Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, developed by Naughty Dog, is an absolute masterclass in gameplay and storytelling. Once again the studio that brought us the 3 previously stellar ‘Uncharted’ games and also the incredible game, ‘The Last of Us’ – have gone and ended their quadrilogy in a close to flawless manner. Now I say close to flawless because with everything, there are slight bumps in the road. So let’s rappel down into the vast cave that is Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and see what wonders it has to offer.
The story this time round begins with Nate – voiced of course by Nolan North – in a more comfortable point in his life. Behind him is the treasure hunting and the countless mercenaries – instead he now has his 9 to 5 job and a normal everyday life with Elena – voiced by Emily Rose. But you already know that things aren’t going to stay simple. Nate’s older brother Sam – voiced by Troy Baker – turns up after 15 years of not being around and asks his little brother for help in retrieving the lost treasure of Henry Avery. The two embark on a journey to recover the treasure and save Sam from some nefarious people. And as you’d expect, a lot of shootouts, wall-scaling and witty banter takes place throughout.
The interesting thing about Uncharted 4 is how it both feels like an ‘Uncharted’ game and at the same time something new and different. The beginning of the game starts off with the as always attention grabbing action set-piece, but then slows things down for a while and takes its time to let characters and the story settle in and find their place. It’ll be interesting to see how people react to the opening of Uncharted 4. There is a substantial amount of time until you get to fire your first gun and it’s also quite some time until the actual opening credits play. This is in part what I mean about a different feeling ‘Uncharted’ game. The first few hours of this game might be a turn off for some, as action takes a back seat while the game puts storytelling and character relationships and developments first. It did produce one glaring issue though, and that is that a lot of the early points in the game are front-loaded with button-prompt sections. This is how you interact with things in the beginning and is does get a little tedious after a while
That being said, I was in from the very beginning. I trust ‘Naughty Dog’ and I know the kind of calibre of game they are going to give. There are definitely elements from ‘The Last of Us’ that have made their way into this game – pretty much all the good stuff. Even the more action packed moments of the game feel handled differently. Now the relieving part about all of this, is how well it is done. Though this game feels different at first, and you may not completely be settled into the rhythm of things for a little while – it all comes together – and in the most glorious of ways.
It’s also bold how they bring you into this game. This is an ‘Uncharted’ game; there are certain expectations of how things are going to play out – not this time around. I think the moment that stood out to me pretty early on was being in Nate’s house. Starting in the loft, with all Nate’s trinkets and memories from past adventures (games), and then making your way down, looking at the pictures on the wall, hearing the hum of dryer in the background, and then heading down stairs and settling into have dinner with Elena – not before grabbing a beer first of course. This segment told me so much of what I could expect from this game. This wasn’t going to just be another globe-trotting adventure; this is going to be an ‘Uncharted’ game that gives you all angles of the experience. In the grand scheme of things, this moment in the game is small in comparison to some of the other, much crazier things you’ll be getting up to; it just for me said so much, with so very little.
I feel with this review I’m going to be jumping around quite a bit between the various gameplay moments and the story/character moments – and sometimes they’ll even intersect one another. So I’m going to jump over and answer an important question “How’s the gameplay?” Well… it’s ‘Naughty Dog’ and its ‘Naughty Dog’ doing an ‘Uncharted’ game, so what do you think? In all seriousness though, the gameplay is perhaps the most refined it has ever been.
