Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the ultimate conclusion that fans have been waiting for. It delivers on all of the aspects we have come to love and expect from the series. Uncharted still has all the climbing, witty jokes, and bigger than ever set pieces that crumble under the weight of the most ill-fated adventurer of all time. Who yet, always has just enough luck to hop out of every exploding vehicle at the last minute and remain mostly unscathed. Yes, the game still contains much of its lighthearted moments from its past, but is matched with more subtle and somber storytelling.
There is more of a quieter, melancholy tone this time, and you can feel it right from the first time you open the title screen, where you will no longer find the cheery theme music. It’s a series that has grown up, borrowing elements from The Last Of Us, painting a more mature picture, without drifting too far off the beaten trail from where it all started.
The story has a bit of a bumpy start, traveling through different periods of Drake’s life, from his childhood, to his troublesome days as a young adult. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the earlier portions of the game at first, I appreciated them more as I got deeper into the story, as they definitely have a much larger pay off later.
The focus soon shifts to current day Nathan Drake, who is living his quiet, and repetitive retired life with his now wife, Elena Fisher, in their humble abode in New Orleans. It’s clear that Drake never really became accustomed to his new life, as he longs for the more adventurous days of his past adventures.
This all changes when Nathan’s presumed dead brother Sam shows up. Their happy reunion quickly goes south, as Sam explains to Nathan that he is in grave danger, and the only way to solve his problem is by retrieving a holy artifact. The artifact in question is a Saint Dismas cross, which Sam believes to hide a clue to the pirate Henry Avery’s long lost treasure. This leads to some hard decisions for Nathan that ultimately send him off on another whirlwind adventure, even though he knows he shouldn’t be tagging along for the ride this time.
With Uncharted 2, the TV ads joked that the game looked so real, it was indistinguishable from a movie, but Uncharted 4 goes beyond what a movie can even deliver, and that’s no joke. Naughty Dog hits an all new high with storytelling in Uncharted 4. Literally taking a page out of The Last Of Us with hidden pages that add to the story and give you a more personal in-depth look at other treasure hunters and pirates, as well as optional dialog that adds a lot to the character development. The graphics are so good now, that you can pick up on all the little expressions and tells on characters faces without them even having to speak. Sometimes even the smartly written banter you hear while exploring will clue you into solving puzzles that you will solve much sooner if you were paying attention.
The environments have all been opened up, adding so much more explorable space, which almost always contains more than one way to reach your destination. Vehicles are a driving force for exploration, as you can now explore vast areas with jeeps and boats, helping you cover more ground than you ever could before. You are also given new tools to traverse with, like a rope, which doesn’t sound like much, but can help you to repel and swing from branches as well as striking enemies from above with a surprise attack in tricky combat situations.
Speaking of combat, there is far less of it, which is a good thing, since it has never been the series’ strong point. Instead, Uncharted 4 focuses more on the story and character development, honing in on what the series, in my opinion does best. That said, the new combat sections have been spiced up in a few ways to keep things fresh. Stealth plays a huge role, as you enter almost every combat situation unseen. You can remain hidden by hiding in tall grass, as well as mark your enemies to keep track of them, much like in Metal Gear Solid. There is even a system in place that tells you how aware enemies are of your presence.
Just like with exploration, there are multiple ways to go about each combat situation now. You can go in swinging, or even avoid entire combat encounters altogether by sneaking your way around the cavalry. While I appreciate that I am given the option to sneak by many of the encounters without violence, there is a forced fight early on where you are pitted against normal law abiding citizens rather than the typical crooks and goons. Even though the impact of this event changes later, it left me feeling a bit uncomfortable and questioning why it was added, as it didn’t seem to fit with what the series is known for.
Much like the last couple titles in the series, Uncharted 4 has a slew of online multiplayer modes, which will pit you against other players in games like team deathmatch and Plunder, Naughty Dog’s take on capture the flag. While it’s all good fun and they have added a couple new features to spice it up, like being able to call in support strikes and use special mystical powers like the wrath of El Dorado to destroy your enemies, it still very much feels like a quick distraction from the main focal point of Uncharted, which has always been the story and that’s where most people’s interest will lie.
What might be Uncharted 4’s greatest achievement is its final act. While the platforming gets a bit repetitive towards the end, which is something the series has always suffered with, it’s different this time. The late game platforming sections and the conversations that go along with them plays more into the psyche of Nathan Drake, giving us a clearer picture of who he really is, and what makes him tick, leaving almost no stones unturned. There is a strong focus on character building and symbolism in these final moments that goes above and beyond what I have seen from any other game, and it all leads up to the best possible conclusion I could have asked for, earning it a very fitting end that people will be talking about long after the final credits roll.
+ Amazing story telling / character building / performances
+Focusing more on story and less on combat
+A more than perfect ending
– Uncomfortable early game fight
Uncharted 4 is not just a crowning achievement for Naughty Dog, but a crowning achievement in gaming. This is a must play adventure that shouldn’t be missed and a very fitting end to a much beloved series.
Jason Betthauser is the Senior Producer at The Game Bolt. He enjoys playing through classic games on cold, snowy, Minnesota days, especially if that game is Super Metroid. Follow him on Twitter.