There didn’t need to be another Uncharted. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception did a great job at wrapping up every loose end and giving each character an end to their narrative arcs. Series protagonist Nathan Drake walked away from his gung-ho treasure hunting life to settle down with his love, Elena Fisher. Victor Sullivan flew off into the sunset. The baddies were all gone. Developer Naughty Dog proved that they didn’t need Drake to create a masterpiece (with The Last of Us). There didn’t need to be another Uncharted. But all I could think throughout Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End 12-hour campaign was that I was so glad there was.
Uncharted 4 picks up years after the end of Drake’s Deception. Nathan Drake is living a normal life. Job, house, wife. But it isn’t all great. Sometimes he finds himself yearning for adventure, the danger of the good old days. When his brother, Sam, shows up at his work with a problem. He owes a drug lord a hell of a lot of money and has promised to find Henry Avery’s lost pirate treasure to pay the debt. It doesn’t take too much to persuade Nathan to help his brother and go on a globe-trotting adventure for forgotten gold. But is he doing it solely to save his brother? Or is he looking for the excitement of the quest?
This question is at the heart of Uncharted 4, a far more mature story than any of the previous games in the series. Although the treasure hunting aspect of the story is still there, it is second to a more personal story. This is a story about family, greed, and the illusion of being a good man. Naughty Dog have continued to develop the fantastic storytelling shown throughout their previous works. There are so many little moments, so many side glances and sighs, so many interrupted quips, which really show the human side to all these characters. Some moments are genuinely heart-breaking, while others will make you want to woop with joy.
A lot of this is in the writing and in the performance capture. The writing is stellar, mixing the comic adventure of Uncharted, with a slightly more mature Last of Us style. There is a lot more on the line here – this is Drake’s final adventure and everyone knows it. The performances and, subsequently, the graphics set a new standard for video games. The nuances in the performances are what really makes the whole thing work, and you can see every little emotion going through the characters minds. The graphics are really fantastic and although there are obviously some caveats (background faces being a lot less detailed, a few dead-eyed stares while in-game), it’s hard to really mind when the vistas are so beautiful.
This is an Uncharted game through and through – much of the gameplay is identical to it’s predecessors. You’ll be in gunfights with goons, solving puzzles and climbing on stuff (and every so often that stuff will crumble and then you’ll fall and have to grab onto more stuff). The formula is largely unchanged, but there are some neat little one-off mechanics that keep things fresh. The gunplay is also improved – there seems to be a bit more weight behind your shots now, meaning firefights feels a bit more satisfying. You also get some new tools, namely the rope, which provides a fun way to get around in traversal as well as combat.
The game is more open this time around, meaning you can often take different paths to get to your objective. Often I found this a little more of a hindrance than a freedom though, as story momentum ground to a halt as I wondered just where I should be going. Sometimes I would spend ages trying to get somewhere, only to find it was only a treasure collectable location and I was in totally the wrong place to advance the story. Gameplay has never been Uncharted‘s strongest suit for me and this game didn’t really change my mind. It is definitely a lot of fun, it’s just everything else about the package shines brighter.
Uncharted 4 is a little unevenly paced at times. I played it over three sessions in three days, and I definitely found the first to be the least entertaining. The story takes a long time to really begin, and although I understood why I needed to know everything I needed to know in the first few chapters, I was really chomping at the bit to get back to the characters I knew and loved. What I wasn’t expecting though, was to get so intrigued by the treasure hunt itself. Usually in Uncharted games, I would pay little attention to the hunt itself, but the quest for Henry Avery’s treasure is fantastic in itself, and has a few big payoffs towards the end of the narrative.
It’s easy to forgive Uncharted 4‘s follies when viewing the package as a whole. It is truly a grand achievement in video game storytelling, hitting the heights of the best in any media. Naughty Dog are so far ahead of anyone else in video games, it is almost embarrassing. As I entered Uncharted 4‘s endgame, I was overcome with the fact that this was really the end of the series. And I didn’t even know I had wanted it. Nathan Drake did indeed deserve another adventure.
One last time.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a phenomenal achievement in video game storytelling, providing a more mature look at one of Playstation’s most iconic franchises. Naughty Dog prove they are the best in the field, with beautiful graphics and their knack for remembering the little things. Though it runs a little long, and some elements are not as strong, Uncharted 4 is a blast and more importantly, a fitting end for Nathan Drake, Elena and Sully and will be remembered for years to come.
UNCHARTED 4: A THIEF’S END