Greatness from small beginnings.
When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune first appeared on the PlayStation 3, it was praised for its cinematic gameplay and charming cast of characters. It went on to sell over one million copies within the first ten weeks, marking a massive success for this new IP. The sequels saw success as well and took gamers on journeys across the globe playing as the series protagonist Nathan Drake, in Uncharteds 2 and 3. Now, Uncharted 4: A Theif’s End has arrived to take us on one last adventure as Nathan Drake. Naughty Dog is known for their tense and gripping story-telling and incredible visual design, as clearly indicated in their previous hit, The Last of Us. Uncharted 4 has seen multiple delays, shifting of writers, and speculation of the title’s quality. Is this a fitting end for Nathan Drake?
It is honestly difficult to discuss the story of Uncharted 4 without delving into spoilers. Trust me when I say that this is definitely a game you do not want spoiled. So let’s stick with what we have seen from the trailers and press releases.
Uncharted 4 takes place a few years after the events of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Nathan Drake is trying to live a normal life working as a marine salvage worker while his wife, Elena, is writing about her worldwide travels and the scenery she encounters. The game spends ample time setting this up and getting us accustomed to life after Uncharted 3 for Nathan Drake. Some would criticize this slow story-telling as a flaw but I appreciated the extra time with the characters. This allowed for some great insight into how Nathan misses the adventurous lifestyle in a charming segment involving a pop-gun and hanging targets.
Shortly after this segment of the game, we’re introduced to Nathan’s brother, Sam Drake. Sam serves as the catalyst in getting Nathan back into the dangerous yet exhilarating lifestyle of treasure hunting. With knowledge of the treasure of infamous pirate Captain Henry Avery, it is up to Nathan, Sam, and Sully to locate the pirate treasure and save Sam’s life. I found Sam to be an interesting addition to the story, although I’m not too sure how necessary he is to the story. I can envision a few ways that the story could have unfolded without him. However, Sam’s presence and role in the story is not a bad thing at all. In many ways, he serves as a reminder of who Nathan used to be and acts as a sort of tether to that old lifestyle. This dynamic has a massive role in the over-arching narrative.
To go any further is to delve into spoiler territory, which we won’t do in this review. For spoiler discussion, check out Episode 65 of The Reformed Gamers podcast.
What I will say is that Naughty Dog has woven together a mesmerizing tale that is sure to captivate you just as much as, if not more than, The Last of Us does. The story deals with themes such as obsession, deception, lost treasure, intense moments, and a few surprising notes are pro-marriage. I wish I could delve into these themes and how they play out but believe me when I say that this is a story that you will want to experience for yourself.
With all of the original cast reprising their roles for Nathan Drake (Nolan North), Sully (Richard McGonagle), and Elena (Emily Fisher), and with the addition of Sam (Troy Baker), the voice talent is truly perfected in Uncharted 4. One of my complaints about prior Uncharted titles is that I personally did not think we got enough time with the characters with regard to relationship building and playing out of their reactions to situations. When Uncharted 3 began touching on this, it immediately became my more favored installment.
Uncharted 4, however, is dripping with emotion and some fantastic moments where the voice actors really draw you into the story. In a lot of ways, they help breathe life into the narrative but also add a sense of realism as we see scenes with Nathan and Elena having a heartfelt conversation on the couch or heated arguments between characters. In all honesty, the pedigree of acting talent that is present in this game rivals that of blockbuster films in theaters. (Side-Note: Uncharted 4 does include coarse language such as swearing, taking the Lord’s name in vain, and some innuendos. While some of these elements did not bother me, personally, as they fit in with some of the scenarios, it’s understandable that others might be immediately turned off.)
The soundtrack lends itself well to the game and it’s various set-pieces, as well. Produced by Henry Jackman, the same Henry Jackman responsible for the stellar Captain America: Civil War soundtrack, the music captures the essence of Uncharted while making it his own. From somber, reflective melodies to pulse-pounding, energetic drums, the music adds another layer of goodness to Uncharted 4. I do not normally buy soundtracks to video games but this is one I had to own.
Something else that Naughty Dog does really well is to make good use of the hardware available to them. It’s hard to tell if the PS4 is being pushed to its max limits, but what Naughty Dog did with the hardware in the PS4 is truly a sight to behold. Facial animations give a life-like presentation as the characters interact with one another. There’s a conversation very early in the game between Nathan and Elena that is mesmerizing to watch. I distinctly remember a moment where a subtle crease formed in Elena’s brow and her eyes narrowed that caught me off-guard while hinting at how the rest of the game was going to look with regard to character models.
