Nathan Drake has lied to us all. Regardless of the relentless strain he subjects his body to by stretching his arms to grab ledges, tumbling over and through structures, snapping his body back and forth from left to right against exposed objects, and leaping, sprinting and scraping away from certain death, he told us he was done with this life. After three gruelling mainline servings of Nathan Drake’s exploits through a skittles palette of natural and sinister environments riddled with all sorts of antiquated treasures and historical etchings, it would appear the fourth entry brings the journey of the legendary treasure plunderer to a close; but not before he bounds through one more scrumptious circus of puzzle-solving, action-adventuring, wise-cracking and antique scavenging. The final exam for Drake turns out to be every bit as delicious as its predecessors, but has it lost something sacred along the way?
After an action sequence eerily similar to Drake’s fortune, we find that Drake has given up on his adventurous lifestyle. He works for an excavation firm, has receded to a peaceful life with his wife Elena, and it would appear that he sucks at playing a certain PS1 era videogame, not to mention he plays in the attic with a plastic gun and a few targets. You’d be forgiven for thinking all this tomfoolery in the early chapters is misleading, but with a title in a franchise this prestigious, you should expect a feathery calm before a blighting hail chucking thunderstorm.
Once business picks up and Drake embarks on a fourth whistle stop tour. You and your brother are off to uncover Henry Avery’s lost treasure and literally follow in the footsteps of the dead. Along the way you are invaded by mercenaries sent by the two villains Rafe Adler and Nardine Ross, who are also after ancient riches too. Ross is a super tough woman who can whip Drake’s backside if he so much as pop a cheap wisecrack her way, and Rafe is a disgruntled man bloke dude guy, who has a desire to have all the riches he wants like a spoiled rat.
The finale of Uncharted 4 is both strong and startling in how disappointing it is. The closing chapter isn’t difficult at all, and isn’t fuelled with as much malice as the best videogame finales, in other words it doesn’t make you bubble with the same visceral drive that you’d expect, especially from Uncharted. Maybe it’s because the central villain is comparatively weak compared to the other games, or maybe the poor construction derails any potential excitement, in any case Uncharted 4 leaves something to be desired. Luckily the epilogue redeems the disappointment somewhat by reigniting the familial aspects that specially characterise Uncharted 4, parting with us in a warm and comforting way that is much needed and appreciated.
The opening few chapters of A Thief’s End play like an imminent reunion leading to an actual reunion. When the opportunity arises thanks to Sam, Nate’s brother, Nate reluctantly but confidently obliges for one more globe-trotting go round because American Pie’s cast reunited, so why can’t a treasure hunter and his pals? Despite the cliches, Uncharted 4’s story is set to its usual high standard of production values including great voice acting, a pair of interesting villains, wonderfully realised natural landscapes, the usual Naughty Dog sheen and who can forget the eye-gasmic sight of Drake’s sopping damp clothes after taking a dip in a river? It’s like he rubs baby lotion all over himself. Save for the thoughtful inclusion of a literally dirty Drake adding to a calender’s worth of images of Nate being peppered and engulfed in the elements, Uncharted 4 doesn’t add a lot of surprising newness for a series that revels in it.
This time Drake is off to an assortment of idyllic locations such as the green and grimy pastures of Madagascar and up to the shivering highlands of Scotland. Along the way he will pause and embrace crisp horizon views, dive underneath vast teal and aqua blue oceans and swim with the corals to unearth hidden treasures and discover crumbling ship wrecks. If this description didn’t clarify it enough for you, Uncharted 4 is a glorious visual spectacle, dripping in detail off Drake’s weathered brow. Similarly the sound design is right up to standard with the series’ best, so no surprises, the production value has always been of the charts.
