With the weight of the world in terms of expectations, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End had a tough road ahead of it. Long billed as the final Uncharted entry, and building upon Naughty Dog’s legacy with the first three and The Last of Us, it’s not hard to imagine a scenario in which Uncharted 4 was a disappointment. Fortunately for all of us, that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is a marvel of storytelling, coupled with the best platforming and exploring the series has ever offered. We are treated to a great send-off for Nathan Drake that is reason enough to pick up Uncharted 4, but there’s also a quite well-made multiplayer experience to sweeten the pot.
Uncharted is as good as its story
Through a series of flashbacks we are filled in on backstory between Nate and his brother, Sam. Long presumed dead, Sam reappears in Nate’s life, a life notably retired from treasure hunting. Still with a want for adventure in his heart, and a looming threat over his brother’s life, Nate is sprung back into the thick of things. Pirates, mercenaries, deception, globe-trotting, all staples of Uncharted.
The acting throughout brings life to our leads on a level like no other developer has been able to approach. Sam was missing for 15 years, and you can feel Nate’s guilt in not discovering this and rescuing his brother. Nate’s feeling of life becoming mundane, pushing papers across a desk rather than exploring another Shangri-La. Elena’s desire to leave those risky days behind. Motion capture and voice acting, across the board, is truly remarkable. I will leave the specific plot points out, but the full ride of the story is immensely satisfying. The door is not slammed shut on future adventures under the Uncharted banner, but Nathan Drake’s story is complete.
If you’ve played the previous games, you are likely to enjoy your final hours with Nate, Elena, and Sully. If Uncharted 4 is your first time joining the saga, you’re just missing out on the longstanding connection to these characters. This story works on it’s own, but if you’re starting at the end here, you’re doing it wrong.
A pirate’s life
Throughout the story, all signs keep flashing saying to stop. Just go home and live. Is this treasure worth your life, marriage, brother’s life, etc.? The internal conflict between a pair of men who long for adventure even in the face of ever-piling evidence telling them to stop is engrossing. The pirates we learn about throughout really have a life of their own in the plot. What happened back then is just as interesting as what is happening in the present day. The entire treasure hunt aspect of the story is done better than any other Uncharted title, and does a great job defying expectations or reaching for cheap emotional tugs.
Climbing has been nicely improved, as Nate can now reach out for the next hand hold rather than lean and hop from grip to grip. Later on, a piton is added to the mix for a bit more variety, but doesn’t pose any additional challenge.
Posts for rope swinging can be found all over, and make for more thrilling traversal, but especially add to the excitement of encounters. Quickly covering expanses and propelling yourself on top of enemies for a quick takedown never gets old.
A section near the end full of a specific type of trap dampened my enjoyment quite a bit, in the moment at least. Corridor after corridor full of the same trap, with no apparent way of avoiding the trigger, was quite annoying and lead to numerous restarts. It stands out starkly as almost lazy in a game otherwise filled with deep attention to detail.
The small things
I have jokingly been telling people that I used to think real life looked good until I played Uncharted 4. Facetious, to be sure, but it’s hard not to stress how impressive the visuals and overall presentation are. Rock slides occur as a matter of physics. Light reflects naturally off water inside of a five gallon dispenser. Everywhere you look is full of attention to the small details. While exploring a crowded market, I wandered into a building expecting to find a collectible. There was nothing to be found, just an open building on the side of the street with nothing to add to the plot. I tried to pass through a line of people, and a man stepped forward and blocked my route, believing me to be cutting in front of him in line.
In terms of visual fidelity alone, I believe Uncharted 4 is the best looking video game ever made. On the PC side, resourceful players can create amazing mods that further improve the graphics of already beautiful games, but Uncharted 4 looks phenomenal right out of the box. I’ve spent more time in photo mode than all other games’ photo modes combined.
Nathan Drake, Spider-Man
Multiplayer is back in Uncharted 4, bringing three modes of five on five action. I never expected to be drawn into the online play, but it has kept me coming back. Team Deathmatch is the standard mode, but I also enjoy Command, a king of the hill type mode similar to Battlefield’s Conquest. The final game type is Plunder, a capture the flag where players can throw an idol to advance it across the map. I found Plunder to devolve into a not-so-entertaining battle of attrition, with little progress being made on either side and usually ending in a time limit expiration.
The single player addition of rope swinging mechanics is available in multiplayer, and provides a lot of fun. You can swing across ravines like you’re Spider-Man, using your rope to quickly change cover or reach a different vertical level. There is nothing more satisfying than landing a flying punch off of the rope for a one hit knockout.
As much as I’ve enjoyed the multiplayer, I feel it could benefit from some larger player count games. Starting with just 10 players on any map tends to lead to periods of time where you’re running around just trying to find somebody. One other aspect I don’t particularly care for is the process of eliminating other players. When you damage an enemy enough, rather than knocking them out, they go into a downed state. This gives the player some time for a teammate to revive them while you attempt to finish them off. It’s just something I’ve never really taken a liking to and would like to see a system where it’s easier to knock players out without the downed state, maybe by the final shot being a headshot.
Customization is fairly deep, both in character looks and loadouts. Using your gear effectively earns you points towards unlocking new weapons in your arsenal, and eventually you can even modify those weapons with things like extra starting ammo, silencers, or faster reload speed. Each character has a number of skins to choose from, which can be further customized by choosing eyewear, masks, hats, etc. Vanity unlocks come in the form of random drops via chests purchased with relic points. These points are earned by playing the multiplayer modes, or you can instead purchase coins as a shortcut.
Uncharted 4 is an achievement in storytelling rivaled by few, and sets the bar for graphics at a new all-time high. It’s not perfect, certain sections will be quite tough on harder difficulties and some players may wish for more gunplay. Still, it exceeds the very high expectations earned by the pedigree of this series and the developer. Capping off the series in a way that satisfies longtime fans and doesn’t exclude newcomers is a tough trick to pull, but Naughty Dog has risen to the task. Uncharted 4 has the best gameplay in the series, the best storytelling, and is the best looking game to hit PS4, if not the best looking game, period. It is the very definition of a must-play.