The environments are truly stunning as well. From the plains of Madagascar to the mysterious Libertalia, each new set-piece is a sight to behold. I found myself enabling Photo Mode every single time I started the game because I wanted to capture so many moments and locales within the game. As a matter of fact, every screenshot in this review was captured during my playthrough. It’s almost as if Naughty Dog knew the spectacle they were creating and wanted to give the player a means of capturing, and editing, some truly remarkable moments from the game. Photo Mode gives you plenty of tools to work with ranging from Filters to Vignettes to even hiding characters so you can capture different scenes you’ll visit in the game. These screenshots may look good here on your screen but it is completely different when compared to seeing it for yourself in action. I must commend Naughty Dog on crafting such a detailed piece of art and look forward to what they do in the future on this new hardware.
Now if you’ve played the previous Uncharted titles (which I highly recommend you do before playing Uncharted 4), the gameplay is not all that much different here. It’s the standard cover-shooter that the series is known for, complete with moments of platforming. New to the series is the rock-climbing spike (piton) that is used to scale up porous walls. This is clearly a copy of the recent Tomb Raider titles, mirroring Lara’s pickaxe. It seemed out of place at first but slowly became a natural part of the game, even though it is slightly unnecessary.
Another addition is the rope and grappling hook. This rope allows you to swing across chasms, buildings, and get the drop on enemies. I really enjoyed this new addition as it added variety, and verticality, to the Uncharted gunfights. There were times I found myself running for cover with a swing-point in front of me that aided my escape and allowed me to take down an unsuspecting enemy who was on the plateau I was swinging towards. There’s a way to use it for a stealth approach as well but I’ll leave that to you to learn.
The puzzles this time around, though scarce, are fun and require more effort to solve. There’s one in particular that utilizes various symbols and your notebook that you use together to determine which pieces go where. Another involves a clock tower and timing. Again, I don’t want to give too much away. Just know that the puzzles may challenge you but they reveal some fun locales.
Apart from that, the gameplay is very much the same of past games, which is not bad. However, I will add that this is the most polished, and refined, version of Uncharted gameplay with movement never once feeling like a slippery mess as in previous titles. The controls are precise and responsive, which makes it an even more enjoyable experience, albeit an all-too-familiar one.
This is one part of the game that I honestly thought would be a bland, tacked-on portion, much like how the multiplayer in Tomb Raider was. And to a degree, it is.
Game types range from Team Deathmatch, Command (a control three zones/Domination style game type), Plunder (Capture the Flag), and Ranked Team Deathmatch. You can outfit your character with various weaponry in different loadouts, swap out grenades for health packs, and equip Relics that allow for zone control or team support and healing. I was honestly surprised at the depth of the loadouts and the level of customization. Using a mechanic similar to Call of Duty‘s “Pick-10”, each weapon and item has a specific SP amount that you have to take into account when building a loadout, as you only have a set amount to work with. This pushes you to make multiple loadouts that fit different situations and game types.
When in game, it runs surprisingly well, for the most part. When playing with friends, we would experience odd bugs ranging from a friend being booted from the game to menu items becoming unresponsive. This can get quite annoying if the bugs decide to act up in your game. It’s a shame, too, because when it works it plays just as smooth as the main game and deftly incorporates elements of the campaign into a multiplayer setting.
Unfortunately, while the multiplayer is a fun sidetrack to the main game, I personally do not see it retaining a thriving player base for very long. Sure, there are some wacky items to dress the characters up with and truly hilarious emotes to taunt opponents with, but it seems lacking with only three main game types. I fall between wishing it wasn’t present in the game to wanting more game types. Only time will tell if this part of Uncharted 4 thrives. It will ultimately depend on how Naughty Dog supports it in the coming months. However, with heavy-hitters like Overwatch, it’s hard to see this one lasting.
Despite the lackluster multiplayer, Uncharted 4 is truly a masterpiece. What Naughty Dog has achieved with this title is something that is truly a marvel. Uncharted 4 is Playstation 4’s “killer-app” and a must-own for all PS4 owners. I was worried how they would end Nathan Drake’s story, but if The Last of Us was any indication, they know how to write an amazing story, complete with solid, fun gameplay.
I give Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End a 4.5 out of 5.