Title: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Alternative Title:
 Uncharted 4Uncharted PS4
Developers: Naughty Dog
Publishers: Sony
Genre: Action-adventure, third-person shooter, platform
Engine: Naughty Dog’s in-house engine
Format: PS4
Release: May 10, 2016

Uncharted as a series holds a very special place in my heart; the original 2007 Drake’s Fortune was the very first PS3 game I’ve owned, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of my favorite games of all time, and Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was one of the most fun action games released for the PS3.

The stories were surprisingly good, I simply fell in love the characters, the action was frenzy and refreshingly flexible, and of course, each game was a sweet eye-candy for everyone to look at.

Thus, my thoughts about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End were somewhat mixed, with a strong itch of cynicism. The leaving of several key members from Naughty Dog and some shady stories about their reasoning didn’t help. And since when do Naughty Dog develop existing franchises on new Sony consoles?

In a very fitting, almost closure-like, kind of way, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was one of my very first PS4 games once I bought the damn thing on July last year. So, I guess in the end, we gonna talk about this final, grand adventure of everybody’s favorite mercenary killer.

Story & Setting

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Several years since the events of
Drake’s Deception, series protagonist Nathan “Nate” Drake has retired from treasure hunting and adventuring with his wife Elena, now working in a semi-legal salvage company in New Orleans. Despite this, and the happy life he leads with Elena, Nate still misses the wild adventures he had a few years ago.

When Drake’s long-lost, thought-to be-dead older brother, Sam, appears on Nate’s doorsteps, alive and kicking, the reunited Drake brothers, partner with Nate’s mentor Sully, find themselves back into action, now having to compete with long-time rival Rafe Adler and his associate Nadine Ross in a race to find the legendary pirate colony of Libertalia, founded by the great pirate Henry Avery.

One of Uncharted 4’s biggest strengths is how it borrows from its handful of prequels to tell a somewhat more mature and emotional, character-driven story, but one that still maintains the series’ spirit, with humorous remarks and bombastic action.

Like Among Thieves and Golden Abyss, our story begins in medias res, teasing players with what to come. From there, the story continues to build-up and grow using familiar ideas seen across the PS3 trilogy, but inverts and subverts some of them.

Relationships are the core of Uncharted 4’s narrative, and the majority of the game focuses on Nate’s complicated relations with his family, friends and enemies, with a sub-plot concerning his increasingly straining relationship with Elena as obsession becomes, once more, into a central issue with Nate.

Obsession has always played a rather major role in the stories of past games between different characters, most notably the story of Uncharted 3 in which Drake was consumed by his desires to prove his worthiness. In A Thief’s End, he now shares this concept with his brother Sam and main antagonist Rafe, both representing darker sides to Nate’s complex personality, sides that could very alienate his close ones.

They both, to specific degrees, showcase how Nate could possibly get corrupted by his own ambition and recklessness, and the effects it could have on arguably his closest friends, Elena and Sully.

And Rafe is, may I say, an excellent final adversary to Nate; he’s young, hot-headed, ruthless and somewhat amoral, similarly to Drake but taken to far, far darker places, while actually gaining some of my sympathy for his rather petty – yet unmistakably human – reasons.

His associate Nadine is an excellent antagonist as well, a level-headed anti-villain who couldn’t care less about the treasure if it wasn’t to fund her men after terrible losses. She’s an interesting foil to Nate’s allies, and belongs to the far grayer characterization when compared to past series villains.

And she kicks ass. A lot.

This is a story about man’s worst traits, and how they can spawn from mere wishes and ambitions. It doesn’t just mutter about how bad it is to let yourself be consumed and controlled by greed and desire, but it also shows you, non-stop, the consequences, and it ain’t pretty.

While the game has an overall darker and more “grim” feeling towards its story and background information, I can’t help but to feel that in the end, despite a superbly-written script, Uncharted 4 still suffers from some safe story ideas and predictable series tropes ranging from your typical villain introductions to the big, twisted revelations that shock no-one.

Long-time fans of adventure games (and stories in general) might see where the story is going from a mile.

Most of the negative effects, however, are often countered thanks to the strong character drama of the game, particularly when it comes to Nate’s aforementioned relationships with both his wife and brother; with Elena it feels like a slow, steady development since the first game, and even newcomers will appreciate the genuine love and emotions shared between the two.

