REVIEW: Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
No one thought this moment would arrive. Since 2007, we have waited in anticipation for the next great Nathan Drake adventure to come our way. For PlayStation console and Vita owners, treasure hunting and taking out the bad guys could not have been any better. But the time we have dreaded has finally arrived. With the release of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, we have come to the last adventure for Nathan Drake and his friends. There will be no more stories of Drake's harrowing escapades (as far as we know) around the corner, and no planned Uncharted title to look forward to in the future. Knowing this, people have been waiting fervently to get their hands on the latest installment in the Uncharted franchise. But with no more Nathan Drake to look forward to, how does his latest, and final, adventure shape up? Is it the perfect send off for Nathan and Uncharted fans?
WHAT is uncharted?
For the uninitiated, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is the latest entry into the Uncharted series from Sony-owned studio Naughty Dog. From Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, to Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, and even to the PS Vita exclusive Uncharted: Golden Abyss (we didn't forget about you, Vita fans), the series has followed the adventures of Nathan Drake and his friends, Elena Fisher, Victor Sullivan, and more additions throughout their journeys of discovering lost treasures, uncovering ancient relics, all while beating the competition to the next treasure. This current entry, however, changes things a bit. As we start the game, Nathan has given up his life of adventuring, and has retired to normal life with a 9 to 5 job and a comfortable home life. During this, we discover that Sam Drake, Nathan's long lost brother assumed to be dead, has returned into his life and needs his helps in finding the long lost treasure of Henry Avery, a notorious pirate from the past, which forces Nathan to break a promise and come out of retirement in order to help Sam find the hidden pirate loot, putting them through various dangers, and forcing Nathan to question what he truly wants from his life, and if he really is prepared to risk all that he has for the people he truly cares about.
The story from the Uncharted series has always been superb, and this is no exception with Uncharted 4. From start to finish, I was immediately drawn in to the struggles that Nathan is going through, and the stakes that are on the line. I can definitely say that it is recommended that you have at least played through the first 3 main games before jumping onto Uncharted 4, as there are some easter eggs and callbacks scattered throughout the adventure. Naughty Dog does a great job of adding those callbacks into the game, with one of the big ones being the items you find throughout Nathan's attic at the start of the game. I will avoid spoilers as best as I can, but the narrative for the game is top-notch, and whether you expected this or not, you should be prepared to take in a rich adventure, with plenty of us, downs, and explosions along the way.
EL GODDAMN DORADO
From a graphical standpoint, there is only one thing I can say for the game: this is the best looking console video game ever. Period. The visuals have no business looking this damn good, and it continues to show that Naughty Dog is a master of their art. From the sweeping seaside vistas of Italy, to the expressions and emotions seen in each characters' faces during cutscenes, Naughty Dog has spared no expense in utilizing the full power of the PlayStation 4, and every drop of it can be seen on the screen. Water and trees flow naturally and present themselves just as you would see in the actual place, as if you were enjoying the view on an exotic visit. The mountains and rock move and act accordingly, and subtle details like trails you leave in the snow or on craggy rock as you move are impressive, to say the least. What makes this even better is the added Photo Mode that Naughty Dog placed in the game. Taking some cues from their experience with The Last Of Us Remastered, you have the ability to pause the game and enter a specialized photo mode, where the camera pans out and you gain access to camera positioning, frames, filters, video settings, and more, in order to snag some incredible shots during Nathan's treks across the globe. You are able to access this right from the start of the game, and is generally available at any point during a playthough, even cutscenes (although some functions may be limited during said scenes). I cannot tell you how many times I caught myself stopping my gameplay session, just to get a great shot of Nathan hanging from a ledge, jumping off a cliff, or scanning the countryside and taking in the incredible views. Although the sight lines were great to admire, I did notice a few graphical hiccups during some of the more hectic moments. Every once in while, a small pause would happen or a flicker of faint graphical tearing would rear its' head, but they were very few and far between, and really not anywhere near bad enough to affect gameplay overall. From the magnificent backdrops, to the minute focus to detail on the character models, there can be no question as to the work put in to make this game look this great.
