Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – Stealing the Show

I’ve been vocal about my love of the Uncharted series in the past. My review of Uncharted 3 was overwhelmingly positive, I recently revealed that both Uncharted 2 and 3 made my ‘Shadow’s Sixty‘ list, and Uncharted 4 was unquestionably one of the games I was the most excited for this year.

The real question was simple: How long could they keep a good thing going before it inevitably succumbed to the problems almost all serialized games fall prey to? It seems as though Naughty Dog themselves recognized this as well and decided that they needed to end on a good note… so they created Uncharted 4 to be Nathan Drake’s final hoorah. A wise decision, but was it a timely one, or were they already too late?

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Lands Old Yet New

Uncharted 4 takes you to numerous places around the world on the hunt for pirate gold! The story revolves heavily around Sam Drake, Nathan’s brother who was presumed dead for years, and his long-time obsession with the lost fortune of legendary pirate Captain Henry Every, written as Avery in Uncharted 4.

This adventure spans the globe, visiting vast grasslands, mountains of various heights, and even underwater. You’ll even cross time… after a fashion. You see, while this game is advertised as providing Nathan Drake’s finale, it does an even better job of giving insight into his origin. You’ll explore past scenes and uncover the events that led young Nate into adventure and discovery and gave him the passion for exploring that he has become known for. Between the past misadventures and globetrotting, you get to see such a wide array of terrain, structures, and puzzles. It’s fantastic, all in all.

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There are only two major complaints I have regarding the exploration. First, and most notably, the developers seemed really aware of how pretty the game was. Not that they weren’t right. It looked so incredible that there were frequently moments where I just stopped and let out a brief ‘wow…’. In fact, it was so pretty that even the characters recognized it, echoing the sentiment right alongside me… It’s just a bit of a pity that the developers were so aware of how pretty it was. They went out of their way to give you vast open areas with essentially nothing in them just so you could have space to explore. But there’s nothing much to do in them. The occasional relic, and a ton of empty space.

Yes, it made sense that the places you went to would be wide open spaces… but sometimes game design has to trump logic. This would’ve been a good time for that to happen. This also leads into the second complaint, the car scenes. Along with these massive environments the game gives you cars that are essentially required to traverse these areas. Now, vehicles are not new to Uncharted, but they’ve never felt overdone until this game. We’re not talking gamebreaking issues here, of course… but this is the first game in the series where the environments have felt like a burden.

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Aside from that though, traversal was as good as always. They did a great job on the climbing and running, as you’d expect, and there are plenty of regions to explore which don’t always feel linear, even though they often end up being linear. It was nice to have a lot of side paths to explore, and even nicer that they didn’t always predictably lead to treasure… although I do wish they were a bit more consistent in whether they wanted the side treasures to be visible or not. It seemed like they couldn’t make up their mind… as some of them had the glowing outline, while others didn’t.

Growth and Reflection

The game brings back most of the series’ main characters, in some form or another, and does a great job of bringing them to life. For example, I spent a good half of the game feeling really bad for Elena – although I won’t spoil why. You don’t feel bad for characters unless there’s an attachment and this game’s cast did a fantastic job of reviving that attachment quickly. They also managed to show a level of growth in Nathan Drake that was… unexpected, shall we say, from the ‘action movie’ game that Uncharted typically is. Unexpected, but certainly not unwelcome. It was great to see experience and just a bit of maturity carved into his personality, but with him still retaining some of that childlike love of discovery that is his signature trait.

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The other big character that I want to talk about is Sam. Sam was extremely important in this game, not just because he was the catalyst of it, but also because he served as a foil to show the growth in Nate’s character. Sam was the voice of Nathan’s past self coming back to try to drag him in head first which served to create an amazing character drama amidst this action piece. The first three games were essentially action movies… A Thief’s End was the first in the series that added something new to that mix. Almost a coming of age story, albeit with 30-something year old characters. It was, arguably, my favourite part of this game and it was great to see such growth in a game of this genre.

Smart Shooting

Let’s be honest here… we all know what I’m going to say here. The gameplay is as good as you expect. Aiming is responsive and accurate and I was so bad at it that I almost disgraced the coders who worked so hard to make it work well. But I can’t fault the system, it was just me being awful. The one thing that was rather annoying, with regards to the shooting anyways, the AI was a bit too smart. Even if I shot someone with a sniper rifle from a mile away, everyone immediately knew exactly where I was and that it had happened. Regardless of whether any other enemies was anywhere near the guy I shot. That’s the point of sniper rifles, people. So you can shoot without anyone knowing where it’s coming from and preferably without people knowing it had happened!

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On the flipside, this game suffered from something I like to call ‘Asshole Enemy Syndrome’. We came up with a theory that many of the enemies were just really big assholes, pardon my language. This was the only way we could explain the fact that when you stealth killed someone in certain ways, people who were watching it happen would just ignore the fact that it happened. We figured that these guys were just such big jerks that even their allies were willing to overlook their deaths out of convenience, as long as they could feasibly say ‘well it just looked like he jumped off the cliff’ or ‘he went to lie in the bushes and never came out… I didn’t want to report him for sloth’ or something along those lines. It was the only thing that made sense.

Final Thoughts

Uncharted 4 offers a slightly more robust, yet ultimately very similar, multiplayer offering to that of the previous title in the series. The multiplayer is pretty standard for what you’d expect of a competitive shooter, except third person and not quite as well balanced. It has some flaws, but it’s more arcade-style than anything so as long as its fun its all good. In the end, I see this being, for most people, a short-lived but fun diversion. It’s not going to sell the game to anyone, I don’t see it becoming popular long-term, but it is a great way to add a bit of extra value to the game.

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Last, but not least, the game’s soundtrack was fantastic. There were several tracks that I wish I could’ve had playing for longer and very few tracks that weren’t perfectly suited to their situations. Much kudos to the sound design team for doing such a great job here.

Overall

Uncharted 4 was the ending Nathan Drake deserved. It does a great job of giving him one last hoorah while also allowing him to go out in style. In a lot of ways, it’s sad to see such an esteemed franchise reach its conclusion… but at the same time, it’s great to see a company have the guts to call it quits on such a big moneymaker, cutting it while it was still ahead… before it became stale. Uncharted 4 will certainly be a contender on many ‘game of the year’ lists, as what minor flaws it has do little to take away from the stellar quality of the game.

Farewell, Nathan Drake, we will miss you.

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