With Sam, players will be treated to a somber, slightly tragic, but lively brotherly love between the Drakes, and their strong connection makes it feel as we’ve known Sam for years upon years, just like Nate does.

And of course, in comparison to its predecessors, the background story of A Thief’s End is far richer and way more relevant to the main narrative, rather than just giving a boost for the game to kick in motion.

The rise and fall of Captain Avery and his colony is a genuinely interesting and haunting pile of secrets to discover, and apart from tying well into the game’s themes, it’s a fascinating, sometimes terrifying, look into a long-deceased man and his wrapped psyche.

For fans of the more lighthearted and humorous previous entries, do not worry. Despite its title, A Thief’s End still features the franchise’s signature humor of snarky remarks and cheesy yet amusing one-liners. The addition of another Drake certainly helped as Sam shares his younger brother’s tendency to throw comical notes at both the most appropriate and inappropriate of times.

Also, the dialogue options, while not altering the main story in any meaningful way, include some amusing and colorful lines by Drake.

While the story is superb, the characters are great and the morale is definitely striking, Uncharted 4 somewhat stumbles eventually in its final third.

Pacing was always, in my opinion, a major issue with the series since day one; Drake’s Fortune spent too much going back and forth in lavish yet repetitive forests, while Drake’s Deception just couldn’t decide how and where to progress. Among Thieves was, and remains, the best paced game in terms of narrative, even though it still falls to questionable choices.

But while A Thief’s End manages to keep on a steady flow of events for the majority of the game – a gripping intro, slow-building opening chapters, and constant moving chapter locations and set-pieces – the game’s final third feels a lot slower and more puddled in nature, infected with unnecessary time wasters that add little to the narrative between the beginning of the end and the climax.

It’s as if, midway, Naughty Dog thought that maybe the game was too short, and decide to add a few extra chapters and scenes to make it more in-line with other action-adventure games. To its credit, the final third still features some jaw-dropping scenes and the writing remains mostly sharp and touching as it was in the earlier parts of the game, but cutting some filler wouldn’t have hurt the final product.

Pacing issues and safe story ideas aside, Naughty Dog’s final Uncharted game is easily one of their best stories to date, a powerful conclusion to Nate’s arc, and an incredible tale in its own right. Yes, sometimes even more so than The Last of Us.

But damn it, Naughty Dog. Where are Chloe and Charlie?

 

Gameplay & Design

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The general formula for the
Uncharted series as a whole is a cover-based third-person shooter mixed with platforming elements and occasional puzzles. Naturally, A Thief’s End follows said formula to a T, but adds numerous additions and modifications to its well-tried mechanics to make it the best entry yet.

What is quickly noted when the game finally gets into motion is its pacing; hostile encounters often begin in a much slower and tactical pace, with increased emphasis on stealth and sneaking around than direct gunplay – though this changes and reverses as the game continues.

Stealth mechanics have been greatly refined to be much less frustrating and take a few notes from the Far Cry series as players can have Nathan hide in the grass as well behind walls and cliffs. It’s not as polished or intelligent as other, ‘purer’ stealth games of the period, but gives just enough to make it engaging and more important: a valuable choice of approach towards combat.

You can also mark enemies while aiming and disappear back into the shadows if detected, a vast improvement over previous titles where Drake was forced into relentless shootouts if the player screws up.

A few more options and modifications could make it a truly organic and well-oiled system of mechanics, but it still remains quiet the step up from both its predecessors and The Last of Us.

Also, hallelujah; at least this time your allies don’t run straight up to their blind predators and break the fucking immersion of the whole bloody game. Good work, Naughty Dog.

Another noticeable improvement that A Thief’s End makes is its scale, a reminiscent of Guerrilla Games’ Killzone: Shadow Fall and its similar changes to its own series. Levels and their maps have been significantly enlarged to a point where sometimes it is easy to get lost within the environment.

It’s not an open world game, no, but the size clearly fixes up some of the series’ past complaints of being too linear and restrictive with their environments and locations.

This also makes encounters and battles far wilder and more explosive, with a remarkable touch of relative freedom and choice of approach and combat. A few encounters are also possible to avoid and ignore completely.

The larger scale also allows for creative scattering and placement of the signature collectibles of the series, treasures, who are joined by several journal notes and pages for the player to obtain.

