Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End not only reminds us exactly why we love Naughty Dog’s award-winning action adventure franchise, but why we love the character of Nathan Drake. He’s funny, charming, a little clumsy, and heroic, but most importantly, he’s flawed. This vulnerable attribute is something quite rare in video game protagonists these days, and while Uncharted 1, 2, and 3 explored Nate’s coming-of-age as a treasure hunter, A Thief’s End delves into Drake’s weaknesses and tendency to seek adventure, even when it comes at a detriment to himself and those he cares for most.
While most video game heroes are patted on the back as they reload, urged to continue their crusade, in Uncharted 4, Nathan Drake, a little older (but clearly not wiser) is full of conflict and a sense of loss, advocated to settle for a normal life rather than chasing his death-defying escapades of yesteryear. He is lured back into the dangerous world of treasure-hunting when his estranged brother crashes back into his life, breaking a promise to his wife, Elena. It’s an emotive injection into the story that adds a level of reluctance to every cliff you scale, puzzle you solve, explosion you escape, and gunfight you survive – knowing that you, as the player, are taking Nate on another (and possibly final) adventure.
The lovable Nolan North returns to voice Nathan Drake, along with Richard McGonagle (Sully) and Emily Rose (Elena) reprising their roles. Troy Baker (who brilliantly voiced Joel in The Last of Us) plays Sam, Nate’s brother. The voice-acting is once again superb, and while the script is the emotionally-heaviest of the series, it’s still full of seamlessly jokey dialogue and plot chatter during the gameplay and between all the action that brings the playfulness to the character that fleshes them out.
While the story is the mechanic that drives the game forward, the action is once again the pillar that delivers the entertainment. Uncharted 4 is the most set-piece oriented game in the series, opting for a more cinematic feel than Uncharted 2‘s video game-ish moments that kept the player in control rather than spectating the roller-coaster of subsequent disasters Nate endures. It works excellently given the narrative focus of the final chapter of Nate’s journey, allowing you to play the story, rather than play a game with a story.
That said, the game itself is spectacular. Mechanically it’s the most confident Uncharted yet, with fantastic rope swinging traversals and satisfying fights. Nate can use a newly added grappling hook to rappel up or down environments, as well as in combat – getting the jump on a bad guy or using it to evade a sticky situation. It’s a welcomed tool which brings some diversity to the linearity of some of the platforming and combat sections.
The shooting mechanics have always been an element which divided fans, but it’s safe to say that A Thief’s End features the most punchy and refined shootouts in the series. Weapons have a agreeable weight to them and smarter enemy AI provide enough of a challenge to test your flanking and aiming abilities.
Driving sections also make a cameo, and offer a great change of pace to the shooting, climbing, puzzle-solving rotation on offer, also allowing Naughty Dog to show off their meticulous ability to create massive and detailed open environments that leave your jaw on the floor.
These larger open areas are also part of Uncharted 4’s nuanced charm. The game not only allows for exploration, but encourages it – immersing you into Nate’s desire for discovery, allowing you to find the little hidden details in all the levels while exposing new paths and routes the game has to offer.
The multiplayer also benefits from the increased level of scale and new abilities, creating a hugely mobile online fight as you swing and climb to get the upper hand on opponents. It also adds in new supernatural elements culled from previous games. Things like El Dorado, a huge gold statue that can be summoned to spit out lethal homing spirits. Or the power of the Djinn, a teleporting speed and melee boosting power up. Then there are the friendly combat NPCs like snipers and medics that can fight alongside you. All of which can be bought, using in-game cash earned as you play and adding a tactical edge as you save/spend your gains. It’s fast and chaotic fun, adding welcome extra life the package (but let’s be honest, who buys Uncharted for the multiplayer?).
With the new implementations in the game, it’s clear that Naughty Dog wanted to evolve Uncharted for its final outing, but doing so without risking the integrity of what made the franchise great – relying on luck and quick-thinking by the player. Uncharted 4‘s personalised story brings the narrative to a heartfelt conclusion that rounds off the character development of Nathan Drake, and marks the end of one of the best franchises of the past two console generations. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a must-play for any PS4 owner.
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