As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, this is precisely the case with Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog was not shy about telling us that this game marks the end of Nathan Drake’s adventures and it is fitting. I have to admit there is an air of sadness entering Uncharted 4, having only just established a fandom to the series it is sad to see it leave so soon, but it is true all good things must come to an end. This may be the end to the adventures of a wonderful character but Naughty Dog has not short changed us and provided an unsatisfying journey, rather they have built an adventure that provides a fitting conclusion to Nathan Drake’s story. So now as we start to say goodbye let us relish in the true masterpiece that is Uncharted 4, and enter the search for treasure one final time.
In Uncharted 4 Nathan Drake has retired from fortune hunting so that he can try to live a “normal” life. He has settled into a married life with Elena, he works a proper job and overall tries to stay within the boundaries of the law, this is until his long absent brother Sam returns. Suddenly Nathan’s life is uprooted and his world thrown into turmoil as Sam convinces him to help him find the treasure of notorious pirate Henry Avery. From here the story just escalates and brings about many of the moments you expect from the Uncharted games, overall I felt like Uncharted 4 offers one of the finest stories in the Uncharted series.
The whole dynamic of the story is fascinating and is wonderfully explored as the game progresses, one of the strongest elements about this game is the story of family which shines through Nathan and Sam’s bond. The game likes to play with Nathan and Sam showing the brotherly bond that connects them and how it affects many of the key elements of the story, furthermore it presented a masterful showing of Nathan’s struggles regarding retirement and the affect his choices have on his relationships with those he is closest to, it’s hard to delve further into the characters and the interesting elements of the game without going into spoilers so I will not go any further.
However in terms of story there is still one thing I can address, in Uncharted 3 we got to explore more of Nathan Drake’s backstory and this section was fascinating. For Uncharted 4 Naughty Dog has chosen to do this again and I couldn’t be happier, it continues to be interesting to explore Nathan’s backstory and some of the key moments that shaped him as a person. We finally receive some much needed key details which tie the franchise together and it was interesting to explore Sam and Nathan’s young lives and why they are in the situation. Honestly these sections are great for character motivation and development and I really loved exploring these, there is still a handful of loose threads found through this but I am glad they continued to explore these key moments.
In terms of gameplay I must say I am impressed and more so then I was expecting, one of my initial concerns regarding Uncharted 4 was Naughty Dog’s change of approach to the gameplay. While the game is still typically linear there are many instances where the game is developed in a more open manner, the world features many open fields, or even open roads which made a nice change. The reason this is great is because it often made the game that much more interesting, while the path is linear you often need to wander the open sections trying to work out where to go which forces you to be more observant.
It was my initial concern that the games move to more open levels and environments would hurt the core experience and mess with the typical flow of the game. I was honestly glad to say though that I was wrong, the game uses this style in an interesting way that really improves the game for the better, in one way it lends to the series typical puzzle solving turning the environment into a bigger puzzle.
Note how I previously said you need to be observant, this is for good reason the environment in these open sections force you to think and consider how you need to move forward, the game only ever has one path but this is not always easy to find but I like this change. It shows that Naughty Dog wanted to build some greater set pieces for Uncharted 4 and the game shines because of it, the environment in each level often feels expansive and it is not forced. Furthermore there are some truly devious progression puzzles due to the clever nature of the design.
The open world sections are made better and more apparent by one of the new additions to the franchise proper vehicular sections. In terms of the previous games there have been vehicle sections, however these were often very linear with a straight path ahead. Uncharted 4 uses vehicle sections as major set pieces of the game, and to further demonstrate the true scale of how open the game really is. In these moments it almost seems like we are set free to explore the world laid out before us, it is never the case but the sheer scale is honestly incredible and the odd moment gives room for the rare opportunity to explore more. It is in these moments where the game changes pace and redefines itself in a new way but every instance where the game uses vehicles are just incredible and are some of Uncharted 4’s most memorable moments.
