As I walked around Drake’s attic picking up artifacts from his previous adventures it really dawned on me that this was his last adventure—my last adventure. Like many people, I have loved Uncharted since Drake’s Fortune and every iteration afterward. I love this series and getting to play as Drake one last time is more bittersweet than I could have ever imagined. In short: this game is a masterpiece and should be played by newcomers and long-time fans alike.
Right away I knew A Thief’s End was going to have a different feel. Excluding the brief action scene to get you hooked, the real game starts with Drake as a young child. It paints a necessary picture of Drake growing up along with how close he was with his brother, Sam. After some gameplay to give Sam additional depth, we skip to the present day. Drake is working a normal(ish) job and living with his wife Elena. A simple and happy life.
It’s clear something is slightly missing and it isn’t hard to realize that Drake longs for more adventure—even if he doesn’t admit it out loud. His brother Sam coming back from the dead and asking for Drake’s help is too good of an opportunity to pass up. They embark on their journey to discover the lost pirate treasure of Henry Avery.
Aside from the different opening, every step of the way felt a little different than previous iterations. It isn’t constant action and that will turn some people off. There are moments where you are only exploring or walking around listening to people talk. That’s okay in my eyes. I love listening to the characters in this world interact, but I am aware this will bore a few people who want more shooty-shooty, bang-bang.
The story is more political and complex than previous entries. Not in a way where it’s difficult to understand, but more depth to it than: ‘this evil villain wants ultimate power and Drake needs to stop them.’ As the story unfolds about the history of these pirates they feel like real characters. They have motivation for their actions and discovering that was as entertaining as revealing more of Drake and Sam’s past. There are explorers from long ago that died on the trail trying to discover the treasure for themselves and that add even more to the story making it all interweave for an intricate overall theme. At least, I took it that way, other people may consider everything separate and not envision the overall theme I was seeing.
The only letdown for me was towards the end. I won’t spoil anything of course, but the last chapter doesn’t have as much of an impact or reveal I was hoping for. I still enjoyed it, but the most memorable part of the game hit me back in chapter 11. So while the ending doesn’t ruin all the fun because it’s still a great ending. It simply doesn’t reach the ultimate peak that it could (or should) have reached to really nail home this one last grand adventure.
I know I’m speaking a lot just about the story but any real Uncharted fan knows how important the narrative really is. And when this is the last game to tie the series all together it’s pretty important it’s done right. I enjoyed the character interactions and story from start to finish. Sam is an alright character. There’s nothing wrong with him but someone introduced this late in the serious isn’t going to have the same emotional investment as the main three characters. The humorous quips from Drake, Elena going toe-to-toe with her husband’s wit, and Sully’s wise spirit feels like home to me. This is an Uncharted game and it feels like an Uncharted game. There is more weight knowing that this is the last in the series but the game reflects that feeling very expertly right back at you.
While it is possible for people to argue what Uncharted story is the best. There is no argument that A Thief’s End is the most beautiful game in the series; if not on PS4 right now. Naughty Dog has always been amazing at detail but crank that detail notch to 11 and you have Uncharted 4. The sweat, dirt, facial expressions, and whatever else there is constantly shocks me (look at these unbelievable physics one Reddit user points out). During a cutscene my girlfriend very briefly mistook it for a movie I was watching with real actors and even after immediately realizing it was a video game proceeded to shamelessly ask me when Drake will take his shirt off… That aside, it’s one of the best looking games I’ve ever played and I haven’t even mentioned the environments yet.
The diverse, vast, and vibrant landscapes are astounding to witness. There are so many instances I stopped to take it all in and couldn’t help but want to take a picture (which you can with a shockingly deep and impressive photo mode!). I could go on and on with countless adjectives to describe how pretty this game looks, but that’s not the only reason why it’s so impressive. This is not nearly as linear as previous games in the series so to have bigger areas to explore and still have this level of amazing visuals is seriously impressive. It could be overlooking a dense jungle or climbing a high tower in a city, this game never fails to show you its best.
The environments are vast and indeed very pretty, but this is an Uncharted game after all so it’s all about how you can kill dozens of enemies in these landscapes. I say without any hesitation A Thief’s End has the best gunplay in the series. It feels smooth, it feels powerful, it feels right. There is nothing specifically new from the other games, but everything is tweaked to perfection in this one.
Sitting still in one spot behind cover will immediately cause you to be flanked by the enemies or flushed out with grenades. This forces you to constantly run around throughout the well-designed terrain as you fight. I would swing across a gap with the rope and land on a person taking them out. Then roll behind cover to shoot two more people before climbing up a building and fighting another enemy hand-to-hand. Finally, I’d jump off the building leaving a grenade behind for the two other enemies climbing up to flank me. The fights are like a jungle gym and these encounters felt like they were always on the move, because the moment you stop you find yourself at a disadvantage.
