Review: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Let’s get right to the point. If you’re looking for the Uncharted game that would finally topple the insanely strong intro of Among Thieves, you’re out of luck. However, if you’re looking for the better, the best even, Uncharted game, this one is for you. That’s all you need to know, but I will elaborate a bit below if you’re interested. If not, I suggest you stay in the blackout and buy the game on May 10th.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End introduces us to an older, more mature and settled Nathan Drake. There wouldn’t be a game if Nathan was destined to stamp pampers though, so it doesn’t take particularly long for a new adventure to surface, and with the help of his brother Sam you set out to find the lost, but supposedly huge treasure of swashbuckling pirate, Captain Henry Avery. That’s about all I’m willing to reveal about the plot. As you might figure, Nathan will go places, shoot people, do things, meet other human beings and climb stuff. How those things play out is purely up to you to discover. How this is done and what’s changed is perhaps more interesting in this setting, and way less spoiler-y.

Years of experience, the creation of the Uncharted franchise, but even more importantly – the character work from The Last of Us all culminates with the cast of Uncharted 4. Barely hiding behind exploration, puzzle solving and relentless action is perhaps the most emotional and touching character driven game I have ever played. A lot of this can be credited to the excellent writing, but it wouldn’t be nearly as impactful without the game looking the way it does, and in the very specific case that is Uncharted 4 – the quality of the motion capture, which only seems to get better and more nuanced with every game. There are scenes and conversations between Nathan and Elena with more emotional depth than most games and movies can only dream of achieving.

Uncharted 4 plays out pretty much how you’d expect. It’s still a linear story, but this time around you’ll encounter much bigger locations with room for exploration and to some extent, alternate routes. Walking off the beaten path will reward you with alternative conversations, treasures and journal entries. You might remember the trailer that hinted about branching conversations and sure, there are times when you can choose between a set of replies, but mostly the game will offer you a trigger to dig deeper into a topic and continue an already started conversation. The way you traverse the environment has been granted a few new toys that plays deeply into the more vertical world you’ll be spelunking in. A grappling hook will have you swinging across ravines, running on walls and flying into that perfect knockdown in the middle of a firefight. The piton on the other hand will further expand your reach while climbing in certain areas. Another new “character” is the jeep which you might have seen in the Madagascar video, and I’ll just say that there will be more chances to drive around in that thing, and it’s fun. What goes up usually comes down though, so they’ve introduced a lot of surfaces that causes your characters to slide. Usually just to the bottom of a small hill, but often towards impending doom which means you’ll have to jump or grapple out of harms way.

My least favorite thing about the Uncharted games is actually the combat. Naughty Dog doesn’t seem to mind though, and have even included an encounter mode that let you replay every battle in the game. If you’re into perfecting your combat skills, this might be the thing for you. To its defense, it’s gotten a lot better. The shooting feels a bit tighter, the melee – while not optimal – packs a literally bigger punch, and stealth finally matters. With a lot more tall grass and vision indicators, stealth is now a viable option in almost any fight. My main gripe with the combat is that I just don’t like it. It’s an obstacle in the way when I want to explore and solve puzzles. When encounters become truly frantic there’s also the added chance that you’ll accidentally roll into things you weren’t supposed to or accidentally jump to your death. Don’t let that color your opinion though, technically there’s nothing wrong with the combat, I’m just easily bored with it and it’s probably not the game’s fault that I panic.

It wouldn’t be an Uncharted game without set-pieces, and they’re in there. The difference is that they feel like a more integral part of the game as opposed to a chunk of gameplay between two other segments. If you saw the full gameplay demo from last year’s E3, you might remember the walk that led into the jeep chase that continues into crazy-land when Nathan is dragged behind a vehicle, climbs on to it, jumps to another and so on and so forth until everything just explodes or catches fire. The rest of it plays out just like that. You’re doing one thing, you get dragged into another thing and usually something falls apart before you’re on your merry way again. This happens a lot and it’s just as fun yet nerve-wrecking every time. The amount of detail and things happening on screen during some of these set-pieces is staggering.

Scoring Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has been a rough internal discussion, but ultimately a pointless discussion too. What I deem the game’s fault is directly linked to my particular taste when it comes to combat. Like I said, there’s nothing technically wrong with it, it’s just not for me. But it works, it’s fine, and so it feels unfair to subtract a point for it. In fact, forget the number below altogether. What matters is that Uncharted 4 is an incredible game. It’s free of the pacing issues that ruined Drake’s Deception for a lot of people, it’s polished to the nth degree and it looks and plays absolutely amazing. In many ways it draws a lot of similarities to the latest Ratchet & Clank. It pulls everything from the prior games that made them great, it includes a lot of call-backs to your previous adventures and it’s a damn well conceived story you’ll hopefully enjoy the heck out of.

A fantastic adventure that’s just as big as it is emotional

This review copy was provided by Sony. The game was played through once on moderate and some chapters were replayed for collecting purposes on explorer. The multiplayer has not been tested in this review due to scheduling challenges and timezone differences.

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