The Uncharted series was the beginning of what I thought was a dark period for Naughty Dog. Going from Crash Bandicoot and Jak to Uncharted (with The Last of Us on the side) was quite a change for the studio, and it was a change I personally wasn't really that thrilled about at first. Going from bright and colorful all ages games to third-person shooter/adventure games that are basically modern Indiana Jones movies was foreign to their fans at first. Thankfully, the fun characters and Indiana Jones-style archaeology grew on everyone from the get-go, the only problem being the sub-par gameplay. When Naughty Dog released Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, to amazing critical acclaim, they fixed that one problem. Now, we have finally arrived at Uncharted 4: A Thief's End; the end of the Uncharted series. Naughty Dog has a lot to prove, coming off the incredible success of The Last of Us, and the end of a popular series is a hard thing to nail. Does the Thief's End come quick? Or is it an end worth savoring?
Nate and the Sea of Thieves
Uncharted 4 actually starts it's journey all over the globe, in multiple ways. You start on a boat fighting off a bunch of goons only to be thrown overboard and sent back to Nathan's childhood, then you are sent to Panama and finally off to the adventure proper. All this globe trotting and time jumping serves a very important purpose; to build a character that wasn't even mentioned in the previous games. That character is Sam Drake; Nathan's brother. Not only is he central to the plot of this current game, he is central to Nathan himself, being attached to his growth throughout the series. Sam is a welcome addition to the series, he's got his humorous side but is mostly an awkward and slightly more serious character that is hellbent on acquiring the Pirate Captain Henry Avery's treasure.
Like any Uncharted game, things aren't going to go smoothly for our aging "treasure hunters". Like you'd expect, an army stands before them and is, typically, one step ahead of our would-be heroes. Like usual, the writing is spot-on even if it does fall into the same traps as the previous games; sudden twists that are pretty obvious and the all too convenient ability for Nathan and Sam to figure things out with no real hints. The story may fall into the same beat often, but it adds things that help smooth the plot out, mainly the relationship between Nate and Sam and the growing mountain of marriage problems between Nate and Elena. There is constantly new pieces of dialogue fleshing these characters out more and more and it's a joy to experience.
I was also pretty worried going into this game knowing that it's the last in the series. Usually games that have the unfortunate job of ending a series fall flat and if your final entry was to have an unsatisfying ending? You'd be up a very certain creek without a paddle. Thankfully, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End has a very satisfying ending, probably the most satisfying ending I've ever had the opportunity to experience. That's not something I can say very often. If you have any love for these characters, you'll get your fill of them in Uncharted 4.
"Alright, Maybe We Should Have Brought Guns"
Uncharted games have always been classified as Action Adventure games, I've always classified them as Third-Person Shooters. In Uncharted 4, however, they have finally managed to sneak into the Action Adventure genre for me personally. You still kill an army of goons with various standard firearms, but this game is much happier giving you platforms to jump to and things to climb, which I'm all for...if the climbing is any good. Climbing in the previous games was fairly slow and kind of silly looking in the end as you'd mostly be jumping up things to speed things up. This time around, the climbing is much smoother and the environment is designed in such a way that you don't find yourself foolishly jumping up ladders and along ledges to speed things up. Not only is climbing smoother, moving around and hoping over cover has been significantly improved. Nathan has never felt better to control and it makes the game that much more enjoyable.
Besides jumping and monkeying around, Nathan does know his way around a firearm. Shooting is mostly the same, but the cross-hair and aiming is better than it used to be, especially Uncharted 3's which was off for some odd reason, and blind fire is actually useful now. Guns themselves haven't really changed a lot but they are still fun to use. Although, if you are REALLY skilled, a lot of the encounters can actually be completed by stealth. Not only that, but enemies can actually lose track of you in combat allowing you to mix it up making firefights way more dynamic that ever. Not to mention you can hide in tall grass, just like in Assassin's Creed, which is pretty neat. Of course, this new focus on stealth isn't without it's bits of stupidity, but what stealth game IS free of those. Sometimes enemies don't recognize bodies. I've had plenty of instances where enemies were staring right at the corpse of their dead friend and they continued on like usual. Also, enemies don't notice you right away, a meter above their head fills up as they see you until they eventually start to confront you. This can be abused because if the bar doesn't fill up until it turns yellow, the enemy won't actually go and investigate which can lead to some silly moments.
