for me personally. I enjoyed the flashback sequences that helped to build on characters I thought I already knew, and the production values were outstanding, but the story itself was perhaps the least interesting of the trilogy. I try not to think about the disappointing Golden Abyss for the Vita, which Naughty Dog doesn’t get the blame for, unless you want to be annoyed with them for letting someone else develop the game.
Uncharted 4 gets off to a great start as we begin by spending more time with a young and clearly troubled Nathan Drake. It is a nice way to teach us the game’s mechanics in a low pressure situation. You are not learning while a train is careening over a cliff’s edge or figuring out how to perform stealth actions against men armed with assault rifles. Here he is a kid trying to break out of the orphanage he resides in. Certainly there are tense moments even in this as a young Nate avoids getting caught by the nun who earlier scolded him for getting in a fight. After that we navigate Nate across rooftops in an effort to meet up with his brother.
Yup, a brother. Something not touched on in prior games. In the third Uncharted, we get some history on how Victor “Sully” Sullivan and Nate met up and became a team, and here the flashback convention does a nice job of introducing the never before mentioned older sibling of Nate. It is clear right off of the bat just how much Nate looks up to his older brother in this sequence, and it helps to pave the way for how years later Sam could manage to rope in a ‘retired’ Nate for yet one more adventure.
It is impossible to talk about this game without taking note of the great voice cast. We have a lot of familiar talents returning, led foremost by Nolan North as Nathan Drake. He does an outstanding job of once again bringing Nate’s quippy, energetic character to life on the screen. Nate’s older brother, Sam, is equally well represented by Troy Baker’s considered voicing talents. The two actors play off of one another beautifully throughout the game and combined they really sell the relationship that is at the heart of this game.
Where Uncharted 4 takes a smalls tumble with me is in the actual story itself. It is a good one, but it lacks some of the heart and cleverness found in the earlier offerings. The characters themselves are as charming and likable as always, which kept me eager to see this last adventure through to the end. However, this is a game where you spend almost as much time watching events unfold as you do playing the game itself, and to that end a stronger narrative would have benefited Uncharted 4. Another quibble comes in the final third of the game, where the level design is less creative by and large and fight sequences become somewhat redundant and overstay their welcome. These two things when mixed with an adequate but entirely forgettable online multiplayer mode are the three things that really hold Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End back from greatness.
That being said, this latest chapter in the series is without a doubt the most polished and technically impressive installment. As mentioned above, the voice cast knocks their parts out of the park, but the overall sound design is excellent as well. Subtle sounds such as soldiers talking or directional gunfire effects all ring out beautifully in surround sound. The music has that epic, big movie feel to it that absolute won me over in the earlier games as well. Visually this may be the most impressive game on the PlayStation 4 to date. Models animate beautifully, the scenery and lighting are spectacular and it all runs at a buttery smooth framerate even during some of the most hectic combat scenes. It is not an exaggeration to call Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End a technical marvel for the PlayStation 4.
While many of the game’s mechanics are immediately familiar (crawling along walls, making impossible jumps, finding treasures, etc), it was nice to see a few new things injected into the formula as well. The most interesting of these for me was the rope mechanic that made exploration a little more interesting and added another layer to the game’s puzzles that are baked into the levels. Uncharted 4 is a melding of action, adventure and puzzle-solving like its predecessors, but is refined and polished up to the point where it simply plays and feels better than any of the titles that came before it.
Plenty of treasures to track down and different settings give the title more replay value than such a linear game might usually provide. That has always been one area of concern for some people as it pertains to the Uncharted games. They clearly take place in large, visually interesting worlds, but you do only get to explore fairly narrow slices of them. This release is actually more open than any of the three prior games, and the experience is generally better for it, but by the time the credits roll you will have taken Nathan Drake through a fairly linear adventure by and large. There is nothing wrong with that, in fact I would argue that it allows Naughty Dog to keep the player focused so they can experience the game in an optimal way.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is like a very good big budget movie. It has the sound, visuals and cast to really sell what it is trying to do. This is not a matter of all style and no substance, however. The story is a matter of preference, and here I merely thought it was good as opposed to earlier installments that I felt were great. That being said, even after completing the game, Uncharted 4 stuck with me and had me thinking about it – always a good sign that the ride was worth taking. Fans of Nathan Drake’s exploits will come away pleased with a conclusion that does right by the characters and gives the series a satisfactory final act.Score: 8.5/10