Adventurer Nathan Drake is back for one last time in the supposedly last game of one of Playstation's greatest franchises - Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.
With top notch developer Naughty Dog at the helm once again, expectations for this last adventure are arguably very high. With ridiculously beautiful graphics and great voice work being pretty much a given by now, the question really is whether the last tale about Nathan Drake and his now introduced brother Sam is actually a story worth experiencing. On top of that, does Naughty Dog still manage to breathe some new life into the classic Uncharted gameplay formula?
Does Nathan Drake's last adventure go out with a bang or a mere wimp of disappointment?...
Set several years following the conclusion of Drake's Deception, A Thief's End follows Drake as he reunites with his long lost brother, Sam, and seeks to save him from a ruthless tyrant by finding Captain Henry Avery's legendary fabled pirate treasure.
Instead of focussing on a straightforward treasure hunt for some ancient relic which ends up in a supernatural twist (as it was the case for Uncharted 1-3), Uncharted 4: A Thief's End's story for a change feels far more grounded than fans of the series are used to. Sure enough a hunt for a long lost treasure still is involved in the story, yet this time, the treasure itself is not what the story is mainly about.
Introducing Samuel Drake, older brother of protagonist Nathan Drake, the relationship and very different lives of the two brothers are what make Uncharted 4 a very personal tale, and on top of that, a tale that is handeled and told much better than Uncharted 3, considering that both more or less had the same themes.
Naughty Dog definitely learned from their shortcomings present in Uncharted 3's story which boasted much of the same themes as in Uncharted 4 but incorporated them far less effectively and put gameplay dominantly over more refined and competent storytelling.
With Uncharted 4 however, very much the opposite seems the case, whereas the gameplay mainly feels like a necessary and well utilized tool to move the story forward as well as establish characters' relationships to each other.
|Uncharted 4's story is far more personal and grounded for a change.|
In other words, Uncharted 4 makes great use of many flashback- and present day levels in its story, which greatly incorporate co-op gameplay with an A.I. controlled partner. Not only are your partners this time around surprisingly competent in lending you a hand in puzzles as well as gunfights, but it's the conversations throughout the levels and most notably the lengthy cutscenes in the game that really give the motivations and characters depth and personality for the player to actually care about them. And even though the optional dialogue paths occasionally scattered throughout the game are a nice touch but ultimately don't add anything substantial to the game, the dialogue itself is once again very confidentally and well written as one should expect from Naughty Dog.
And if there's anything negative that truely can be said about Uncharted's story, it's maybe that it's main antagonist could've needed a bit more personality or time to get developed (and maybe a more challenging boss fight). It's not as lackluster as Uncharted 3's aimless villains, yet considering the big focus on Sam and Nate, the antagonist arguably comes off a bit short - especially regarding his potential.
But anyway, those are all mere naggings on Uncharted 4's story which overall should definitely satisfy longtime fans of the series. Uncharted 4 is a fittingly very personal and family-themed ending to Nathan's story that despite it's heavy focus on emotional themes never forgets to also boast enough jaw-dropping action set-pieces to avoid it becoming a brooding borefest.
And finally, to take away some worries from fans, Uncharted 4's ending should DEFINITELY satisfy fans. It might not exactly be anything groundbreaking, but it sure as hell is nowhere near as "polarising" as developer Naughty Dog announced it to be.
|Don't worry. Insane action set-pieces are still there - and they are awesome!|
Level Design & Climbing Mechanics - "New Ways to Explore"
As one would expect, Uncharted 4 features mostly the exact same gameplay mechanics and mix between explorative climbing portions as well as gunfights with loads of enemies that the series slowly but confidentally pretty much perfected over the years.
And considering that not all too much has changed in that regard, it's refreshing to see that Naughty Dog nevertheless found ways to make this old sounding formula feel somewhat fresh again. Not necessarily through new weapons or enemies, but rather through intelligent level design and new climbing mechanics.
What instantly will be obvious from Uncharted 4 are two main things:
1. that its climbing and exploring portions are notably far more prominent than its combat portions, and 2. that most areas in the game are far bigger and give far more room for exploration.