Another thing that is exceptionally memorable is the world itself, vehicle sections give way to this great sense of scale but it is the sights that lay before us in these sections or in general where the game is at its strongest. It can be said that the amount of detail placed in this game is distracting, if this was a concern then it would be a major problem, Uncharted 4 offers many moments where I just wanted to stop and stare at the world laid out before me. Everything from the sights of nearby grass, to the odd mountain in the distance draws the eye and can be distracting, however it is in the best way possible, often this is used to add scale to the world or show a key piece of the area that always lingers.
Naughty Dog has done exceptionally well with every detail that has been placed in the game, it was hard not to admire the sight of a nearby leaf, or the wide expanse of a surrounding jungle. Perhaps even more incredible is some of the views of the game, distances are not merely muddy textures with grainy buildings, I was often surprised with the amount of detail that went into every spot you could see in the distance which demonstrated how well-crafted the world is. Every spot you could see mattered and it helped the world feel more cohesive and feel like every spot had a point, as a key example at one moment in the game you can have Nathan standing on top of a tall tower and upon looking down you can see expansive fields and a massive city. No matter how insignificant it may seem it was stunning to see every little point so well crafted, it really made me appreciate the hard work of the developers more and if this was part of why the game took so long I am not complaining.
Uncharted 4 has also seen another gameplay refinement, this one comes in terms of combat and really made these sequences more amusing and to an extent more personal. While the Uncharted games have always offered stealth in their combat sequences to a limited extent here you have more freedom to make the choice, many fight sequences will include tall grass in which Nathan can hide, this in turn provides greater freedom to your approach. It is nice that it is so easy to just make the choice half the time and can choose your approach, should you prefer the series standard cover shooting you have the option, but for those of us who would rather put more thought into their how they chose to fight I enjoyed the option.
In all this adds a greater amount of tactics to your approach, you can remain observant and look for the best opportunity to run in for a swift attack. It is this refinement which has also helped to raise the stakes of combat sequences also, many of the grounds where you are forced into combat are larger than before and feature a wider amount of enemies, because of this the stakes are raised further. It is not always possible to see everyone and it was common that I would miss somebody and mess up and get forced into a gunfight. Overall it is wonderful that the option is there and it really adds to Uncharted 4 as a game providing the option to choose your preferred approach, of course this is not always the situation.
I don’t think I would have really been satisfied if the game was always optional in its combat approach, in fact it is the set piece of getting swarmed by foes that is a wonderful signature of the franchise. Thankfully for those concerned by this factor there is nothing to really worry about, while fewer than previous games there are many scripted combat sequences which force you into the confrontation. These moments are nerve-racking and often feel tense, but are enjoyable for plot reasons and meant that you had be ready never knowing when the game might just throw a scripted all out combat sequence your way.
Another concern I had coming into this game reflected upon the games traditional platforming, while I love the open feeling, a thing that initially bothered me was the rope mechanic. This idea was newly added to the game and to begin with bothered me, I felt the idea was forced and might remove some of the brilliance of the platforming. I think it was understandable but thankfully it was not actually a problem, I really grew to appreciate the new mechanic as I continued through the game and honestly in itself it raised the stakes of the adventure. It some ways it added to the puzzle solving mechanics of the world, in another it worked to make each section that much larger, scaling walls and moving across the world was not just short and simple, the rope added huge gaps and moments that were truly terrifying. Although it has become commonplace for us to see Nathan having trouble and seeing ledges crumble under his weight, the tension was really built up further by the rope making huge leaps and causing many moments where I would honestly panic to quickly launch my rope in time, certainly it adds new elements that I never previously considered.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is really a game that could have gone either way, somewhere in the back of my mind I feared that Naughty Dog would be unable to do this final installment justice, but in truth the series goes out perfectly. The gameplay improvements help make things all the more thrilling and add a whole lot to the core experience, however it is in the games story where it truly shines, if this is Nathan Drake’s last adventure then it is the perfect way to end the series. The interesting point I wish to make however is that I can see where Naughty Dog could continue the franchise with another character should they so choose. For now though let’s take solace in sending off Nathan Drake in a great and truly fun way, Uncharted 4 is a true series highlight all throughout and is probably the Playstation 4’s finest game to date.