Shooting has been further tuned and refined into becoming more controlled and robust, alongside an auto-aiming system to make things comfortable. Combining its parkour and platforming elements, and A Thief’s End is an energetic and kinetic series of chaotic fun, thanks to its increasingly rapid pace in gunfights and encouragement to constantly switch between cover-shooting and running-gunning.

There is a delicious range of weapons to pick up, from average handguns and assault rifles to powerful and vicious revolvers and grenade launchers that can throw enemy bodies a few meters away and are strengthened with masterful animations and sound effects.

I do have to ask the decision to remove the counter-grenade throwing from Drake’s Deception; obviously this wasn’t the most polished or well-executed mechanic in the third Uncharted adventure, but removing it completely – be it for ‘realism’ or just because they weren’t too satisfied with the original idea – just seems like a redundant choice.

Probably the biggest addition to both combat and platforming alike is the inclusion of the grappling hook, a flexible and wild gimmick. Hardly a new thing, but it adds much variety to multiple sections within the game and requires a surprising level of skill.

It is a gimmick, and I personally think it wasn’t utilized to the fullest of its potential, but it remains a damn thrilling and adrenaline-packed option, not to mention its role in one of the most breathtaking set-pieces in the entire series.

We also have puzzles, which are simple enough to not frustrate players, yet sophisticated enough to give them some thought. That said, I wouldn’t really call any of them particularly memorable.

All this is packed in an explosive and dense single-player campaign that would take about 15 hours to complete, and probably a couple dozens more to achieve several trophies and find collectibles, making it one of Naughty Dog’s largest and longest games to date.

Multiple bonuses in the forms of both playable character skins and screen effects can add a few more hours of gameplay.

Accompanying the whole deal is the series’ trademark multiplayer mode.

What originally started off as a somewhat small but deeply passionate side project for Among Thieves has quickly grown into a fiercely loved aspect of Uncharted whose high quality and immense popularity speak for themselves.

A Thief’s End offers mostly the same experience in Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception, albeit with nearly all the tweaks and changes done, as well as a few more new and exclusive toys to the second side of the coin.

The varied and expertly crafted map design stands out as one of the best in the industry; A Thief’s End offers a slew of creatively stunning and visually breathtaking maps built in such way that everything connects and players can easily swirl from one point to another, and each map is designed to support every gameplay mode available.

They also let players use their grappling hook to a somewhat more effective manner than the single-player campaign.

A Thief’s End includes mostly traditional gameplay modes such as team deathmatches, territory defenses and the ‘capture the flag’-influenced Plunder mode. All of those modes are injected with the series’ exciting action and flexible combat that keep things chaotically kinetic and frantic.

For newcomers, self-described trials that teach basic elements and weapons as well as a beginner-level deathmatch mode are available to hone their skills, which really show how understanding and caring Naughty Dog can be for their own fanbase.

Customization remains ridiculously vibrant and amusing with players can choose multiple character skins from the entire series and dress them in bizarre and over-the top clothing – for a price, of course. The very same goes for weapons and loadouts chosen before the match starts.

Mysticals and Sidekicks are the two big additions that spice things insanely up.

Mysticals are special power ups modeled after the supernatural elements in the Uncharted series, such as the El Dorado statue from Drake’s Fortune or the Cintamani Stone from Among Thieves. Those Mysticals are pricey but can afford a generous advantage in battle with their devastating powers, while their aforementioned high price keep them from being constantly abused.

On the other side there are Sidekicks, similarly expensive (but somewhat less) additions to combat that are seemingly weaker in terms of raw power and effects, but more versatile and tactical than their supernatural counterparts while also adding a temporary AI ally specializing in one specific skill such as sniping, healing or sheer firepower.

Both abilities add a surprising amount of flavor to an already explosive package with a gleeful amount of chaos and fun, making Uncharted 4 one of the best multiplayer experiences available on the PS4.

While not everything always clicks and there are still some little issues that have been carried over throughout the franchise, A Thief’s End still offers a masterfully designed single-player campaign and a bombastic multiplayer mode whose pros far outshine any cons they might have.

 

Visuals & Sound

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I don’t really feel like I need to spare some words about
A Thief’s End’s visual achievements because that’s pretty much a given considering this is a Naughty Dog game, and Naughty Dog are pretty well known for their masterful, unrivaled usage of Sony’s hardware to create some – to put it lightly – jaw-droppingly gorgeous scenery that makes almost everything else pale in comparison.

Okay, I do have to spare some words about it.

