Back when the first Uncharted released I didn’t have a PlayStation at the time, and when I finally did pick up a PS3, I had still never cared about the series or even heard about it. Of course, this was all before I became a games journalist, so I was still one of the uninformed gamers who didn’t pay attention to who developed or published what. But when E3 rolled around and I saw Uncharted 2 for the first time, I was blown away.
The presentation showed us the future of games; the action looked incredibly intense and the set pieces on screen were unbelievable at the time. When the game finally arrived, Naughty Dog jumped up on my list of my favorite developers and have remained there ever since. The Last of Us only cemented their place on my list of favorite developers, and increased my expectations for what was to come in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
At the start of the game, Nathan Drake has settled down into what we would describe as a “normal life”. He’s got a 9-5 day job, a home, and has married Elena. You can tell from early on in the game that he’s not exactly comfortable with this new lifestyle he’s chosen for himself, and will spend a good portion of the game combating his love for adventure and what he’s willing to give up to for it.
Uncharted 4 is an interesting entry in the series for a number of reasons. For one, it’s more focused on the narrative than ever before and is a more intimate and mature story than previous iterations. Now, that’s not to say it’s a darker story overall, but there’s just more to the narrative than just the basic adventure plot we usually get.
The story emotionally hooks you early on and remains strong through the end. However, I wasn’t overly impressed with the game’s main antagonists this time around. The motives of these characters are revealed fairly early on in the game, but they never really felt like a threat. The Uncharted series has always had an issue with creating memorable antagonists – aside from Marlow in Uncharted 3. However, this may have been intentional this time around as the story is much more focused on the final adventure of Drake rather than stopping some evil corporation.
Uncharted 4 is also less focused on combat and huge action set pieces and more so on the adventure and exploration aspect of the series. It’s refreshing to say the least. For the first time in the series’ history, Uncharted 4 actually feels more like an adventure than a Hollywood action-flick. I had always wanted more time to just explore and soak in the scenic environments that Naughty Dog developed, and they expertly delivered on this aspect of the game this time around.
The campaign can last up to 15 hours as described by Naughty Dog if you choose to spend your time exploring and looking for treasures hidden around the environments. I didn’t spend a whole lot of time exploring for collectible treasures, but even so the game took me a respectable 12 hours to complete.
Speaking of the environments, they’re much more open than previous entries and can include multiple paths to get from point A to point B. This translates to combat sections as well, giving players and enemy combatants alike more room to work with and forces the player to stay on the move rather than hide behind cover for the duration of a firefight.
Taking cues from The Last of Us, the enemies you face will communicate with each other and actively try to flank and outsmart you. The combat sections never really feel repetitive because of smartly-designed combat scenarios and levels. You can also utilize stealth a whole heck of a lot more than in previous entries, providing players with another avenue to dispatch opponents. New weapons and the grappling hook only add more variety to the mix.
The grappling hook, as seen in preview footage and trailers, is also heavily utilized during platforming sections and puzzles. New climbing mechanics have also been implemented, giving players more control than ever before during platforming sections. Going back to early Uncharted games, the climbing sections almost feel clunky when compared with the new mechanics at play.
The most surprising aspect of Uncharted 4, however, is the lack of the huge cinematic moments that we’ve become accustomed to from the series. There’s a few heavy set piece moments, but there’s not a game-defining scene like in Uncharted 2 and 3. This actually works in the game’s favor as A Thief’s End is a much more grounded and nuanced story than previous iterations.
As for how the game looks, it can be described in one word: amazing. Uncharted 4 is without a doubt the best-looking game this generation has to offer thus far. Naughty Dog has painstakingly designed every location in the game, with even the smallest details being present. Whether you’re exploring snowy tundras or forests of lost islands, you’ll be hard pressed not to stop for a few minutes to just soak in the scenery.
If you remember how impressed you were when you saw Uncharted 2 for the first time on the PS3 – as I was – Uncharted 4 is like experiencing that moment all over again on multiple occasions. The action set piece moments in the game are just as impressive as the scenery and somehow it all runs at a smooth 30fps with no noticeable dips in the action.
The sound design in Uncharted 4 is also the best it has ever been. Weapons in previous entries never really sounded right; they lacked the “oomph” that comes from firing a weapon. That’s certainly not the case in Uncharted 4 as every weapon packs a very satisfying punch. The soundtrack is also once again a highlight as Naughty Dog uses it dynamically throughout the campaign to fit each scenario.
Naughty Dog has perfected its craft with Uncharted 4, but at the same time has also provided us with something different in a series that has been firmly rooted in Hollywood cinematic action sequences. We don’t see sequels like this very often. Usually a sequel is designed to be “bigger and better” than the last game. Uncharted 4 has taken the completely opposite route, going for less action and more substance, and it really pays off, sending the Uncharted series out on its highest note.
Reviewed on PS4, review copy provided by the developer.
Publisher: Sony | Developer: Naughty Dog | Platform: PS4 | PEGI/ESRB: 16+/T | Release Date: May 10, 2016