Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the fourth and final installment of the Uncharted series by Naughty Dog. It’s the 9th game Naughty Dog has made since its acquisition by Sony back in 2001 and, boy, it has been a productive 15 years, with only Jak X falling below the 80 rating on Metacritic in that time frame. I feel that Naughty Dog is one of the top three, if not the best game developer in the industry right now.
The game is set three years after the events of Uncharted 3, when Nathan reunites with his older brother, Sam, who he had long thought dead. Sam draws Nathan out of his “retirement”, asking for help to save his life and together they embark on a hunt for Captain Henry Avery’s treasure and to find the legendary pirate utopia of Libertalia. What follows is an epic tale of heists, gunfights, relationships and obsession.
Both graphically and aesthetically, Uncharted 4 is one of the best games of this console generation. So far. Hard to believe we’re only at the first Naughty Dog in this generation. I hope that the fourth game, if there is a fourth, would have the same technical leap as Uncharted 1 to the Last of Us. Anyway, games like Ryse and the Order: 1886 is still better graphically, but they’re generally regarded as glorified tech demos with most of the development focused on the graphics and not on the gameplay. Witcher 3 is perhaps the other game that can match Uncharted 4. The transition between cutscenes and gameplay is almost unnoticeable, because the cutscenes are not actually pre-rendered but are rendered in real time. In other words, the in game models are used, so things like the guns in the cutscenes will be the same as the guns you used in the actual game. I can’t believe that day is finally here!
The story is this game is excellent. I think it’s actually a notch above the previous games, especially in terms of the emotions it invoked. Particularly in the relationship between Nate and Elena, and Nate and Sam. It certainly adopted the less is more principle of the Last of Us. There’s a lot of stories that are told through the faces alone. Naughty Dog took advantage of the buffed up PS4 system (compared to PS3) and went to town with the facial expressions. The game also ties up Nathan Drake’s story in a neat little bow, though I wonder if we’ll have another Uncharted perhaps ten years down the road. Probably by another studio. And probably featuring a certain other Drake. 😉 😉
The game also does an awesome job in blending music, story and the environment. One moment in particularly had me idling for about five minutes, just drinking in the entire scene. It was after a brief and intimate conversation between two characters while they were riding a car elevator. Their conversation ends and they get into the jeep and drive out. The music starts to play and covers all but the ambient sounds. A soft and enchanting melody. There’s a waterfall in the distance. A foliage covered statue. Birds flying past. And as you drive, the music fades, the sound of the jeep’s tires starts getting louder and louder until that’s the only thing you hear. And then suddenly the sereneness is broken and you’re back to the task at hand. It left me a little teary eyed somehow. I don’t even know which strings it pulled. It also reminded me a lot of Red Dead Redemption’s ride into Mexico scene.
Maybe it’s because I’m getting older and my hand eye coordination has degraded, but I found the gunfights in this game to be a little frustrating. I had a hard time aiming. I ended the game with only a 34% accuracy. I’m usually about 60% in this kind of games. I also had a hard time keeping track of where the enemies were. Much of it is because the fighting areas are much more layered now. There’s a vertically factor to it as you swing from platform to platform, cliff to cliff to outflank your enemies, except that you’re outnumbered, so you end up surrounded instead. That said, there’s no longer the “oh covers, this must mean a fight is about to happen” feel to the game. Now, it’s just your HUD popping up. I’m thankful that Naughty Dog chose to keep the gunfights to a minimum. And the stealth helps too. I’m about to embark on a Crushing play through. And I’m not looking forward to the gunfights.
There’s a few immersion breaking situations in the game that left me saying “seriously” a few times. There were two situations in particular that stood out to me. The first was a gunfight that broke out in a crowded market place which ends with a blown up armored truck by a port full of witnesses. It’s a wonder Nate isn’t charged with destruction of property and manslaughter. I thought back to the previous games and couldn’t think of anything like this that happen. 2 had a gunfight in a city, but it was war torn Nepal. 3 had a fist fight in a marketplace.
The second immersion breaking thing I experienced was the fact that Nate had a grappling hook, which could be used to overcome several situation (like climbing a cliff or a wall) that he just never does. Instead he waits around for someone to help him up or leave people behind.
I was also disappointed by the lack of an epic set piece. 2 had the train. 3 had the plane and the ship. 4 didn’t have anything of a similar scale. The closest that I can think of is the falling ruins in Libertalia as Sam and Nate try to escape their enemies. But that’s close to what happened in Nepal in the second game and honestly, it’s something expected in a game about exploring ancient ruins. Heck, Tomb Raider had something similar too.
There’s no supernatural element in an Uncharted game for once. 1 had the zombies, 2 had the guardians and 3 had djinns. I kept expecting it to happen, but never did happen. Everything had a non-supernatural explanation to it. I’m a bit disappointed by it, but only because I kinda wanted it to be in every game. It’s no actual loss, but still there’s something called tradition. Haha.
The Last of Us’s fingerprints are all over this game. And in a good way too. Optional conversations makes a return. Environmental storytelling is also on par. My favorite was the one about the explorer. The way the story is told, and the focus on relationship is certainly a page taken from the Last of Us. And who knows, maybe this will be Neil Druckmann’s signature. It’s too early to tell, we’ll have to wait until he writes and directs more games. Side note: Naughty Dog -> Nathan Drake -> Neil Druckmann? I smell a conspiracy. Haha.
Judging by the wide open areas in Uncharted 4, the Last of Us 2 is going to be an awesome game. Just thinking about how it could be used in TLOU2 has me all excited for it. Imagine sweeping areas where you can hunt every nook and cranny for crafting resources, while trying to keep quiet and not alert the infected. Imagine driving around and smashing the infected while trying to escape. And hopefully this time around, we’ll get more of infected vs hunter fights with the boosted technical prowess of the PS4.
I’m considering writing a few more in depth posts about Uncharted 4. I have a few ideas in mind, now I just need to do some research, grab some screenshots and videos and maybe I write them out. Maybe. I’ll try to get it out by next Saturday, but no promises.
A remarkable conclusion to a remarkable series, Uncharted 4 strikes out a balance of excellent storytelling with good gameplay, perhaps tipping in favor of the former more than the latter. A must play for all Uncharted and Naughty Dog fans and fans of story driven, action adventure games. Best experienced after you’ve completed the previous games.