So let’s break down the various things that make up an ‘Uncharted’ game and see what this gets right and maybe not so right. First off the combat: the combat in the game feels a lot more manageable this time round. You have your usual assortment of weapons, nothing new or unexpected on that front. Find the guns that work for you and fire away. Aiming feels a lot easier and I didn’t feel like I was struggling to hit my target (which is always nice). Perhaps the biggest change this time round is how you choose to tackle a swarm of mercenaries. You have the option to play things stealthier this time round. There are many areas you can hide in and sneakily dispatch enemies from. I found myself going for the stealth option quite often – dispatching an entire troop of guys and having them never know I was there is really satisfying. But you can of course do it the old-fashioned way and just shoot anything that lives until you’re all that’s left. The only issue I came up against was the clunky cover-system. Sometimes Nate would stick to the cover that I needed him too, and other times I’d end up in the middle of all the shooting (those moments usually ended badly when my mortality was concerned). Despite being betrayed by the cover-system every so often, I still had a lot of fun and really enjoyed the challenges that they presented (verticality is the key).
Outside of your homicidal tendencies there is of course the adventuring; scaling cliffs, finding remnants of long forgotten civilisations and all with great ease. The climbing and the free-running in the game are much less fidgety. I didn’t feel like I was struggling to find the right ledge, nor did I ever feel lost. I always felt in control of where I was going and how I was getting there. There is also the introduction of the grappling hook. It can either be used to pull you out of a quickly crumbling structure or it can also be utilised to swing in and surprise an enemy from above. At first I was worried that the grappling hook would be cumbersome to use but after my first go around with it I was pretty confident in my handling of it – save for a few times where I wasn’t concentrating and I would watch myself tumble-down a nasty looking rock-face, but hey, that’s all on me. The other aspect of exploring old ruins are the puzzles you’ll face, and I’m glad to say that Uncharted 4 delivers puzzles that are much less infuriating and much more enjoyable to solve. The actual adventuring in the game is much smoother and also a much more enjoyable activity to do.
But I want to transition back to the story in ‘Uncharted’ just now because I haven’t dived into that properly yet, and boy is there some goodness to talk about. Uncharted 4 is a double hitter in terms of story. At the forefront you have the story of Nate and Sam. Perhaps one of the most impressive things about this story is how the game is able to set up, develop and ultimately invest you in a story and the relationship of these two brothers in the span of one game. We’ve had 3 ‘Uncharted’ games where we didn’t know about Sam (I mean technically he didn’t exist) and yet somehow in this game they make it feel like he’s always been there; his absence even makes sense in the overall quadrilogy – side bar, I find the word ‘quadrilogy’ to me really obnoxious; side bar over. So over the span of the game I became more and more invested in the journey of Sam and Nate. Their bantering back and forth, the support that they give one another during the various crazy things they do, all of it felt like it had been this way forever.
So while you have the brother relationship headlining the game, you of course also have the other element to the story and that’s the treasure hunting. I think Uncharted 4 might deliver the most in-depth and increasingly more interesting treasure hunting story yet. At first I looked upon the hunt for Henry Avery’s treasure as another by the numbers adventure, but as we got deeper into the world of this ambitious pirate and his associates, I became more and more intrigued by it all. Over the course of the game we are slowly fed more information – through various means; collectibles and old ruins etc – all which feed into revealing just what became of Avery and his pirating ways. I became just as engrossed in this part of the story as I did with the one between Nate and Sam. Both these points of the story find their spot within the game and are balanced out really well with each other.
Now of course this isn’t just a game with Nate and Sam and how the two of them are doing. There are a whole host of other characters to interact with on your adventure. Elena is who stands out immediately. I at first was concerned that she would take a back seat and in her place would go Sam, but thankfully that isn’t the case. Elena more than gets her time to shine, and shine she does. The relationship between her and Nate has evolved significantly and the moments between them overshadow everything else (in a good way, I promise) in how emotionally poignant they are. You get to relive the old days with her but at the same time things are a little different and it’s that difference that elevates the moments that Elena and Nate share.
There is also the return of the always dependable Sully and while it’s always a great joy to have Sully around, he does end up taking a back seat for Sam. Don’t get me wrong, you still get to wise-crack with him and dispatch with some nuisance mercenaries, but there is a sizeable Sully shaped hole in large portions of the game, and sometimes you just need a witty, moustache clad, cigar smoking S.O.B. around.