While it might don't appeal to everyone, Uncharted 4 drastically shifts its balance between climbing and gunplay very much to the side of the platforming and climbing sections. With that said, it wouldn't be exaggerated to say that about 60-70% of Uncharted 4's gameplay consists out of climbing and puzzle solving with combat sections being way more scarce and more carefully placed this time around.
|Expect a much bigger emphasis on platforming and exploration.|
However, those worried that Uncharted 4 resultingly devolves into a platforming bore don't need to worry, since Naughty Dog luckily put two new climbing tools into the game that make climbing, exploring AND fighting very different by giving you much more options to navigate the much bigger and mostly multi-layered terrain.
Thus, platforming and climbing in Uncharted 4 takes much more thinking than in previous games. Now, thanks to the much more open and less straightforward designed levels, one often has to stop and actually observe one's surroundings and areas to spot the next vantage points to get to your goal. Additionally, this leads to searching for collectibles being far more rewarding and engaging this time around, since you oftentimes have to find and climb very different paths to a collectible to get to it.
But all of this is of course not only thanks to the larger areas but also in particular thanks to Nate's new rope hook which is awesomely utilized in climbing, fighting and puzzle sections, making it the perfect multi-use tool. You can use it to pull things, swing over great distances, climb things up and even use it to get your vehicle to difficult places during one of Uncharted 4's multiple open world-style driving levels. And handling all your gadgets during all of the game's sections really quickly becomes second nature to the player thanks to some great tutorial levels.
|You will quickly fall in love with the new rope hook.|
Combat Mechanics - "New Ways to Fight"
But not only platforming and exploring has changed in Uncharted 4, but so has the combat - for the better.
Aside from enemies being surprising more ruthless and smart than in previous installments, Uncharted 4 once more shows during its combat sections that Naughty Dog has further tried to perfect the game's formula.
Despite combat sections in the entire game being notably way less prominent than in the other Uncharted games, the gunfights in Uncharted 4 feel far more carefully placed and well thought out.
Starting off with a major improvement, Uncharted 4 finally introduces stealth mechanics that actually work. Now, stealth becomes a powerful and smart option to take out large enemy groups without risking and all out attack from all sides on you. Sneaking in tall grass, diving underwater and navigating your environment via smart and quick platforming moves to avoid detection becomes vital for such an approach.
Speaking of navigating environments, don't expect any gunfight sections with tedious waves after waves of enemies in Uncharted 4 (as was the case for the fun yet imperfect first Uncharted game). Uncharted 4 on the other hand gives every single gunfight in the game a certain new twist thanks to every fight taking place in vastly new locations with oftentimes vastly new conditions. From big open fights in a flooded ruins, over tight hallways in a cave, to frantic escape runs on a crumbling mountain top, the gunfights always put you into new situations that demand smart navigation of your surroundings.
Falling very well into place here is the game's aforementioned new rope hook which quickly lets you swing over large distances (if given a proper hook-on point) to maybe even let you knock out an opponent with a cool drop punch if aimed correctly.
If there's only one major thing about the combat that comes across as quite annoying, it's Naughty Dog's very puzzling decision to not include the grenade-throwback action previously introduced in Uncharted 3. Most probably this was done to give players a forceful reason to get moving across the battlefield, yet taking away a previously introduced feature to achieve this feels somewhat wrong and a bit cheap to be honest.
|Stealth actually becomes a very useful approach now.|
Uncharted 4 also comes with yet another competitive multiplayer suite to it in either 4v4 or 5v5 form. There you can embark onto four modes Team-Deathmatch, Plunder, Command and Ranked Team-Deathmatch.
While Team-Deathmatch is more or less just what you expect it to be, Command and Plunder stick out through their big emphasis on actual teamwork.
Command puts players into the position as to where they have to protect their captain from being killed by the opposite team, while respectively also having the goal to kill the opposing team's captain. It's a nice added version of the already known VIP-esque mode from other games.
Plunder is more or less the already known mode from previous Uncharteds where you have to carry an idol to your teammate while being viciously shot at.
