Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review

I don’t know what I was expecting out of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End when I first popped it in. Excellent action packed sequences, certainly. A fun swashbuckling, treasure hunting adventure filled with lost civilizations and likable rogues, for sure. A well crafted and technically sound game, most likely. But this was not only the first Uncharted title on a new generation of hardware, but apparently the last as well, the planned epic conclusion to one of the more excellent and memorable gaming franchises to have cropped up in the last generation. So I was a little unsure about how it was going to play out, but thankfully Naughty Dog have pulled it off with their usual skill. Despite a slightly sluggish and generic beginning, the game soon picks up and provides not only a satisfying conclusion to the series, but also one of the most technically impressive games I’ve ever played.

Set after Nathan Drake’s retirement in Uncharted 3, Nate has settled down into the everyday civilian life with his wife Elena. Now a marine salvage expert, it’s the quiet life for him. Nine to five work. Routine paperwork. Dinners on the couch. A cozy little house out in the suburbs. Despite his longing for adventure, Nate is adamant that he’s given up on that life. Of course, into his retirement comes Samuel Drake, his long thought dead older brother. Stuck in a bad situation, and needing to find the legendary treasure haul of infamous pirate Henry Avery, Sam drags Nate back into another race against time and deadly enemies for the chance at fortune and glory. Along the way, family drama erupts, a lost civilization is discovered, the origin of Nathan Drake is revealed, and questions are raised over the potentially self destructive nature of ambition and greed. All of it builds up and ends with a satisfying and rather definitive conclusion to the series and a final adventure for much loved characters.

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The plot itself isn’t particularly revolutionary, and it goes over themes and tropes that you’re likely to have seen plenty of times before, but when it comes to excellent storytelling it’s not just the content, but the presentation, and Naughty Dog absolutely excel when it comes to presentation. The writing, the voice acting, and the clarity of their motion capture, character animations, and facial expressions elevate a basic story into so much more. If this were a film, I’d say the acting was brilliant, but instead it’s a crack team of voice actors, graphic designers, and animators backed with powerful hardware presenting a story that has so much more pathos as a result of their efforts.

Gameplay brings back the usual combination of gunfights, platforming, and puzzle solving, but expands on it, with new elements like a grappling hook, and much, much larger maps. While the first few chapters of the story are somewhat sluggish and build little on the gameplay formula established in the first three games, mostly due to it serving as a bit of a tutorial and dealing out the new gameplay features bit by bit, it soon opens up. Maps become expansive, and allow you space to explore using a jeep or a boat. Multiple traversal paths open up allowing you more ways to get from point A to point B which reduce the linearity somewhat. Combat sequences are also placed in larger areas, with stealth a far more viable option than before. Large multi tiered areas allow you to sneak past or stealthily incapacitate enemies. Or, you can go in guns blazing, leaping from ledge to ledge and using a grappling hook to swing about. Although keep in mind the larger maps means more opportunities for enemies to sneak up and outflank you, which they do rather well. All of it is done with plenty of polish, although after all the Uncharted titles and rather similar Tomb Raider games, it’s starting to feel a little tired at times.

Quieter sections of exploration, puzzle solving, and exposition are interspersed with action, and aside from the slow start up, is generally paced very well. It also features one of the most memorable action set pieces in the franchise occurring midway through the game. While it’s not quite the train sequence in Uncharted 2 – an action set piece that has few peers and even less superiors – it’s pretty high up there. Rampaging through a beautiful Madagascan city in an extended car chase as you swap between a jeep, motorcycles, and trucks, all the while an APC armed to the teeth is hunting you, while shooting Mercenaries racing alongside you, makes for a very memorable experience. However it’s a bit of a shame there aren’t more excellent set pieces, as aside from one memorable sequence involving a self destructing clocktower, and the climactic confrontation at the end of the game, there aren’t any others that really stood out to me. With it’s ridiculously action packed thrill ride pace, there’s a reason why Uncharted 2 still remains the high point of the series in my mind.

Presentation wise, Uncharted 4 is a technical masterpiece. Plain and simple it’s one of the most impressive looking games of this generation. The character models, art design, and environments are exceptional, with an incredible attention to detail, while the environments are just unbelievably pretty. Even the foggy and depressing moors of Scotland have a rugged majesty about them, to say nothing of the incredibly colourful and vibrant beauty of Madagascar. Sound design is also excellent, with absolutely wonderful voice acting and a solid soundtrack.

Ultimately Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a superb title. It’s an exciting and solidly crafted action adventure title backed up with excellent storytelling and superior tech. All of it is polished until the damn thing shines, and despite the gameplay feeling a bit formulaic at times, it’s an excellent game and an even better conclusion to a series that deserves a good one. While I’ll miss the misadventures of Nathan Drake and his rag tag team, I think if you want to end the series on a high note, this is the right way to do it.
9.0 out of 10.

Gameplay 8.5 out 10
Story 9 out of 10

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