Speaking of details, the mechanics flow and operate beautifully. When moving through the tall grass, to even adventuring over the treacherous landscape, every movement seems solid and deliberate. Nathan flows and handles as expected, and fans of the series will not be disappointed. Even the gun play feels a bit tighter when drawing your weapon, and some of the changes they made to the controls are welcome additions to the game. The attention to detail put into the game is also nothing short of what gamers expect from Naughty Dog. As I moved from ledge to ledge in the game, it stunned me how I could just move the analog stick, instead of simply pressing a button, and Nathan reaches his hand out in that direction, attempting to grasp at the next ledge. Driving around through the mud in a jeep, I noticed that once you sat idle, Nathan subtly laid his head on the steering wheel, showing his exhaustion while awaiting my next input. Even watching cutscenes, it took me getting through about two-thirds of the game before realizing that during cutscenes, the specific weapon(s) I was carrying were actually being shown during the cinematic. No stock, generic weapon model thrown on Nathan's back, but the actual specific weapon and skin that I picked up from the dead soldier just a few minutes ago. This blew my mind, and those specific examples of the detail added to this game simply reinforce the work that Naughty Dog has done to bring about as much immersion into the title as possible, and it definitely works. Hopefully, other studios can take some lessons on how even minute details and mechanics within a game can completely immerse and pull players in, without them even noticing.
What's Tibetan for RPG?
The gameplay feels just like it should on a Nathan Drake adventure, but with a few added tweaks and changes. The puzzles littered throughout the game range from fairly simple, to a few head scratchers that had me setting the controller down and digging through Nate's journal checking to see if I missed a clue or not. The feeling of solving those puzzles is great, although it was good that the tougher ones were few and far between. The added conversation branches introduced to the game in this installment added more style over substance, and it wasn't necessarily a bad thing. There aren't that many within the game, but when they do appear, they do more to add some backstory or exposition to the moment, and don't really affect gameplay or create any type of big, decision-making points. I enjoyed this, as it didn't add any extra pressure on me to make "the right choice" that would impact the end of the game in any way. From listening to Nathan talk to Sam about his adventures from the past Uncharted titles, or laughing as Nathan dishes out some quips at Nadine Ross, one of the antagonists for the game, during a fight scene, it was nice to see how the options I picked affected the conversation within the scene, and not necessarily alter the already incredible story.
Combat and gunplay are the usual standard fare, but the addition of tall grass and brush during the game add some interesting stealth mechanics, albeit nothing too complex. Most combat scenarios allow Nathan to sneak around the area and get the jump on some, or all if you want, of the enemies on guard. This could help you thin out the numbers a bit before thing start to heat up, and it adds a nice little bit of strategy to how to tackle some groups of enemies that are hunting for you around each corner. Also, the rope is a cool addition, but doesn't necessarily revolutionize gameplay. I appreciate how the game adds the rope usage throughout the exploratory sections of the game, but I felt as though I ignored it during opportunities to use it during battle on some hanging perches, with a rare occasion that I swing across a gap to maneuver between guards. I will say, however, that it is pretty sweet to use the rope and time it just right, so that you land right on top of an enemy and take him out. Plus, the seamless way during battle that you can move Nathan to swing on the rope, jump on a guard, immediately grab the guard's weapon in midair, and come down to start shooting is pretty crazy and fun. The added use of vehicles throughout the game also gives a nice change of pace to the title, making you navigate through the off road paths of Madagascar, or steering a boat on the beautiful ocean waves. These moments help bring about calm moments between firefights, and it also provides some nice exposition between the characters, which helps add to the story and experience overall. Even some added mechanics to those vehicles (see: winch) may seem a bit tedious at first, but are used pretty well in some puzzle solving and navigating the terrain. The gameplay feels great from each moment, and to no surprise here, Naughty Dog spared no expense in crafting a detailed, and fluid experience for gamers to enjoy.