Uncharted 4 hides a few other new features that are implemented rather well, even if some do seem a little silly. One of these new features, the vehicles, are actually pretty fun to use and to actually give them a purpose there are some pretty large areas to explore, especially the Madagascar vehicle segment. This inclusion of large areas has actually been worked into the basic gameplay as well. There were plenty of moments where I made it to my destination only to look back and see there were plenty of ways for me to make it here and little places I've missed. These large areas are home to beams with ropes wrapped around them that are an indicator you can use your new grappling hook which lets you swing around environments. Not only is the rope used for traversal, it can be used in some combat scenarios as well. It just adds to the movie like quality the combat now has as the hand-to-hand combat has been improved and flows together better. If you jump off a ledge above and enemy, you'll take them down with a jumping punch. If you punch at an enemy behind cover, Nathan will slide over and kick them, and if you knock out an enemy with melee and you don't have a weapon, Nathan will grab theirs.
The other new feature that really stands out isn't really used that often and you don't even get it until late in the game. It's a dagger that lets you latch onto certain walls and, while it's fun to use, it's really strange that this special wall is only in very specific spots. Overall, this is by far Naughty Dog's best playing game by far and I don't think it's far off from being the best playing Third-Person Shooter game I've played in a long while.
Fortune and Glory, Me Hearties, Fortune and Glory
The Uncharted games have always sounded and looked fantastic so it's no surprise A Thief's End does as well. What is surprising is that it's probably the best looking game I've played, even better looking than the Order. The real impressive part about it is the scale of the game and the fact that areas are much more open now. When I first set out in the wilderness of Madagascar and was able to drive around a large area and get out whenever I wanted, I was floored. Not only is Uncharted 4 technically stunning, it's bright, colorful and environmentally varied as well. It's also got some of the best animation I've seen in a game, Nathan's movement and death animations have all received a massive improvement, as have the combat animations and little details like characters getting wet and dirty.
From an audio point of view, the music remains as enjoyable as it usually is with the theme still being one of my favorites. The returning cast does the same amazing job they always have done and the new characters are also incredibly well voiced and acted. Sam is a stand-out, as is Rafe. This game has both Nolan North AND Troy Baker in the two starring roles, it's pretty stunning.
Sic Parvis Magna, Greatness From Small Beginnings
The Uncharted series has been throwing around Sir Francis Drake's motto; Sic Parvis Magna or Greatness From Small Beginnings since the beginning and I couldn't think of a better motto to associate with them. What started out as a humble Indiana Jones like adventure with great characters, a good plot and sub-par gameplay has essentially become the face of PlayStation in recent years. These characters have had plenty of fun dialogue, exciting adventures and many stories to share with us over the course of five games. We joined them on their adventures through Hell and back. A thrilling train battle, escaping from a collapsing building, wandering through the desert, hanging out the back of a plane in mid-flight. Nathan and his friends have been through so much and we've been with them every step of the way. I can't think of a better way to see them off and we all know they've had a good run. Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is everything the previous games were and more. Amazing visuals, vastly improved combat, thrilling platforming, an excellent story, stunning locales and an exciting adventure. If you own a PlayStation 4, you might want to look this game's way if you haven't already. If you haven't, join us in Paradise.
+ Amazing visuals, excellent music, fantastic voice acting
+ Vastly improved and fun combat
+ Thrilling platforming improved by the Grappling Hook
+ Large and varied areas make exploring fun
+ Dialogue is fun and Story is engaging
+ A more serious, dramatic take on Uncharted
- More of the same