Early in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Nathan Drake is in his attic going through artifacts and trinkets he’s collected in year’s past. As he goes through the items, he reminisces over the experiences and the adventures that brought the artifacts into his hands. It’s a moment where not only Drake gets nostalgic, but the player too. We were there with him in South America searching for El Dorado, we were there with him searching for the lost city of Shambhala, and we were there in the desert looking for the Iram of Pillars. It’s a sobering moment letting us know that after all those adventures, after all those close calls, and after the numerous battles, at some point it has to come to an end, and that time is now.
Developer Naughty Dog has been pretty open about the fact that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is their final game in the Uncharted series and for this final game, they’re pulling out all of the stops. If you ever needed a reason to get a PlayStation 4, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is it.
Who is Nathan Drake, really?
Although we’ve been playing Uncharted games for close to a decade, there’s still a lot of stuff we don’t know about the game’s star, Nathan Drake. In Uncharted 4, we get to know Drake more than any other game before it. The game begins with a high speed boat chase in some unknown waters before we get a flashback to Drake’s childhood. We learn that he grew up in an orphanage, had an older brother named Sam who he adored, and we learned a bit about his parents. Later on, we catch up the brothers on an early adventure looking for a pirate’s treasure and get a first-hand look at the relationship between the brothers. Unfortunately, there’s an accident that leaves Sam dead, or so we thought.
Fast forward to the present day, Drake has given up the treasure hunting lifestyle. He’s married to Elena, has a two-story family home, and works a 9-to-5 for a local salvage company. He also spends his evenings playing classic video games with his wife. While that might sound like a great life for many folks, adventuring is in Drake’s blood. He's bored. That’s when Sam surprises Nathan at the job asking for him for his help in search of that old pirate treasure they were looking for back in the day. And his life depends on it.
Uncharted 4 is a linear game that focuses on the narrative. There are three stories going on simultaneously here – the current adventure in search of the pirate Henry Avery’s treasure, the flashback narrative of Sam and Nathan as kids, and the story behind Avery’s secret pirate colony called Libertalia, which is told through artifacts and letters littered throughout the game. The writing team at Naughty Dog did a fantastic job writing an all-encompassing experience which gives the game’s characters some depth that we haven't had before and a backstory about Avery and his crew that will have players looking for clues to find out what else was going on the pirate’s heyday. Plus, the developer does a great job at capturing that brotherly and husband-wife dynamic in funny back and forth commentary between the characters on their journey. Even when the action slows down, there’s never a boring moment. The acting is great too, with a chemistry that is believable.
Fight, shoot, swing
While the foundation of Uncharted’s gameplay is still intact, it’s tighter and smoother than it’s ever been. I felt like I was in more control of Nate than in previous games with very few errant jumps and a more responsive cover system. There were still a few times where Nate wouldn’t get in cover as quickly as I wanted him to or would grab the wrong hand hold while scaling the side of mountain, but it wasn’t bad enough to get me killed or anything. You also have the option of turning on aim assist as well, which works really well if you’re not as skilled or quick enough to get an enemy in your sights.
Stealth also returns in Uncharted 4 where you can sneak up or sneak past enemies in tall grass, under water, or from behind walls. You don’t have to use stealth, however. You have the option of taking out enemies going in with guns blazing or a combination of both. I often preferred to take out a few enemies with stealth so as to not be overwhelmed when in the middle of a firefight with multiple enemies.
One of the new additions to the game is the grappling hook. It’s not like Batman’s grappling hook in the Arkham games where he fires it at a building and it zips him up, it’s more like Indiana Jones’ whip where he can throw it around a wood plank, swing across a crevice or climb up the side of a mountain. Oh, you can also blast enemies with your pistol while swinging across valleys and from rock to rock.
As with any Uncharted game, it’s not all running and gunning. The puzzles in Uncharted 4 are as interesting as they’ve ever been each with its own little story about how and why a particular puzzle was made. Whether it’s matching symbols with lights in a particular order or making it past booby trapped platforms, the puzzles aren’t difficult, but they’re not so easy where you’ll just breeze right past them.
A beautiful journey
Along with the great story and the fun and diverse gameplay, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is probably the most beautiful game on PlayStation 4. During the game you start in New Orleans but travel to exotic locals in Panama, Italy, Scotland, Madagascar, and “uncharted” tropical islands. To say that the design of the environments and the art of the game are gorgeous would be an understatement. It’s majestic, it’s mesmerizing, and it’s immersive. While the game is a linear experience, there are some areas that have an open world feel that you’re more than inclined to explore.
Seriously, I wanted to crawl in my TV and explore these pirate-era ruins in real life. In these moments, I questioned my career goals like, “Should I just quit this journalism thing and be a treasure hunter or archaeologist?” Of course I come to my senses when these ruins start collapsing and I’m running, jumping, swinging, and shooting in high-octane action sequences that are exhilarating and jaw-dropping. Even then, I didn’t want it to end.
One of my favorite things about Uncharted 4’s multiplayer is the ability to summon sidekicks with a unique ability. Multiplayer has your familiar games like Team Deathmatch, the Capture-the-Flag game, Plunder, and the zone capture game, Command, but what sets it apart are the sidekicks. You can summon a sidekick after earning cash during a multiplayer match. The sidekick can be a sniper who you can place anywhere on the map to protect a zone or location. A brute who is armored to the T and carries a full size machine gun. A hunter who hunts down your enemies, sneaks up behind them and chokes them out. Or a Savior who follows you around giving you ammo, healing you and your teammates, and reviving downed soldiers. You earn cash by killing enemies and finding loot stashes and in addition to buying sidekicks, you can buy special weapons, gear, and Myticals. Mysticals are special weapons that allow you to conjure up some of the supernatural powers from the Uncharted universe. For example, the Wrath of El Dorado Mystical unleashes spirits to track down and attack enemies while Indra’s Eternity slows down any enemy in the immediate area allowing you to easily take them out. Although Uncharted 4’s multiplayer isn’t really the selling point here, and you play the same games from every other multiplayer shooter, it does have its uniqueness to add some longevity to the game.