Perhaps the only part that never reaches its full potential in Uncharted 4’s story/characters is its antagonists. Rafe – voiced by Warren Kole – and Nadine – voiced by Laura Bailey – are really interesting villains to go up against, and the times that they are around are always tense and exciting (you know? In a please don’t blow me up kind of exciting). But unfortunately there isn’t enough of them; there is so much for Uncharted 4 to juggle, that the antagonists of the game end up falling to the wayside quite often. There would be lengthy portions of the game where they would be nowhere to be seen, and in their place would be their goons who were just asking to be taken out. It’s a shame because anytime they do appear they are great. There is certainly a different kind of depth to them when compared to previous ‘Uncharted’ villains and their motivations work so well in the structure of the story. But there are so many other characters who need to be given their time, and then there’s also the dual stories, and then of course there are all the parts where… you know? Have to play the game and shoot the gun. All of it means that your main antagonists are exciting up-close and threatening from a far; and far they are.
So I was saying earlier in this review how this felt like a different kind of ‘Uncharted’ game while still having that familiarity. What I think highlights that best is the games allocation of time. This is an ‘Uncharted’ game that doesn’t feel the need to constantly be throwing enemies at you. This is also a game that slows down every so often and takes it time to let you explore some abandoned tomb, filled with all sorts of medieval delights. This is also a game that isn’t afraid to have one or two cutscenes (there’s a lot). Here’s the not so crazy part, I loved it. I loved being able to just explore the incredible abandoned structures. I loved when the game would pull me into another cutscene, because I knew that I was going to get to watch another brilliantly written, brilliantly performed, beautiful looking (we’ll get to the visuals in a moment because woah!) cutscene in which more of the engrossing story or meaningful character interaction was going to be delivered to me. And then when it was time, I would then get to unleash holy hell on a bunch of unsuspecting mercenaries who were in the way of my next objective. Some people may struggle with this ‘Uncharted’ not being on the go all the time, but for me, it was exactly the pace that I wanted it to be.
Now back to those visuals because goddamn. This game is b-e-a-utiful. I usually find myself becoming desensitised to beautiful looking games after a while; the effect wares off and I don’t notice it after a while. That isn’t the case with Uncharted 4, it’s not possible. This game was constantly reminding me and wowing me at just how gorgeous it is. I even found myself using the in-game ‘photo-mode’ to take screenshots of the game (I have quite a few). Every new location would wow me and I could never get over just how incredible the character models looked. I’m a person who will focus in on the eyes and usually with videogames the eyes are where you can tell there is no life. Not with Uncharted 4, nope. The light in the eyes, the slight movement of an eyebrow, the range of expression on the face; this is a game that just grabs the full attention of your visual sense and demands you never look away (and I didn’t).
This game is also a marvel in the technical sense. There are feats that are pulled off in this game that now raise the bar for everyone else. From car chases, to close call escapes and gun battles with a vertical twist; Uncharted 4 keeps pushing the bar higher and I just kept enjoying every new experience it delivered.
I think you can tell by this point that I loved this game. Sure, it may seem like I’m crawling a little too far up its rear-end, but I don’t care. Uncharted 4 is one of my favourite gaming experiences in quite some time. I could probably keep going on about all the varying aspects of this game but by now I think I’ve made my point. I want to close out by saying that the way this game wraps-up is poignant, memorable and overall a truly joyous adventure.
Shockingly, I will be recommending Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Just play this game, and if you’ve never played an ‘Uncharted’ game, then play the first 3, love every moment of them, and then play this one and see this brilliant franchise out on a high-note.
I’d love to know your thoughts on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End or this review? So drop me a comment down below if you so desire. If you’d like to keep up-to-date with the rest of my ramblings, you could either follow this blog directly, or follow me over on Twitter – @GavinsTurtle. And so with that I say thank you for reading this and have a great end to your week.