Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – A review

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is finally upon us. First announced in November 2013 when PlayStation 4 launched, the much-anticipated finale to Sony’s flagship series faced several delays as developer Naughty Dog fine-tuned Nathan Drake’s last ride. Turns out the wait was well worth it as Naughty Dog has delivered as always.

In the years between Uncharted 3 and the latest, Naughty Dog made The Last of Us, quite possibly the pinnacle of gaming. So with three legendary Uncharted games already to their name, followed by maybe the greatest game of all time, the pressure was on ND to come through big time.

Ultimately, A Thief’s End is not the best Uncharted game, but it is another incredible installment and an excellent cap on the franchise. To be clear – “not the best Uncharted game” is still good enough for a 9 out of 10 and worthy of being called one of the greatest games ever made. It is a triumphant victory lap for one of gaming’s most influential and acclaimed series.

Best part of Uncharted on PS4: Sully's mustache looks better than ever
Best part of Uncharted on PS4: Sully’s mustache looks better than ever

Since 2007’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, we have had the pleasure of of playing through the exploits of Nathan Drake, a new age Indiana Jones, accompanied by one of the greatest supporting casts in gaming history.

The Uncharted games all pack Hollywood-level writing and acting, and are better than a lot of action-adventure movies these days. The characters have so much heart and depth that you really get attached to them. The incredible graphics add to the characters and make you feel like you’re part of something special, and A Thief’s End is no exception.

Uncharted’s characters feel big, alive and real thanks to strong performances. Nolan North, one of the top two game actors in the universe, once again voices Drake and provides the mocap, and that amazing supporting cast is back with him. Emily Rose returns as Elena, and Richard McGonagle once more lends his voice to Victor “Sully” Sullivan, the most awesome fucking character in the universe. There is no better core group of characters in a game franchise. They are phenomenal as always and their chemistry is what has given the series legs.

This time around, we’re introduced to Drake’s older brother Sam, played by Troy Baker, the other one of the top two game actors in the universe. Having North and Baker team up is like a nerdy wet dream, and they have phenomenal chemistry. Baker also fits right in with the rest of the cast like he’s been there before.

"Just like old times, brother. Those old times never hinted at in over 30 hours of prior gameplay!"
“Just like old times, brother. Those old times never hinted at in over 30 hours of prior gameplay!”

But he hasn’t. And since the Uncharted games are linear and story-driven, it must be noted that this game’s biggest flaw comes in the basic premise of the story: the inclusion of Sam Drake.

Naughty Dog games have consistently superb writing so this misfire is odd. Sam’s presence simply makes little sense. The other night my friend Bill brought this issue up, and it hit home for me as I couldn’t place what was bugging me about the story. Now I can’t stop thinking about it.

The general premise of the story – Nathan Drake reconnects with his long lost brother and goes on one last mission to help him – revolves around a cheap device meant to raise the stakes. At no point in the prior three games did we hear Drake had a brother. This development is a hurried and lazy way to make the situation seem more dire.

Go for a drive with your retconned brother across incredibly beautiful landscapes!
Go for a drive with your retconned brother across incredibly beautiful landscapes!

I want to write another overly long post about how little I care for this overused plot device, but all I’ll say here is that it bothers me a ton. We are made to believe Sam had this huge impact on Nate. So huge that when we learn a little about Nate’s past in the third game, Sam is never mentioned! When that game’s villain hints that “Drake” may not be Nate’s real name and talks about his family, she doesn’t even throw out a diss about his assumed-dead brother. To have Sam exist now is quite the retcon.

That took me out of the first couple hours of the game. But as it went on I got swept up in that same old Uncharted frenzy and started to enjoy myself. Somehow I managed to reconcile my distaste for the premise with respect for the wonderful directing, dialogue and acting. Once the story gets going, you can’t help but get sucked in.

I especially liked that the story wasn’t darker than the other games. The trailers kind of made it seem that this would be more serious since this is the final adventure, but it still had that same levity and humor that has made the series a treat.

The tone may not be a lot darker, but the damn picture certainly is
The tone may not be a lot darker, but the damn picture certainly is

There are some cliches in the story, but considering Uncharted is one big cliche action series, I wouldn’t say that is a problem. It’s damn fun. You can see some moments coming from a mile away, but it is ok. It works, especially since this is the last time around.

The story and gameplay can occasionally seem like a greatest hits compilation, which is fine because Uncharted is fucking awesome and this is the big, celebratory “one last time.” But it also shows you that it is time for the series to hang ‘em up.

The gameplay is awesome but a little predictable. You know you’re about to walk across something and have it collapse, only for you to heroically scramble to save yourself. Or you’re climbing a wall and it gives way and drops you way farther down. These are staples of the series, but by the fourth game and the millionth time of it happening in just that game, you realize this has to be the last go.

The act of killing remains very fun
The act of killing remains very fun

That isn’t to say this is just a bunch of rehashed, stale stuff. A Thief’s End is very fresh and plays extremely well. Climbing feels intuitive and smooth. Some people have said the whole climbing mechanic is dated, but I don’t feel that way at all. I enjoy scaling cliffs and buildings in games since I can’t in real life, and the mechanic handles better here than ever before. I’ve also always enjoyed the hand-to-hand fighting and gunplay in these games, and both remain stellar here.

The other staple of the series is the puzzles. I really enjoyed them in this one. I’m normally that guy who will lose all patience and just look up the solutions online because I want to keep the story moving as quick as possible, but not this time. They were fun, and I didn’t even cheat to solve them. A true sign of maturity!

And the graphics. Holy. Shit. Batman: Arkham Knight looked incredible, Metal Gear Solid V looked even better, but A Thief’s End is somehow tops both of those. If we reach the point where PS4 games look even better than this, my head will explode. The characters and environments look unbelievable, and that enhances the whole story experience. Easily the prettiest console game I’ve seen.

Look at these freaking graphics. You can practically see Elena's heart breaking as she realizes you didn't stay home to play Crash Bandicoot because you're treasure hunting again
Look at these freaking graphics. You can practically see Elena’s heart breaking as she realizes you didn’t stay home to play Crash Bandicoot because you’re treasure hunting again

Naughty Dog has hit it out of the park and once again given us a piece of art that feels like so much more than a game. Uncharted 4 is a great final ride for one of the most beloved franchises. If this is indeed the end, the series goes out on top doing what it does best – blowing us away with tremendous writing, acting, visuals and uber fun gameplay.

Of course, with all of these glowing reviews, great sales, the limited edition PS4 with Drake on it, the new controller and all of the other merchandise, there’s is a chance Sony and Naughty Dog come up with ways to get more money out of Uncharted. But for now, A Thief’s End is the finale we deserve.

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