The art direction is superb, of course, with vivid and highly detailed locations matched by lively animations and physics. This being an Uncharted game, you can expect diverse and memorable trips to various states around the world, including Italy and Scotland.

But the crowning achievement of the technical aspects is without a shadow of doubt the character animations, designs and facial expressions.

Naughty Dog has damn well nailed it when it comes visual storytelling through motion capturing. It’s the facial expressions, body language and physical interactions that help tell more about the characters beyond what we’ve heard them talking about, beyond their dialogue and words.

This adds another layer of believability, of the cinematic touch Naughty Dog so fiercely tries to perfect, with a wonderful understanding of how to explore your characters and story through actions, following a golden rule of storytelling in videogames: show, don’t tell.

The top-notch voice acting helps as well, with Nolan North and Emily Rose leading the cast with their spectacular, emotional deliveries as Nate and Elena, having matured through the years since the first Uncharted. Add them alongside Richard McGonagle as Sully and newcomer Troy Baker (known as Joel from ND’s The Last of Us), and their interactions and dialogues are simply sublime, powered by human and realized performances and taken to levels seen in very few games.

The soundtrack is generally fitting and possesses a more somber, quieter tone and slower pace. It still packs the usual explosive action and adventure tracks that the series is known for, but to comply them there is also a handful of more gentler tracks that play masterfully during the more… quiet moments. I wouldn’t really call the soundtrack to be exceptional or anything, but it’s still very pleasant to the ears.

Plus, I love the new update to Nate’s Theme.

 

Final Verdict

I’ve been a fan of Uncharted for a long time, and I am more than happy to announce that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is, as many have already said before me, a worthy conclusion to a wonderful franchise that always tried to better itself release after release, and A Thief’s End represents a new sense of maturity to both the series and the developers, Naughty Dog.

It’s not perfect, no; its final third is paddled with filler and sluggish pacing that would have threatened the game’s entire narrative if not for the consistently strong – if sometimes safe – writing, and the powerful, powerful character drama that makes the best use of both dialogue and visual presentation to unfold an emotionally packed narrative about one man and his struggle to let his desires go.

It also helps that, despite numerous little nitpicks and issues here and there, A Thief’s End is an explosive adventure with exciting gunfights and incredible set pieces, coupled with beautiful scenery and top-notch performances. It’s a sequel that works so hard to fix and improve upon the foundation laid by its forefathers, yet still manages to retain much of the charm and style that made them modern classics in first place.

Combining the best elements of previous games while adding some new ideas of its own, it’s safe to say that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a fantastic game and one of Naughty Dog’s greatest achievements to date. If you have a PS4, you owe yourself to check this one title.

Now… I am a man of games, and I must seek my games.

More games to conquer!

 

In Points:

The Good:

  • An emotional narrative powered by strong character drama, rich lore and charismatic protagonists that culminate Drake’s tale wonderfully
  • Gameplay has been refined significantly since the original PS3 trilogy, with open-ended levels and flexible approach to action
  • Jaw-dropping scenery and an astonishing usage of visuals and animations to tell its story

The Bad:

  • Final third of the game is paddled with filler that causes much harm to the game’s pacing
  • Stealth mechanics can still get use of further additions and options to them
  • Narrative suffers from a few series tropes and cliches that long-time fans and gamers will recognize from a distance

& The Ugly:

  • No, seriously, Naughty Dog: where are Chloe, Cutter and the bloody grenade throwing from the last game?!

Alternate Recommendations

For my alternate recommendations, I have two.

The first one is basically a given, but anyways it’s Rise of the Tomb Raider for obvious reasons. It’s available on the Xbox One console and the PC while a special “20th Anniversary” edition is available on the PS4 with more bonuses. If you wish more, you might also check the 2013 rebooted Tomb Raider for the PS3 and X360. A “Definitive Edition is available for the PS4 and X1 consoles, although if you have a last gen console, just buy the original versions instead.

My second recommendation is a rather interesting one: Killzone: Shadow Fall. While both games belong to slightly different genres with Killzone being a sci-fi first person shooter and Uncharted being a cover-based third-person shooter, Shadow Fall follows a similar design format as A Thief’s End, as well as possessing a slower, more stealthy approach to gameplay that any of its predecessors. Shadow Fall is available on the PS4 exclusively.

Between those two games, you will hopefully find something to your liking.

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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End review – Fortune Earned

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