Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the perfect swansong for Nathan Drake, concluding his storyline and that of the characters in the Uncharted universe with one last adventure.
After a plethora of successful games over the past several decades to its name, it almost feels inevitable that Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End would follow that same trend. As you play through the game, Uncharted 4 feels like the end of an era; fun gameplay mechanics with slight tweaks help advance the plot but feel all too familiar. The story is maturely written, managing to strike a perfect balance of humour and drama through this 15+ hour adventure, but never exceeds the lofty expectations this series has set for itself. The graphics are as good as anything seen in the series before, though, and although the story has a few wobbles with its pacing and delivery, Nathan Drake’s latest adventure is an incredibly fun game that manages to coolly meet those high expectations.
The story, much like Uncharted 3, leapfrogs between Nathan’s past and present exploits following the return of his brother whom he presumed dead. With Nate now retired, having hung up the treasure hunting boots for good, he’s torn between helping his brother Sam find a long lost treasure to avoid being killed by a crime lord or stay in his comfortable life with wife Elena. There’s an interesting rift here, with a clever dynamic between these three characters dominating a lot of the narrative through the well-written cutscenes. The voice acting and graphics during these segments are sublime; subtle animated expressions and tiny nuanced looks are incredibly well rendered and really show Naughty Dog are in a class of their own when it comes to these sorts of visuals.
Speaking of visuals, the decision to open up the world a little bit for Nate and include vehicles for the first time is a bold forward move for the series. It’s initially daunting and more than a little impressive; a vast African savannah stretches into the distance with the looming shadow of a volcano in the background during one of the more memorable vehicle segments. These areas are cleverly designed too, with a relatively straightforward path leading ever toward the destination. The graphical quality and draw distance help to build the illusion that you could veer off the beaten track and explore for miles. Of course, you’re not able to do this save for being greeted with a game over screen from a tumble off a cliff, but the illusion is enough to satisfy curiosity.
Although the vehicle segments do a good job of showing where you need to go next, the graphical improvements also have an unforeseen consequence with some of the climbing and navigation. For the first time in the series there are moments where it’s difficult to discern exactly where you need to go and which ledge to jump to because of how realistic everything looks. The added inclusion of a grappling hook helps break up some of the tedium of climbing up the endless cliffs and ravines that have become an iconic part of the series, but it also makes navigation all the more difficult. Several times it appears a jump is possible after swinging on the grappling hook only to find out it actually wasn’t. It’s not a deal breaker but some of the areas that require vertically passing earlier segments (e.g. climbing a building only to run across the roofs of the street you’ve just passed) does make it a little unclear of the exact route to take in doing so, sometimes resulting in backtracking and repeating segments if you miss one of these jumps. Thankfully these moments are few and far between and don’t detract too much from the overall experience of the game.
It’s ultimately all about the story this time around and it’s here that Uncharted delivers again, albeit building to a slightly weak conclusion to what’s otherwise a great game. It’s strange too, because for vast periods there’s a recurring motif about consequences for Nate’s actions. This crops up numerous times in the narrative and although it is explored in a bit of detail, it’s a little disappointing that this wasn’t fully considered. I can’t help but feel a death of a key character or even of Nate himself would have done wonders to solidify this recurring theme, but nothing really comes of it and the story ends with everything wrapped up in a neat Hollywood-esque bow.
The gameplay is largely unchanged from previous games, with a good array of climbing and shooting segments to break up the cinematic cutscenes throughout the game. Once again there’s a great array of locations used and the masterful colour and lighting of each of these make the levels dynamic and different enough to stave off monotony. There’s a few new gameplay mechanics introduced too, with a grappling hook and sliding down steep ravines dominating a lot of the climbing sections. These are used a little too much throughout the levels but the creative way they’re implemented makes it forgivable to some degree.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is not without its problems, but the ones that are here are tiny issues that never detract from the experience. It’s the perfect swansong for Nathan Drake, concluding his storyline and that of the characters inherent in the Uncharted universe for this one last adventure. Although the story’s conclusion lacks the oomph to knock it out of the park, Naughty Dog again delivers another outstanding gaming achievement. Uncharted 4 is a mature, well-developed game that’s a blast to play through. Complete with a fun multiplayer and plenty of fun trophies to snap up once the story draws to a close, there’s enough here to please even the most diehard of fans, solidifying Uncharted as the defining adventure series on Playstation 4.