While the four modes themselves are servicable, they don't really do too much new to appeal to a large new player audience that didn't already play the previous Uncharted multiplayers. Sure enough there are some fun hours to be had, yet the multiplayer once again obviously plays second fiddle to the game's far more fleshed out singleplayer portion.
What gives the multiplayer an additional edge though, is the map design that features multiple vantage points and even gives players the ability to use temporary superpowers like teleportation, further fueling the chaos on screen. It's all fun while it lasts but surely will once again only appeal to its already established small core fanbase. But for what it's worth, it's a nice little diversion after beating the campaign and finding all collectibles there.
|For what it's worth, the multiplayer is once again a nice little diversion.|
Does this really need any explanation? Just look at some gameplay footage and it instantly becomes clear that this is and probably will remain one of the most beautiful PS4 games released.
Naughty Dog always set new standards for each Playstation console when it came to the graphical expertise, and Uncharted 4 expectedly is no different.
Every character in the game received a major overhaul in terms of details making them feel utterly more realistic from movements to facial expressions and sheer looks. Furthermore, the environments in Uncharted 4 simply look stunning and fantastic. Uncharted 4 takes full advantage of its several different locations and justifiedly features multiple awe-striking moments where players will simply just sit there and take it all in - realizing that oftentimes not even real life looks as awesome as some of the places and vistas shown in this game. Just play it, and see for yourself.
Nolan North and the rest of the old voice cast are luckily all returning for Uncharted 4 and are once again as great as ever.
Additionally aided by the trademark quality dialogue and witty humor fans come to expect from Nathan Drake and his friends, Uncharted 4 should leave no wishes ungranted in the sound aspect.
Also, the seemingly omni-present Troy Baker is of course very good as Nathan's brother Sam, whereas the voice resemblence of the two brothers is a nice feature to add to the realism (although they occasionally even sound a bit TOO similar...but whatever).
Fans expecting the classic Uncharted theme though will be probably left a bit disappointed. Though it actually is featured in the game, it's a far slower piano version of the theme, which indeed fits in with theme of Nathan's last very personal adventure, yet at least hearing the original Uncharted theme kick in at least once in full force during an action set-piece would've been awesome.
|Is this real life?|
All in all, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is a worthy and fitting ending to a great and near perfect videogame franchise, that will most definitely satisfy longtime fans and will prove that Naughty Dog still managed to add some great novelties to the franchise's long running formula.
While Uncharted 4's story still might not topple Uncharted 2 from being the best in the franchise, Uncharted 4 nevertheless manages to impress with a far more grounded and more personal story between Nate and his brother, tackling the theme of whether treasure and adventure is worth risking a normal life with your loved ones for. Sure enough, the original Uncharted formula incorporating various action heavy set-pieces, puzzles and humor is still fully intact, yet with character relationships at its core, Naughty Dog chose an emotional and fitting last adventure for Drake to end the franchise on.
Gameplaywise, Uncharted 4 is surprisingly way more reliant on its platforming sections than its all out action combat sections. While some fans will most probably still somewhat miss the more balanced pacing between platforming and gunfights from previous games, Uncharted 4 for the most part succesfully outweighs boredom during those calmer climbing sections by giving you much bigger areas and more tricky paths to explore in the levels. Either through clever climbing with the new rope hook or full-on driving via off road jeep, Uncharted 4 greatly encourages exploration in its story on multiple occasions. Yet gunfights in the game also have their rightful time to shine, with each and every gunfight in the game greatly utilizing the levels multi-layered environments to make each battle memorable and keep you changing your approaches and strategies - making now even stealth a valuable approach in combat.
Once again, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is a great final adventure to end the franchise. While its heavy reliance on platforming might polarize some, there's no denying that from presentation to gameplay this is nevertheless yet again another highly entertaining and all around well put together game from developer Naughty Dog and a full-on satisfying experience. Every longtime fan of the franchise can safely purchase Uncharted 4 without any worries, while those interested should definitely play the Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection beforehand to get the most out of this great last chapter of this amazing franchise.
Final Verdict: 9 out of 10
Big thanks goes out to Sony Computer Entertainment and Harvard PR
for providing a review copy of the game.
Big thanks goes out to Sony Computer Entertainment and Harvard PR
for providing a review copy of the game.