What makes these awesome encounters better is the reworked stealth system. You can mark enemies and stealth the entire area without ever being seen (like Far Cry for example). The enemies will even have an awareness bar above their head so you know when they will spot you. You can also go in loud from the very start if that’s what you prefer. The enemies can lose track of you if you disappear long enough and start searching for you. So when you blow your stealth on one mistake you aren’t screwed for the entire encounter.
This allows for many ways to take out enemies instead of the previous kill-arenas you are planted in with the instruction to fight your way out. You can pass by entire areas without killing a single person or kill everyone if you so choose. This all works well minus a few problems here and there.
You cannot make a noise to have enemies come and investigate. This means you have to hope an enemy will walk near where you’re hiding. Also, when an enemy gets suspicious and they “check out the noise” they really stand still only leaning back and forth. I never had to worry about someone checking out my hiding spot when they heard a noise.
It’s a small issue in an otherwise fantastic combat system. You can melee enemies in dramatic movements if you ever find a bad situation for using a weapon. Meleeing an enemy and ripping their gun from their dying hands to immediately use will never get old. I constantly would go from stealth to a fire-fight to using my fists then back to shooting and so on. It was smooth switching between the styles of gameplay and it made the fighting fun in all areas.
When you aren’t fighting or watching people talk you will most likely be climbing. The added rope makes it a bit more fun but it’s still climbing around so…it is what it is. The ledges are designed better so it’s not so blatant what’s grabbable and not. What I really enjoyed seeing make a stronger return than ever are the puzzles.
The puzzles in Uncharted have never been complicated. They’ve always been on the easy side; generally matching a symbol in your notebook to a glyph on a wall. There are a lot of them this time though, and I enjoyed every one I ran into. Some are more complicated but will only stump you for a couple minutes. Even the easy ones still gave me a sense of satisfaction. I felt like a treasure hunter and proud of myself.
Even the environmental puzzles can take some brain power to overcome. It’s not as obvious as finding the brightly colored object. Admittedly, it’s a little strange that every situation can be solved by a box with wheels that just so happen to be scattered about the entire world. It felt a little silly finding the same type of box over and over to stand on, but even as a small annoyance it doesn’t ruin your fun by any stretch of the imagination.
By the time you are reading this I am most likely finishing my second playthrough with the intention of starting a third. But, you don’t have to keep playing the story over and over. There is a fairly entertaining multiplayer. The standards modes like team deathmatch and objective are present. I always lean towards the objective game modes and I have a blast roping around the well-designed arenas. The combat carries over exactly from the main game with a few added difference.
The biggest being the ability to purchase items from a store. You can buy a heavy machine gun or RPG, but the real fun is purchasing a sidekick to assist you. I always go for the medic so he can revive me if I am downed. There are A.I. controlled snipers and heavy gunners as well. The multiplayer can be as strategic and chaotic as you want. It’s a good mix of both and more fun than I think people were expecting.
There are two things that bother me that I think would make the multiplayer that much better. Every time you are killed you have to go “down” first where you can be revived. Even a headshot still “downs” a person. I think downing is fine but explosions and headshots should immediately KO the person instead. The other thing is the lack of co-op survival modes. They were always my favorite, and in Uncharted 2 I easily racked up dozens of hours in their co-op survival mode. It was my favorite part of multiplayer and I’m a little letdown it’s not in this iteration.
The best and easiest way to describe Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is to take all the great elements from the last three games and put them together. A Thief’s End really is the ultimate version of Uncharted. The combat, traversal, puzzles, graphics, scenery, and just about everything is so expertly done. Yes, there are some flaws here and there, but they do not drag the game down for more than a brief second or two. I really believe this is masterpiece of a game.
I hold Naughty Dog to such a higher expectation than every other developer and yet they constantly exceed my expectations. They knock it out of the park with every game. That remains true for Uncharted 4. The bittersweet moments of Drake reliving his past adventures immediately brought on so much nostalgia in me. The brilliance of being able to connect you so intimately with this character is something many other games have tried and failed. I don’t like making sweeping statements but A Thief’s End is one of the most impressive games ever created. It’s a new standard for games to use as an example. It’s the kind of game that will make newcomers want to play the old trilogy and it will give longtime fans the goodbye they need.
I sit here now sad that there won’t be a new Uncharted game but happy that I had the experience of playing them all. Like my favorite book series, my Uncharted games will sit on my shelf and be mementos of the incredible experience I had with them. Very much like Drake in his attic digging up memorabilia from his past adventures, I to must move on, but I will always reminiscence about the past adventures I had.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Playstation 4 version of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End developed by Naughty Dog and distributed by SCEA.
- Drake, Elena, and Sully Are Back!
- Environments and Gameplay Fantastic
- Graphics are Astounding
- Stealthing Needs Luring Tactic
- Some May Find Slower Pace Bothersome
- How Many Boxes With Wheels Are There in The World?