...like a hooker in church
The main draw to the Uncharted franchise has been the single-player aspect, but since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Naughty Dog has added a multiplayer component to the game. I will be the first to admit that I have never really player the multiplayer side of the game, but after spending some time with it in Uncharted 4, I am glad I didn't miss the chance this time around. I will say I was a bit concerned hopping into the fight when I saw a few loading screens popping up, as it took a little bit longer to prepare to fight and jump into the fray that I expected, but once I was on the battleground, those doubts were quickly dashed. Uncharted 4 multiplayer adds the same fluidity of combat from the single-player narrative, and let's you put your skills to the test against other online players. I did not know what to expect jumping in, but found myself having a blast running around, jumping to cover, and laying fire against opponents other than the game AI that I normally fight against. I enjoyed the challenge of facing off in one of my favorite game series with and against players who had spent as much time with the game as I have, and it definitely keeps you on your toes. Ducking around corners felt constantly intense, waiting to see if I would run into another opponent around the corner, and I wouldn't want anyone to miss that feeling.
Gameplay and gunfire work as expected, but the power-up system adds an intriguing variety to the combat. When you get kills, KOs, and revive other team members, you are rewarded with money that you can spend to purchase items and power-ups like grenades, AI bots that can provide assistance to combat and recovery, and special mystical items that can help turn the tides of battle in a pinch. There are also different treasures you can find during battle that add a nice boon to your wallet to get the items you need. I found plenty of joy seeing my enemies grouped together, and then throwing out a Wrath of El Dorado item to wipe them out and flip the battle to our favor. The different items can prove invaluable if you utilize them correctly, and the somewhat tactical aspect it adds to the game is welcomed.
The game also offers a solid variety of different modes to enjoy: Team Deathmatch, which is pretty explanatory at this point, Command, a zone capture game type, and Plunder, a capture-the-flag mode where you must bring an idol back to your base. There is also a Ranked Team Deathmatch, for players to truly want to test their abilities against the best of the best. If you find you need a little practice, you can also jump into the Trials option, which gives you certain challenges to complete, such as killing enemies with grenades, reviving members, and earning kills with certain weapons, and lets you get used to certain aspects of the combat within the multiplayer space, which is nice for players who run into a wall against some of the more challenging opponents online. The different game types offer a nice change of pace during the fighting, but a few extra modes would have been nice, although the fact that we got the entire single-player narrative plus a nice multiplayer section shouldn't break too many gamers' hearts. There are plenty of multiplayer focused games out there, and this offering is just icing on the cake for Uncharted fans.
greatness from small beginnings
I have been eagerly anticipating playing Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, even knowing it would be the last Nathan Drake adventure for the foreseeable future. It feels bittersweet to say goodbye to Nathan and his exploits, but I am thrilled to see Uncharted go out on this high note. Everything from the single-player campaign was exactly what I wanted and expected from an Uncharted adventure, from the calm exploration set pieces, to the action-packed, run and gun segments, and it was good to see Nathan's story come to a thrilling and satisfying conclusion. Even the multiplayer portion of the game was a welcome surprise to me, and a nice addition to an already stellar game. A few mechanics, such as the underutilization of the rope gameplay during fights, and some of the loading during multiplayer setup, were some bumps in the road for me, but they are few and far between throughout the entire package, and they do extremely little to hamper the full experience of the game. The fact that I played a great deal of the game and only had those things to nitpick about should be telling to how excellent this title is. One of Nathan's motto's, "Greatness, from small beginnings", fits the mold perfectly for his last adventure, and anyone who misses out on the game is doing themselves a great disservice. If you are an Uncharted fan in any aspect, or even a PlayStation 4 owner, then this game should not be missed for any reason, and in my opinion, is a must-own title to keep on your shelf.
- Rope mechanics underutilized
- Some loading in multiplayer
- Gorgeous characters and environments
- Compelling story
- Excellent attention to detail
- Great, fluid combat
- Interesting and elaborate puzzles