It probably sounds like blasphemy at this stage but prior to the announcement of Uncharted 4, I was actually hoping there wouldn’t be a sequel. Naughty Dog have proven again and again that they are one of, if not the best video game developers in the industry – so the thought of them going back to a nine year old franchise rather than creating a new IP seemed like a waste. That wasn’t to say Sony could not have handed the series to another capable developer of course, either.
Regardless, I was wrong – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the best entry in the franchise and is a fitting end to Nathan Drake’s adventures.
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• Developer: Naughty Dog
• Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Release Date: Available Now
Based on how Uncharted 3 ended, many probably questioned where Naughty Dog would go with the story this time. The introduction of a new character to spur on a new story can often feel a little convenient and initially that is how I felt about Sam. However, he is written into Nate’s history so well and sells the idea that he is his physically older but emotionally younger brother.
The reasoning behind their estrangement is fully explained and sets the tone for the rest of their journey. It also feels like Nate has had this yearning for adventure within him this whole time and simply needs any sort of push to fall back into his old life. Actually, the game works on a metaphysical level too when you consider Naughty Dog are Nate and their audience collectively form Sam.
Also falling back into the old life is you, the player. Uncharted 4 immediately feels familiar – not surprising considering the 4 in the title. We are now well versed on the game-play and tropes of the series, for better and for worse. While Naughty Dog have clearly been working on each aspect of the game diligently, and each aspect has seen significant improvements, once again gun-play seems to be the thorn in their side. However, they also seem to know this and have given you more ways to avoid it this time. Not only are there simply fewer times when you’ll need to reach for your trusty pistol, but the game’s stealth mechanics now actually work, giving you a truly alternative option to all-out gun combat.
One of the biggest game-play improvements is the simple fact that getting spotted is now no longer the end of the stealth aspect of the game. Previously, that was your queue to lob grenades and pray you had enough ammo to take out the remaining thugs. This time, you can drift back into hiding, so long as you avoid the enemies’ gaze long enough. The ability to mark targets and the inclusion of an awareness indicator also helps to prolong your time in hiding.
More than any other entry in the series, Uncharted 4 is about exploration too. In place of the various arena gunfights of the previous games, you are now tasked with getting from A to B far more often. Not only does this show off some of the game’s jaw-dropping visuals, it also introduces some new mechanics. The rope is introduced for the first time and naturally melds to the rest of the game’s traversal mechanics. The more fluid climbing is also helped by the inclusion of a metal spike that Nate can use to create his own hand-holds, adding much needed variety to the ‘hammer X until you are at the other side’ approach to climbing.
All of these improvements to the game-play do help to make Uncharted 4 the best playing game in the series, however, the biggest improvement overall to the game is the writing. Whether it is during gunfights, in the middle of scaling cliff faces or just lounging around on a beach, characters can interact. For anyone like me that loves story, gameplay sections are no longer the parts in between the cut-scenes that you have to get through. In fact, there are far more character moments during these impromptu chats than I expected.
In line with the better writing, the detail Naughty Dog have been able to capture and replicate on their character models has been staggering. Entire emotional journeys can now take place on a character’s face and body without a word being spoken. Not only does it illustrate the mastery Naughty Dog have of the technical aspects of the medium, it also shows how good Nolan North, Troy Baker, Richard McGonagle and Emily Rose truly are.
The campaign is a well-paced, well-told story that grips you from beginning to end. The mystery you set out to solve is tied to the story of the characters too so Nate’s journey mirrors those of the pirates he is trying to find. Even the journal entries you find throughout the game add more depth, to the point where despite Captain Henry Avery never appearing on-screen, he still feels like a character.
Outside of the single player, the game’s multiplayer element has also seen significant refinement. The combat feels fluid and tight, with the rope and improved climbing making its way to the mode too. The addition of mystical to change the course of a match and sidekicks to help swing it in your favour all help to improve the overall experience. The road-map Naughty Dog have released also prove that they have not just tacked on this mode – they are in it to support it.
By the time the closing credits rolled on Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the sense of satisfaction I felt was palpable. The game is truly superb and once again, forms the benchmark against which we’ll judge other games. If you are in the mood for a character-driven, action adventure game, you simply cannot choose a better title. Naughty Dog are masters of their craft and this is their magnum opus… again.