It is rare that a developer takes such a definitive stance on ending a series, particularly one as popular as Uncharted. While it is technically possible that we will see another Uncharted down the road, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is confirmed as protagonist Nathan Drake’s final adventure. After nearly a decade with the charismatic treasure hunter, and more than a couple years waiting on Uncharted 4to make its appearance, we now finally get to experience the end of Drake’s era, and the resolution that leads to such an ominous title.
Every Uncharted adventure begins with a history lesson of sorts, which is always as effective at driving player interest as it is character motivations. During the late 17th century’s Golden Age of piracy, there lived the infamous pirate named Captain Henry Avery. Though his modern reputation doesn’t rival that of icons like Blackbeard, Avery’s success in the Gunsway heist—one of the most profitable heists in history—earned him the title “King of Pirates.” It was never discovered what Avery did with the bulk of the treasure, but impossible odds rarely discouraged Nathan Drake.
The first attempt on Avery’s treasure was one of the earliest enterprises Nathan ever took on. After seemingly losing his brother in the endeavor, Nathan set Avery aside and went on to seek out the prizes seen in the previous games, such as El Dorado, Shangri-La, and the City of Brass. Fast forward to the present day where Nathan has hung up the holster in an attempt to live a normal life before his long lost brother, Sam, comes back into the picture begging for his aid. For the sake of his brother’s fate, Nathan takes up the mantle of treasure hunter one last time and reignites the search for Avery’s fortune—believed to be hidden in the forgotten pirate utopia of Libertalia—while racing against a rival treasure hunter supported by a well-equipped private military corporation.
Uncharted 4’s story is much more straightforward than what the series is known for, with only a small handful of major evolutions occurring over the course of the 12-plus hour campaign. This is not to suggest the adventure eventually gets repetitive or tired, because the intrigue never ceases. The moments that’ll keep people playing past their bedtime aren’t necessarily the crazy plot turns of the past, but instead the more subtle interactions between characters, and the developments in the player’s knowledge of the history they’re chasing. It feels very much like an investment in the ending rather than constant plot twists over the course of the campaign, and while this progression may not have been the best decision for a final chapter, the resulting desire to keep playing at all costs is ultimately the same.
Much of the game’s dual narrative, balanced between character struggles and the historical legend, requires a level of commitment on the player’s part for those seeking the full experience. The setting of Uncharted 4holds nearly as much story as its cinematics through both visual and conversational cue discovered in the environment. Most of the conversations are treated with a staggering level of realism, as characters stutter and react to the actions of the player who can ignore or re-engage them at will. These spontaneous exchanges are also prime sources of backstory, as are the discoverable dialog tree instances scattered throughout the campaign. These conversations have no effect on the campaign’s trajectory, but are rather meant to contribute even more substance to an already elaborate narrative.
Those expositional rewards are only part of the benefit gained via the game’s highly incentivized exploration. Collectibles like conversation secrets and hidden trophies reward those who venture off the beaten path, but the general visual design is a reward in its own right. The first three Uncharted titles on the PlayStation 3 set a high bar for what is expected from the series, which Uncharted 4has more than excelled. The meticulous level of detail is such that it can occasionally be taken for granted, forgetting that it is a carefully constructed work of art rather than a direct translation of real life. From the draw distance on the tops of mountains, to the subtlest adjustments in a character’s facial expression, this is the presentation expected from Uncharted’s swan song.
The impressive vistas and environments received more attention than they ever have in an Uncharted game due to Uncharted 4’s broad level design. The explorable areas here are bigger than players may initially realize, and taking some time to indulge the expansive regions almost always leads to some of the hidden rewards mentioned above. A select number of moments could leave players to believe that Uncharted 4has some “open-world” opportunities—particularly when the game offers up a jeep for more expedient exploration—but the experience is still extensively linear. When it’s time to be funneled back in a more deliberate direction, the go-to method of mobility becomes the series’ trademark platforming mechanics.
This method of traversal is just as efficient and effortless as always, providing a methodical progression to enjoy some of the game’s best views while being just fast enough to keep a steady pace. One of the newest tools facilitating much of this movement is the new rope hook, which allows players to swing across chasms, scale up to higher platforms, and even pull objects around in some of the puzzles. The rope hook finds some of its most interesting uses, though, in Uncharted 4’s combat.
Arenas for the trademark third-person gunplay are larger than they’ve ever been, providing ample opportunity for maneuvering and engaging targets with help from Drake’s new tool. To compliment the new size of Uncharted’s combat zones, the game has provided a number of features dedicated to stealth tactics. Stealth is not technically new to the series, but functions like marking enemies, covering in tall grass, and tracking hostile awareness incentivizes players to consider a more analytical approach before simply opening fire. Stealth may sound just like one of many options, but clearing out some of the enemy’s forces before openly engaging is highly recommended once it becomes clear what a formidable force the enemies can be.
