Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review

One last time.

The PS4 has been doing pretty good for exclusives so far, but this is the one many of the Sony faithful have been waiting for. Naughty Dog has said this could be Nate’s final adventure, so there’s a lot to live up to, to make sure he goes out on top.

We pick things up a few years after the last game and find Drake working an honest living in salvage. He’s settled down with Elena and is playing it straight. There’s clearly still an interest in exploring lost lands in the hope of finding an epic haul of treasure and the introduction of his thought-to-be-dead older brother is the perfect spark to rekindle his passion for adventure.

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Nate’s brother, Sam, is played by Troy ‘The Last of Us’ Baker and the chemistry and camaraderie between him and Nolan North is perfectly captured by Naughty Dog and their script. As far as voice actors go, it really is a dream team, even more so with Elena (Emily Rose) and Sully (Richard McGonagle) still in the mix.

Sam and Nate set out on an adventure to find Captain Avery’s long lost pirate treasure, giving them the perfect excuse for an explosive trip around the world to locations as varied as Italy, Madagascan plains, tropical jungles and even a winter-hardened Scotland.

As per series form, the bad guys are the weak links in the cast. One of them at least is easy to hate as he’s the smarmiest git yet. Naturally, they want to find the treasure first and keep following you by dynamiting their way through after you go the long way round. If you played Rise of the Tomb Raider last year, prepare for some severe déjà vu.

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When the chemistry between the good guys is as good as this though, it really doesn’t matter. While Sam provides plenty of brotherly banter, it’s the scenes between Elena and Nate that really steal the show, as the strain of Nate’s obsession with treasure tests the couple more than we’ve seen before. Sully fans may be disappointed by him being benched for most of the game though.

Naughty Dog has expanded their horizons somewhat in the level design as there are a few larger open areas to explore for optional treasure. They’re a nice break from the shooting, and the environments are so good looking you’ll be happy to stay a while.

The action itself follows the Uncharted formula of cover shooting, climbing and shooting. But everything’s been given an extra layer of polish and tweaking. Climbing feels sharper and more responsive and areas often feature multiple paths, adding a little variety and encouraging exploration for hidden treasures.

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The introduction of a grappling hook to swing around cliffs adds plenty of heart-in-mouth moments as you often have to throw the hook to an anchor in mid-air. Its best use by far though is actually in combat as you can swing around corners and leap fist-first straight into any unfortunate gawping baddies.

Combat gets off to a poor start though with melee-only encounters that have been over-simplified. Countering has been ditched, I was waiting for it to kick in during the tutorial, but no, Drake’s forgotten how to fight. As such, the forced brawls are dull button-bashing affairs.

Melee does have its place during gunfights though as you can finish enemies off after softening them up with a bit of lead. More deadly though is Drake’s seriously improved stealth game. He’s been playing a bit of Far Cry 3 in his time off and now tags enemies while sneaking around so you can keep an eye on their silhouettes through solid objects. Then you simply sneak through the long grass, snapping necks as you go.

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Once you’ve had enough, or get spotted, it’s time to bust out the guns. A long-standing gripe seems to have been fixed with the gunplay, namely, enemies don’t take such a ridiculous amount of bullets to kill. They put up a decent fight though, often flanking you, suppressing you with sniper fire or blasting away at your flimsy cover, often forcing you to scamper to somewhere safer.

Rolling and cover-attachment still both share the same button, which is incredibly annoying as Drake will often glue himself to the wrong side of a wall when you’re simply trying roll away from a grenade or sniper fire. It’s been a problem for years and it’s sad to still see it in this final game. It doesn’t ruin the game; it just turns some of the more frantic moments into embarrassing examples of flapping around and dying.

Aiming feels more responsive than before though and there’s a lock-in aim for the more casual gamer, which is a nice touch to open up the game to more players. And who wouldn’t want to get stuck into a game like this?

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There’s certainly a danger that Naughty Dog have overused the whole crumbling platform trope by now, but shit, nobody does it quite like this. Rickety bridges are the least of your worries when whole buildings are prone to tipping over with you inside them. Or you’ll find your car hanging off a cliff with only a creaking winch holding you up. Uncharted 2 is still the benchmark in spectacle and bests any action game for me, but Uncharted 4 runs it pretty damn close.

The introduction of a fully drivable car fits in well for its selected stages and is frequently responsible for some of the game’s most exciting scenes, such as the Madagascar chase. The controls are a little slippery at speed, but they sit just the right sight of dangerous while still being fun.

You only need to look at the screenshots taken for this review (standard images, without using the effects offered in the game’s photo mode) to see that Naughty Dog has created one of the finest looking games ever made. In a world of grey game corridors, Uncharted once gain shows the world how to embrace fine detail, colour and lighting techniques to create something beautiful. But enough about Nate and Elena’s faces.

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I’ve had the pleasure of playing through the game twice now and despite the action-packed scenes, gorgeous levels, rewarding gunplay and exhilarating rope swing takedowns they’re not what’s going to last in the memory about Uncharted 4.

It’s the characters and acting that upstage the lot. The incredible facial animations combined with some great acting really put the characters, and the player, through the emotional wringer. It’s quite devastating to consider this may be the last time we see the gang together.

An early scene celebrates the past games as Nate looks through trinkets from each adventure and we’re able to relive those feelings with him. Another scene has him exploring a house packed with someone else’s lifetime findings and I spent over an hour admiring the huge collection of items on the walls, appreciating the developers’ way of explaining why the Drake’s are so obsessed with treasure. The subtle way the same scene tries to show them that they can risk alienating those that love them with this life is lost on them at the time, but the parallels are clear to see for the player and add another layer of depth to the characters. If this is the last game, Naughty Dog have done their characters justice and closure provided by the end of the story makes it a fond farewell.

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Coming away with thoughts of the writing and acting being the most impressive parts of a game may sound like the gameplay is disappointing, but that’s not the case at all. It’s just what impressed me most this time. As far as action adventure gaming goes, Naughty Dog has been in a different league for so long, being this good starts to look normal and potentially doesn’t impress as much as it used to. Good luck to anyone trying to match them.

Pros

  • Incredible cast and emotional scenes
  • Jaw-dropping next-gen visuals
  • Action-packed scenes embarrass the competition

Cons

  • Forgettable villains. Again
  • Rolling/cover mishaps due to sharing a button
  • Watered down melee combat

9/10

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