By this point we’ve bare witnessed to a plethora of exceptional chair-gyrating moments from Uncharted. Admit it, your head bolted through the ceiling when you saw Drake almost getting swallowed up by the front-gushing wind as he desperately and narrowly clawed onto waving plastic mesh, whilst cargo boxes flip and role past you. Your veins almost slit through the skin as you fired your way upwards in the train section in Among Thieves. Oh, and you got giddy when Drake was dangling from a rope, getting dragged along concrete and dirt. Ok, ok the latter demonstrates Uncharted 4 does possess a few exceptional moments, but the momentum is downplayed somewhat in the service of emphasising the importance of the narrative. Uncharted 3 was like a heart attack because it threw you recklessly into setpiece moments like a carnage strewn symphony, and that’s what made it incredibly special to some, whereas the story felt like a backdrop. Uncharted 4 by comparison is more conservatively paced and provides a workable balance between the action and the story, but in trying to harmonise its components, it doesn’t excite as much as it should, yet it does offer a more fleshed out story because of its decreasing bombast. Whether you are experiencing medias res, or taking on a flashback sequence with Nate and Sam as kids, the story flexibly and conveniently ebbs with eloquent intrigue and funnels you through some really tense and climactic moments.
Where Uncharted 4 does succeed is with its puzzle sections. A chapter that takes place in a clocktower has you contending with climbing up cogs, gears and even messing with the hands of a clock face to proceed forward. Another great puzzle involves you walking carefully across wooden boards and trying not to combust yourself by walking where you shouldn’t. Sure, there are an array of familiar symbol matching puzzles as well, but it is clear that Naughty Dog has managed to think outside the box again in refreshing new ways, creating a bigger scope without the need for guns and explosions, therefore helping to alleviate any potential lingering disappointment elsewhere in the campaign.
Stealth is a property of Uncharted 4 that has seemingly unchanged, yet probably for the better because it was brilliant anyway, but there are a few annoyances. Firstly, why is it that Uncharted 4 insists on loving the shrubbery as relates to hiding? To be an avid stealth assassin, Nate nestles himself amidst the foliage with Sam and the old fart Sully, and you all move about without suspicion within it. This is fine because The Last of Us had Ellie roving about unseen to the AI, but why are there green shrubs and long tall grasses everywhere to hide in? Hasn’t stealth moved past this since MGS3? As a result Uncharted 4 can feel too boxed in, with each hostile area a zone for a couple of different play styles, though the versatility is limited as the story anchors you in, appropriately ensuring you’re on the right path, so silent stealth sneaker or bullet banzai are your only true personae on Uncharted 4’s battleground. Not that this is a bad thing, far from it because you now have the ability to mark targets a la Splinter Cell, making espionage about rapid planning and executing, fast like everything Uncharted is known for, still holding up well on PS4.
The multiplayer is in a word needless. There is value here and it plays exquisitely, but there’s barely any sense of progress or competitiveness to it. Two teams have at it, both killing members of the opposing side for treasure and the team that reaches the point threshold once the time limit expires wins. There is some fun to be had when the grappling hook comes into play, but for the most part the offering is a straightforward shooting and clambering affair. There simply isn’t the replay value in Uncharted 4’s multiplayer, so your experience may be relatively short lived, unless you just can’t get enough of Uncharted’s often irresistible gameplay flow.
Uncharted has held up to almost a decade of continuing existence. There are spectacles in Uncharted 4 that wouldn’t have been possible before and this old dog has learnt several new tricks, so there’s no need to take him out back and pull the trigger. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still has the moxie to impress after eight years and it does so with its own panache. Some might dispute its quality amongst the series’ elite, but there is still no denying it has everything a Playstation gamer could ever want. If Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is truly the end for Nathan Drake and his entourage, then the send off is a fitting if slightly disappointing one, but remember you’re still in for a hell of a ride nonetheless.
+A worthy conclusion to an outstanding videogame franchise,
+More intimate and familial than before, making for an especially touching and inviting tale,
+A far more open and expansive Uncharted than previously seen.
-Multiplayer is ok but feels like an unneeded tacked on extra,
-There’s not a lot surprising here,
-The final chapter is underwhelming and disappointing.