Combat is fast-paced and extremely aggressive where slowing down for even a moment can leave players blindsided by any number of the constantly flanking soldiers. At its best, the combat’s quick-thinking gameplay, wide enemy variety, and clever incorporation of platforming can really get the blood pumping. Unfortunately, the game commits the all-too-common sin of making the cover and dodge roll functions the same button. When you’re on the edge of your seat, fighting as hard as you can, little makes you want to break something more than Nathan getting behind cover when he’s meant to dodge, or dodging when he’s meant to cover.
This minor issue doesn’t discourage the desire to fight, but instead will likely make players welcome even more skirmishes just to show them who’s boss. Yet somehow, these fights don’t seem to transpire as often as they used to. That’s not to say there is factually less time spent shooting than there was in any of the games before it, but every previous chapter of Uncharted concluded with a general feeling of balance between the three pillars that make up the experience; platforming, combat, and puzzle solving. Uncharted 4seems to put both puzzle solving and combat in the back seat to spend the majority of its time with exploration and story development. This is not necessarily a bad thing—depending on what someone comes into an Uncharted game for—but the balance of past games gave the impression that no preferences were excluded.
Luckily, there is an intriguing remedy for those in need of their combative adrenaline fix. Similar to a chapter select feature (which is also an option), Uncharted 4has an encounter select feature, which offers up any of the fight scenes that happened over the course of the campaign. This, combined with a slew of post-game content like cheats, weapon customization, costumes, and render modes, gives Uncharted 4some major replayability no matter what a player is in the mood for.
On the subject of replayability, Uncharted 4brings back the venerable multiplayer seen in some of the earlier titles. As is the case with all aspects of the game, the core of the multiplayer is polished to a near mirror shine. Combat operates as one would expect, but several new elements mix up the proceedings. When creating a custom class, players can choose from a selection of purchasable upgrades and buffs that are acquired by spending a currency earned in the current match. These perks include AI sidekicks that create advantages with a variety of different functions, Mysticals which employ magic to execute powerful super moves, gear upgrades to give an edge to a player’s equipment, and heavy weapons that can turn the tide of any gunfight.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was the first of the series to introduce multiplayer, and while it was simple in execution, it’s Uncharted identity resonated with fans in a way that led to support for the multiplayer to return. The latest iteration of the mode that we get in Uncharted 4 honors that minimalistic design in its competitive gameplay, resulting in something equally addictive. The systems that work so well in the single-player translate brilliantly to the multiplayer front, but making comparisons to earlier games reveals a quality-over-quantity issue, and it would be nice to have both. Only three different modes are available in Uncharted 4’s multiplayer, contrary to Uncharted 3’s mode count of over twice that. The popular co-op feature from Uncharted 3is also conspicuously absent, as are the dynamic map designs that would alter the arenas over the course of the match. What is available for play in Uncharted 4’s multiplayer is immensely enjoyable, but the deficiencies made apparent when comparing it to the prior Uncharted experiences are hard to ignore. At the very least, the low mode count meant specific servers always had people in them, so here’s hoping this smooth matchmaking during the review transfers over to the post-launch community.
The conundrum of judging a game on its own merits versus what is expected of it based on its heritage is common in this genre of critique. For many fans, the impact of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may hinge on their experiences with the previous titles, something for which developer Naughty Dog is responsible considering how closely the chapters of the series are intertwined. Uncharted 4may not be the finale fans expected, but it is a testament to the overall quality of the entire series when it is simultaneously one of the greatest gaming experiences to come out in a long time. It may be hard to set aside nostalgia, but Uncharted 4is a beautiful, tightly designed rollercoaster of a game that ultimately should not be missed by anyone—Uncharted fan or otherwise. Finally, the decision to omit any opinion regarding the ominous ending was a conscious one. While it is factored into the score, proclaiming a positive or negative reaction to its conclusion would be too suggestive, so fans will have to form their own opinions pertaining to that very particular moment by experiencing it for themselves.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a true work of art, and the only time the slightest apprehension may surface is when one compares it to the titanic installments that came before.
Sony Interactive Entertainment
T - Teen
|Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is available on PlayStation 4. Primary version reviewed was for PlayStation 4. Review code was provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of one to five stars.|
Nick didn’t start gaming until mid-2006. Once his parents finally allowed a console into the house, it was all uphill from there. Starting out with a PS2, he grew an affinity for Sony consoles and moved on to the PS3, and now the PS4. He keeps his gaming palette wide, but, gun to his head, he’d have to say shooters are his genre of choice.