Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End PS4 Review
In its narrative moments, the final Uncharted title – to my surprise – surpasses Naughty Dog’s own The Last of Us. Its ability to string together each interesting story beat in a believable manner, accompanied by cut-scenes that link those threads with masterful performances by the cast of actors, and its more grounded pirate tale all combine to deliver the most organic and powerful narrative I have experienced in the medium, barring slight criticism on how it all wraps up. This is the story of a once young and naïve fortune hunter who has now come to grips with the destructive nature of the life he once led. But that interim period leading a ‘normal’ life doesn’t last too long as the player is once against thrown into a tale spanning multiple locations around the globe in an attempt to solve a 300 year old pirate mystery, this time with big brother Samuel Drake.
A Thief’s End continues series tradition by telling a great character-driven story, but it is in its treasure hunting plot that it surprises and where it far surpasses previous titles as I occasionally found myself more interested with what happens next in the overarching story more than the next great character interaction. Uncharted 4 is a grown up and traveled tale as opposed to the boisterous and over the top nature of Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception. The Drake of yesteryear cracking jokes and not taking a moment to think about his next action is still there, but the now-aging legend is shifting his focus away from a life of plundering without regard, even as he yearns for adventures past.
Uncharted 4 not only benefited on lessons learned from Naughty Dog’s last title in the storytelling department, but it also employs the two-man gameplay nature found with Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us. There are no bricks to throw this time around, but your easy-going brother Sam offers help where it is needed, and is more than capable of taking out foes and coming to your rescue when an enemy has you in a headlock. This also seems to be the reason to employ a more tactical and open approach to level design as combat arenas are filled with tall grass to stealth through and vertical structures to get the jump on opponents as leaping towards them triggers an incredibly satisfying melee animation as Drake soars through the airs to knock a mercenary out and snatch their flying weapon out of the sky in one fell swoop. And that’s not the only satisfying feeling during combat as the newly introduced rope mechanic – that has a cool narrative explanation – has you swinging across canyons to the next platforming point and assaulting enemies from the sky with the ability to launch the rope in mid-air and pull off trailer-worthy cinematics with a well-timed button press.
Amongst it all, Uncharted 4 comes equipped with tight and responsive shooting mechanics that really make the player feel powerful when unloading a clip onto enemies. But you won’t go through many rounds as there isn’t nearly as much combat found in A Thief’s End compared to past titles as Naughty Dog have opted to throw in more puzzles and platforming sections along with slower exploration moments akin to The Last of Us, with notes lying around environments that give those who seek it out a more wholesome understanding of the story. But in its lack of combat comes the first of a few problems in that it severely effects the overall pacing of the moment to moment gameplay. While the narrative side delivers twists and revelations and a bounty of interesting story beats, the same cannot be said on the gameplay side as hours go by in the middle of the game with just a few dozen enemies popping up. This is where Uncharted 4 starts to lose its identity in what has defined the Uncharted titles of the Amy Hennig era. Even with their flaws, the last two Uncharted’s in particular have delivered epic sequences and kept the player on their toes when transitioning from all corners of the globe. Uncharted 4 could have cut out a lot of meaningless platforming to instead incorporate more firefights. One scene in particular midway through set up a perfect ‘open the door and begin to fight’ sequence that I’ve played through so often in the past, only to trigger more platforming and puzzle solving sections.
As Uncharted 4 opens up its play space, it doesn’t offer more to play. This is a game after all, and I constantly found myself wanting for another battle after consecutive sections without so much as a gunshot started to get frustrating. It is only compounded with the fact that its gunplay sections are so astutely designed, with stealth-lite mechanics like marking targets and hiding in tall grass – facilitating a plethora of creative ways to take down foes. The final third of the game addresses its pacing issues with a good blend of exploration, exposition, and explosions. But there is one thing throughout my 17 and a half hour journey that is never addressed, and that is a sore lack of set-pieces in A Thief’s End. In any other game, I would have hailed the action scenes in Uncharted 4 for the spectacles they are, but Naughty Dog’s own past hurts them in this case. Its grandest sequence is a formula present in both Uncharted 2 and 3. There is no train escapade. There is no capsizing ship. There is no plane on fire while you play as Drake in real-time navigating through the burning hull. And as Naughty Dog has opted to tell a more mature story, the climactic endings the series is known for are also missing. This may not be much of a deal to many, but being so invested in the series and expecting it to surpass its predecessors on PlayStation 4 hardware was something I never thought the developer would fail at. Of course the game looks gorgeous and is probably the most graphically intense title this generation, but expectations rise when reputation does. Breathtaking vistas are around every corner and character designs are detailed to a tee.
Although the interplay between its characters was a part of the game I thought would lose out to the perfection of The Last of Us. Directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley have shattered my notion of what video game narratives can be. I was overwhelmed with emotion with the end of every other scene and the motion capture work present within them is to be given infinite praise. There are scenes in Uncharted 4 I never wanted to end with a smirk of Drake’s cheek or a whimper in Elena’s eyebrows piercing through me with the reminder of this being the last adventure buzzing through my head. Its only flaw is due to a strength, as the excellent Nadine character – who had the effect of the Hulk in the first Avengers movie, bringing crowds to a silence when appearing on-screen – was underutilized. And being such a big fan of Uncharted 2, I would have loved for the eccentric Chloe Frazier to be part of the adventure, but alas the game can only be so long.
Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece, albeit a flawed one. Even with its problems, the level that developer Naughty Dog can attain almost puts the rest of the industry to shame. Drake trailing off into thought as he mumbles something you can’t catch, the emotional resonance between the characters, and the sheer production value of it all. All capped off with what is the greatest story I have experienced in the medium of video games. Uncharted 4 has problems, but it is foolish to ignore the weight of all the good. Naughty Dog continue to be the best example as to what the artists and engineers in the industry can constantly strive for, and their send off to the poster boy of PlayStation is a feat only matched by their own previous titles. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End caps off nearly 10 years of Nathan Drake’s adventures from a budding treasure hunter to a matured and thankful man as the series now takes its place in video game royalty and developer Naughty Dog can further perfect their formula in future experiences.