Review: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
There’s really a lot to like about Uncharted 4. This is an adventure that jumps between genres in much the same way that Nathan Drake leaps between crumbling structures, swinging around around on his grapple hook without a care in the world. You are shooting stuff, climbing stuff, solving puzzles and traveling the globe in search of treasure. It’s a thrilling and cinematic ride that concludes the Uncharted series on a high note.
In its opening chapters Uncharted 4 messes with player expectation in a fun way. You are in medias res, you are in a flashback. There’s another flashback in that flashback. There’s boat action that draws comparison to the introduction of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and the continuous changes in tone and setting are frantic. It’s a fun contrast when you’re playing Prison Break: The Game one moment and then experiencing Nathan Drake’s midlife crisis the next.
Much of this set-up is focused on introducing Samuel Drake – Nathan’s long-lost older brother. He serves as your main sidekick once the game inevitably transforms into a more conventional Uncharted experience where you search for pirate treasure. Sam is a troublemaker and general bad-influence, and whilst this isn’t the first time the series has pared you with a total scumbag, the added sibling dynamic brings an additional complexity to the relationship.
Whilst I preferred Sully as a companion the story does benefit from placing Nathan Drake in more questionable company. His nice guy image still contrasts with shooting sections where you massacre scores of people, but on occasion I felt more like an anti-hero because of how the story placed me ‘among thieves’ (get it).
“I have killed literally hundreds of people with these hands.”
The third person shooter element of Uncharted 4 is at times quite crude. Whilst in the later half of the game it is elevated thanks to an increase in scale, as well as complexities that only come into play once the game’s training wheels are fully off, cover based shooting never feels quite as sophisticated as everything else on offer. It’s perhaps a little disappointing that some of the great combat mechanics demonstrated in Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us haven’t been incorporated.
There are however a couple of improvements over previous games in the Uncharted series; stealth sections are integrated better into combat scenarios, and you have a grapple hook that you can swing about on. This also allows for greater freedom in movement, and additional ways to navigate the environment. Most importantly it helps bring excitement to some climbing mechanics that, whilst perfectly serviceable, now feel less spectacular than they once did – no doubt partially thanks to the ten Assassin’s Creed games that have been released since Drake’s Fortune.
But what’s really great about Uncharted 4 is that alongside the conventional ideas that composed the previous games there’s also some more experimental elements. There’s sections such as exploring Nathan’s house where the game is briefly transformed into a walking simulator, and later on areas of the game open up to allow the player greater freedom in exploring and interacting with the world. It’s impressive because the focus of a cinematic and linear adventure is still retained, but the ‘on rails’ sections are contrasted nicely with sections that are, err, ‘off rails’, with large maps to explore and vehicles to navigate them efficiently.
You can also expect plenty of Uncharted-style puzzles, although they often succeed because of their variety, rather than the specifics of matching up star signs or spinning a wheel to open up a door. These tasks would probably be less fun if they didn’t flow so nicely between more action oriented sequences.
And of course action means spectacular set-pieces; giant structures smashing before your eyes, huge explosions, and intense chase scenes. Whilst nothing quite matches up to the most over-the-top moments in Uncharted 3, there’s still a handful of jaw-dropping moments interspersed throughout the game’s surprisingly lengthy campaign.
In fact for such a narrative driven game, Uncharted 4 is satisfyingly long. This is really great; it means there’s enough time to elaborate on the mechanics established early on, and the second half of the game is full of engaging challenges. When the adventure finally concludes, it does so on a satisfying note that gives closure to the series.
What ultimately what makes Uncharted 4 so enjoyable is the game’s immense variety. At one point I’m jumping between exploding vehicles in a scene reminiscent of Pursuit Force, then a minute later tense relationship drama is unfolding between Nathan and Elena. It’s hard to believe this is the same game, and as the story progresses it’s hard to believe how many locations have been covered, how many different ideas have been explored, and how many ancient structures have been smashed to bits. It’s not always coherent, and its level of competence does occasionally fluctuate, but there’s no denying that from start to finish Uncharted 4 is a true spectacle.