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There aren’t many developers out there in the gaming industry like Naughty Dog. They continue to push the envelope in storytelling while taking full advantage of the Playstation platforms’ capabilities. It’s amazing to many like me how they maintain such a quality throughout their years while being better at their craft. They’re just on a whole different level compared to every other developer today and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is proof of that. We go on one last ride with Nathan Drake on arguably the best entry of the franchise. From the intro to the credits roll after the ending, Naughty Dog put their hearts and souls to this final adventure with these beloved characters to the point feels like a love letter not just for Uncharted fans but also Playstation fans as well.
Some were worried about how Uncharted 4’s story was going to pan out because of the switch of creative leads during the game’s development. Amy Hennig left Naughty Dog for Visceral Games as directors of The Last of Us and Uncharted 2 Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley took over the project. Neil and Bruce’s work on The Last of Us was a concern for fans that they would ditch the happy approach the series has been for a more mature direction. With that in mind, they were able to maintain a perfect balance of light hearted and maturity with this sequel. More importantly, Uncharted 4 is the most “real” Uncharted yet dealing with real life themes that no other game matches. Naughty Dog learned a lot from The Last of Us in terms of storytelling, gameplay and pacing as the influences are in this game from beginning to end.
Nathan Drake (Nolan North) this time around is out of the treasure hunting game living a normal life with Elena (Emily Rose). While it may seem he misses his glory days as an adventurer, it is the appearance of his brother Sam (Troy Baker), who thought was dead, that brings him back to the fold to find a long lost treasure that was held by Henry Avery. The stakes are high on Sam to find this treasure, which is why he needs Nate’s help. Nate was hesitant to go on yet another adventure because he promised Elena he gave up that life, but with everything on the line for Sam, he decided to risk his life once again yet also potentially risking his marriage with Elena. Sully (Richard McGonagle) returns to help the brothers Drake as well. Turns out they’re not the only ones looking for Avery’s treasure as villains Rafe, who worked with the brothers in the past, and Nadine Ross’s Shoreline PMC are after it for their own reasons too.
The Uncharted style of storytelling and pacing excels yet again in A Thief’s End, but now with touches from The Last of Us. The characters’ banter between enemy encounters is still amazing, but the dynamic of Nate and Sam reminds me of Joel and Ellie. Also borrowed from The Last of Us are collectibles to find that are actually meaningful with the journal entries. Sure, there’s still treasures to find throughout the game but as you explore more about what happened with Henry Avery and his pirate crew, they are their own characters too. The way Naughty Dog told their story is brilliantly done just like the main plot. Their attention to detail is unlike anything I seen in gaming today and I’m surprised no one has come close to their efforts. For this being the last Uncharted game (twelve hours to beat on Moderate difficulty) without spoiling the ending, it is the best ending they can come up with in terms of closure that will satisfy fans.
While the story and the characters are the main stars of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, there’s still a video game in it while you climb and shoot at lots of enemies. The combat is unchanged for the most part but with some useful additions. The big addition is the grappling hook and I’m surprised it took this long for it to be included in an Uncharted game. Even though it’s used more during the platforming and climbing sections (lots of those to no surprise), during combat it can be used to surprise enemies for one big punch or get out of trouble. Gunplay and melee combat is still solid along with the cover-based mechanics, but the enemy encounters are becoming more like puzzles besides the actual puzzles (don’t worry there’s plenty of those) and it’s for the better also being something straight out of The Last of Us. Tackling these encounters comes down to how many can you take out stealthily before being spotted and some of the late game ones do make you feel like you need a gameplan to survive them. Sure, you can still go in guns blazing, but it will make them a bit tougher especially on harder difficulties. Enemies can also be marked now to see where they’re going. Combat hasn’t been Uncharted’s strongest suit, but it’s fun to go through the intense setpieces and solving enemy encounters without being spotted.
Speaking of intense setpieces, Uncharted 4 has them but did Naughty Dog manage to top themselves again from the train in Among Thieves and the plane/boat is Drake’s Deception? If you saw the chase sequence in the E3 demo last year, that is this game’s epic setpiece getting away from the armored SUV, swinging across the water and hanging on the rope shooting away at opposing vehicles. Of course there’s still some trial and error in these sequences, but still awesome to play through especially if you’re able to survive them in your first try. The setpieces in general in this sequel are not as good as 2 and 3, but I’m fine with that. Just like the story, it shows that how more grounded and real this game compared to the previous games in the series.
Multiplayer also got some new and interesting additions as well. The big change is that there is now a Gears of War style down system. Players can be revived while they’re down before getting shot or kicked to be KOed. The grappling hook also adds more options to a player’s disposal with the jump punch and charging up your melee attack. Loadouts have preset and customized versions for certain playstyles, but this is the deepest Uncharted multiplayer yet with the additions of sidekicks and mysticals. As you gain money by finding treasures in the maps or accumulating kills, you can spend it on sidekicks that have their own health and mysticals with their specific purposes. Sidekicks range from snipers, healers, hunters that grab you and brutes with miniguns. These can change matches at specific times and the same goes for mysticals. Mysticals are basically your supernatural elements of this game one of them revives downed players instantly, slow opposing movement, have an invulnerable dash and spot opposing players with a positioned staff.
The only modes so far are team deathmatch, command (this game’s version of domination) and plunder (capture the flag), but more are expected to be added in free updates. As expected with multiplayer components today, there are bunch of unlocks from weapon mods, skins, characters from past Uncharted games and taunts, you can spend real money if you want to unlock them faster. I’m curious to see if this multiplayer will have legs compared to what’s out now and later this month, but I’m impressed with it so far.
Even though they worked on The Last of Us Remastered on PS4, seeing Naughty Dog’s work on the graphics on a new game like Uncharted 4 is another reason why they’re at the top of their game. Just like the previous games, this sequel is simply breathtaking to look at both in-game and during cutscenes. They really wanted you to soak in on the vistas the game provides with the camera pans because it’s easily the best looking game this console generation so far. Framerate on single player maintains consistently at 30 frames per second, but multiplayer does run in 60 due to how much less is going on. That’s a fine compromise considering how it takes full advantage of what the PS4 is capable of currently that no other developer can replicate. The audio presentation is once again masterful from the voice acting of the characters and the obvious comparison to a movie as well as the soundtrack hitting the right notes at specific moments.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is without a doubt a game and experience gamers must play. I’m shocked that Naughty Dog continues to push the standards up yet again with every game they release from the storytelling being the best of any interactive medium, beloved characters getting the satisfying closure they deserve and paying attention even to the smallest details. The gameplay is still fun and a blast to play through especially the epic setpieces and clearing enemy encounters with little to no detection. The multiplayer’s new additions are also worthwhile to check out as well. It’s also the best love letter in form of a game for not only fans of the series but also games in general. It took a while for this current console generation to live up to it’s potential, but Uncharted 4 is simply a “game of the generation.”