A MONUMENT TO ALL YOUR SINS
Note: The following review is SPOILER FREE!
By the closing moments of Uncharted 4, you realize that Nathan Drake is a character constructed as much by you, the player, as he is by himself. Drake’s final adventure leaves you with the impression that the game is about identity, about how our heroes are created out of the myths and the legends that we tell. These heroes appeal to us because we invest our notions of a hero in them, so they may act out our desires to adventure and explore. Uncharted 4 makes you realize that we are all creatures of fortune, and we must all seek our fortune. There’s no question in my mind that this is Nathan Drake’s most human and compelling adventure. It is also hands down the best Naughty Dog game I have ever played.
The Bonds of Family
Just to get this out of the way early, if you haven’t played the first three installments in the Uncharted franchise, much of Uncharted 4 will be lost on you. Peppered throughout the 20 or so hour playthrough are references and nods to all of Nate, Sully and Elena’s earlier adventures together. While most of these don’t have momentous impacts on the story, they do help to remind the player just how far the franchise has come.
As far as story proper, Uncharted 4 begins with Nathan and his brother, Sam, fleeing via boat from a group of mercenaries/pirates during a raging storm at sea. It’s quite the intro. It’s chaotic, frantic and, above all else, extremely enticing. Nate and Sam’s journey is all of that, taking them across the hills of Scotland and Madagascar in search of the lost pirate colony of Libertalia and the treasure of Henry Avery. In typical Uncharted fashion, finding a lost treasure is not so simple. It turns out the brothers are not the only ones in search of Avery’s lost pirate treasure. Que in Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, the dynamic duo of antagonists for Uncharted 4. Rafe’s absurd wealth and Nadine’s army of mercenaries make for formidable adversaries to the Drake brothers. On top of that, I appreciated that Naughty Dog tried to lend some context to the armies constantly shooting at you this time around, even though it wasn’t necessary.
Nate and Sam’s relationship isn’t the prime focus. I couldn’t help but feel that Naughty Dog’s decision to focus more on Nate and Elena’s relationship for their last hurrah was a good one. By the end of my time with A Thief’s End, I felt like I had finally begun to understand them as a couple rather than as individual set pieces in an Indiana Jones movie. The further you get into the story, the more its characters’ relationships to one another start to matter. The result is probably the most polished and dialogue-heavy Uncharted to date. But don’t worry, that doesn’t mean the action was toned too far down.
Less Guns, More Climbing
Less guns, more climbing. It’s a simple phrase, but if I had to choose just one to describe Uncharted 4’s gameplay, that would be it. Previous titles have always featured gorgeous set pieces to climb and intriguing puzzles to solve, but those moments were sandwiched between gunfights or shootouts. The games didn’t give the player much time to breath. Uncharted 4 fixes that by adding some amazingly big environments for you to explore. Chapter to chapter, Uncharted 4 is bigger than any of its predecessors, and the pacing is the best it’s ever been. Staples of the franchise like Drake’s journal and the parkour-esque climbing sections all make their triumphant returns, although with some welcomed additions. Drake now has the ability to climb on porous sections of wall with a type of hook, similar to Lara Croft’s ice pick in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Additionally, Drake and his companions are now outfitted with grappling hooks that can be used to reach more tricky areas of the map. While neither of these tools were groundbreaking, you get the impression that Naughty Dog took stock of these systems in other third-person action games and successfully implemented them here.
Unsurprisingly, The Last of Us is all over this game. This is most apparent when looking at the level design and use of collectibles. Treasures in previous Uncharted titles were cool but did nothing beyond earning you trophies and some small gameplay tweaks. Now, Drake’s journal is no longer updated automatically with clues needed to solve a chapter’s various puzzles. Instead, optional journal entries and collectibles are scattered around environments for players to find. Don’t worry if you don’t stumble across them all—there are a staggering amount of them—but they do flesh out the story more for players willing enough to hunt them down. More so than previous Uncharted games, you want to explore the environments around you, and you are aptly rewarded for doing so.
Gunfights and decent shooting mechanics have always been at the core of Uncharted. This time around, though, the gun fights feel different. Maybe the story of A Thief’s End was so good that I cared more about dialogue than shooting galleries, but there seemed to be less of an emphasis on gun battles this time. Battles are spaced out nicely, usually one or two a chapter, and over within five to 10 minutes. There are no moments of battling wave after wave of AI. Rather than relying on the gun battles to be the action in the game, Naughty Dog uses guns to accentuate the already existing action and set pieces. The result? It’s not too much, or too little, it’s just right.
A Sight to Behold
Uncharted 4 is probably Sony’s best looking PS4 4 game. I could routinely hear my PS4 sounding like a wind turbine during my playtime as Naughty Dog continually pushes out ridiculous amounts of power from the console. They did it before with The Last of Us on PS3, and they’ve done it again this time around with Uncharted 4. Reflections are easily apparent in water and in puddles, the light plays through openings in stone crypts and you can visibly see the dust kicked up by your character rummaging around in abandoned pirate colonies. Put simply, Naughty Dog nailed it.
While it’s hard for me to come up with one or two moments that stood out to me as “next-gen” in their presentation, that’s simply because the entire package of Uncharted 4 looks and sounds better than any PS4 game I’ve played previously. That being said, look out for a particular sequence in a clock tower and a certain pirate dinner party as times when the shift to current gen is the most visible.
In addition to visuals, the game also sounds fantastic. This is a title to play with the volume cranked up or the headphones cuffed on. Every gun or equipment item used has a distinct feel and sound to it, something that also changes depending on the environment they’re used in. You just can’t help but feel that there is a level of polish in this game that is unparalleled in other console exclusives.
Uncharted 4 is the best of the franchise.
It makes you care about Nathan Drake and Elena in ways that the other titles only hinted at. Rather than being heroes in this tale, Nathan, Elena and the rest of the cast are made more human, more fragile and, ultimately, more volatile. Their emotions feel real and validated thanks to some stellar voice acting and commendable writing, and their journey concludes in an ending that many video game franchises could learn from. There’s not a whole lot to dislike in Uncharted 4 other than the fact that it is the last game in the franchise. Over the course of almost a decade, players from around the world became invested in the adventures of Nathan Drake; they too became consumed by the hunt for fortune. What Uncharted 4 teaches you is that that thirst for excitement and adventure never fully goes away, it is never fully satisfied, but in that, their is still room to be content.
My parting thoughts for you would be this: Take it slow. This is a game that is meant to be thought about, dwelled upon and discussed. Don’t rush through this final send off from Naughty Dog, take it in and let it breath. Seek your fortune. Sic Parvis Magna.
What’s your favorite game in the ‘Uncharted’ franchise? Should Naughty Dog go back to making ‘Jak and Daxter’? (Hell No!) Tweet me @FlagCap. And be sure to follow us @YouNerded.
*This review of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is based on a retail copy of the game played on a PS4 console.
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