In the last decade, few franchises have reached the heights Uncharted has gone to. Sharply written and fiercely paced, the Uncharted titles are a benchmark of action game excellence. With Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, developer Naughty Dog looks to bookend the franchise with one last adventure featuring everyone’s favorite quippy action hero, Nathan Drake. In doing that, they’ve blended some of Uncharted’s best aspects with some lessons learned from 2013’s The Last of Us. Without a doubt, this is the best Uncharted’s ever been, and the greatest sendoff we could ask for our favorite smarmy pillager.
Narratively, this is easily the strongest Uncharted’s been. It has everything expected in an exemplar action piece ”“ twists, exquisite locations, betrayal, and touching callbacks to the franchise and to Naughty Dog’s history. This is the last Uncharted game Naughty Dog looks to work on, and they’ll definitely make sure you don’t forget it. While the high-flying and glory that came with adventure littered the previous trilogy, Uncharted 4 works on a more cerebral level, showing how relatable and human Nathan Drake can actually be. He’s tired of the adventuring life (clearly not that tired), and this look at Nathan Drake post-retirement really gives Drake a bit of pathos we haven’t seen from him before.
A large part of what sells that pathos is voice acting, and Troy Baker’s role as Sam Drake is one of my favorite performances of his storied career. You feel the tension and the loss Sam’s endured, and that Nathan’s being exposed to it all over again. The dynamic that Baker and North bring to this brotherly relationship eclipses any other duo I’ve seen in video games, period. Whether they’re scaling walls together or taking down goons in unison, they really bring a lot to the table.
Action in Uncharted 4 is spaced out between bits of dialogue, platforming, and sleuthing around. As you play through the lengthy campaign, you’ll notice there isn’t as much rowdy gunslinging to be had. There are certainly goons to be dealt with, but it all feels very open to your own style of play. In a similar fashion to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, you’re given a lot of freedom of how to approach enemies. The change of pace that a simple grappling hook gives you is enough to have me trying many different options for each encounter ”“ until I get caught and start shooting up the place, naturally. It’s fitting that pirates are a main staple of the game, since you’ll do plenty of swashbuckling maneuvers and fast paced takedowns.
This is an Uncharted game, through and through. There will still be plenty of cliffs with hand-sized indents, a bevy of puzzles that won’t take long to finish, and too many giant, wheeled crates that need to be pushed off cliffs. Breaking up the action with some mindless climbing and button-mashing has been a staple of the series, and it hasn’t gone away in Uncharted 4.
This is easily one of the most gorgeous video games I’ve ever played. The scenery is immaculately colorful, yet subdued when it needs to be. The gorgeous vistas prove that the PlayStation 4’s still got some untapped power we haven’t been exposed to yet. Faces seem humanlike and animated to an extent where I can really read emotions off of characters’ faces, something that isn’t common in video games. There’s a bevy of interiors, vistas, and natural shots, meticulously animated to fill every nook and cranny with visual splendor. It isn’t often that I stop in my tracks just to get a better view of my environment, but I did it in at least half the breathtaking, mountainous areas I came across, and even got me using the in-game photo mode. it all adds up to one of the most satisfying visual experiences I’ve had with any video game. Period.
The multiplayer is serviceable, offering deathmatch, capture the flag, and related game modes you’ve come to expect from shooters for years. It’s just good enough that it doesn’t detract from the spectacular experience of the rest of the game. There’s fun to be had, for sure, but it isn’t something to hang your hat on or short yourself on other multiplayer experiences just for it. Upcoming multiplayer downloadable content will be free, so feel free to get your money’s worth, just know that it isn’t the main course, or even a side-dish.
Uncharted 4 has the leap in quality we saw from the first Uncharted to Uncharted 2. The characters are the best they’ve ever been, the visuals are truly breathtaking, the action is open-ended and extremely enjoyable, and it sets the bar for the action genre even higher than Uncharted 2. When the credits rolled, I had a strange, undefinable swirl of emotions in my stomach ”“ not because of the quality of the game, but because it’s abundantly clear that this is Nathan Drake’s last hurrah. This is the end for Naughty Dog’s prolific franchise, and it’s hard to say goodbye.