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Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Platform(s): PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: SCEE (EU), SCEA (US)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: May 10, 2016


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PS4 Review - 'Uncharted 4: A Thief's End'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on May 13, 2016 @ 2:30 a.m. PDT

In Uncharted 4, Nathan Drake has left the world of fortune-hunting behind, but when Drake's brother, Sam, resurfaces, he offers an adventure that Drake can't resist.

Buy Uncharted 4: A Thief's End

Eventually, stories must come to an end, but it can be tough to actually reach the end of the tale. Leave it too open, and it doesn't feel satisfying. Close it too firmly, and you risk upsetting fans. So Uncharted 4: A Thief's End has a difficult task. Nathan Drake's adventures were a major part of the PS3's life cycle, and gamers had grown attached to the character, but equally obvious from those adventures was that it was only a matter of time before life caught up with him. A Thief's End aims to close out the franchise with one final adventure, and for the most part, it succeeds.

Uncharted 4 opens up a few years after the events of Uncharted 3. Nate has finally settled down, gotten married and is working a relatively mundane day job as a salvage diver. It seems like his life is finally on the path to peace. However, his lingering desire for adventure is sparked when his long-lost and presumed-dead brother Sam shows up. Sam was in prison with a crime lord, and his breakout came with a price: Find the lost treasure of the pirate Henry Avery, or he'll wish he'd been left to rot in prison. Nate must set out one more time to save his brother and find the one treasure that has always eluded him. Of course, he's not the only one after the treasure, and it isn't long before Nate is embroiled in a complex plot involving mercenaries, double-crosses, and his understandably angry wife.

Uncharted 4 sticks very closely to the core gameplay, so you may feel that you've seen it all before. It doesn't feel like Nate has evolved very much from Uncharted 2, and the usual Uncharted gameplay pattern risks becoming predictable instead of engaging. There are some truly excellent set pieces, but the more introspective nature of the game also means there are a lot of relatively sedate climbing sequences, which mostly serve to give Nate a chance to banter with one of his sidekicks. It's a slower-paced game than the other Uncharted titles (though still action-packed), which works in favor of the story but can cause some segments to drag.

Uncharted 4 is a pretty different-feeling game from the previous titles in the series. A big portion of this is the switchover from longtime series writer Amy Hennig to The Last of Us' Neil Druckmann, and it shows in the pacing. Another part of it is that Uncharted 4 is less a sequel and more a coda to the story. While there's adventure, quips and gunfights aplenty, Nate is older and more introspective. The result is a game that spends as much time on explosions and dramatic set pieces as it does on characters talking about their lives and futures. It's not a bad choice, but to the series faithful, it may feel odd that this game is more interested in Nate's mindset than his adventure. The villains are mostly there to offset his personality, and the title is missing the franchise's almost-traditional descent into the supernatural.

Early on, you get a nostalgic trip back to Naughty Dog's days with Crash Bandicoot, complete with Nate and Elena arguing over things like loading times. The scene is there to evoke feelings from a certain demographic: those who grew up in the PlayStation era. The game stars a man in his late 30s who's trying to figure out what to do with his life, so it's less general than the Indiana Jones-style adventures of the previous titles. It's an interesting message, but it sometimes feels out of place. The ending of the game (and the franchise) feels somewhat ill-earned, considering Nate's life up to that point. The pacing is also off, and the game undermines itself in a few places by building up to an exciting sequence only to take a break for a flashback or long conversation that deflates the tension. I was also disappointed in Sam, who felt pretty unmemorable (despite a solid performance by Troy Baker) and isn't much more than an excuse for Nate to get back into the field.

What hasn't changed much is the gameplay. As in the previous titles, you're basically traveling between set pieces. Gameplay is divided into combat, stealth and traversal. You spend a lot of time traversing the landscape, so it's advantageous that the climbing mechanics are simple and straightforward. You climb along craggy walls or metal grates, moving from place to place in a loosely guided and mostly linear fashion. Rather than a platformer, it's more akin to a puzzle game, since you need to figure out your next move to advance. The use of a grappling hook adds some extra tension to scenes where you're forced to take death-defying risks with the hope that you locate a hook point before Nate falls to an untimely death. These sequences are frequently intense but rarely punishing, although there are a few poorly telegraphed jumps.

Stealth is probably the second-biggest gameplay element. In large, open areas that sport multiple paths, you frequently come across enemies who don't know you're there. For a modern game, the stealth gameplay is fun, even if it's fairly by the book. You can mark enemies, sneak up behind and kill them, and take advantage of breaking line of sight to keep them occupied while you clear them out. There are some annoying things, such as limited options for dealing with bodies once you've taken down an enemy, but they're a minor blemish on what is one of the game's high points.

If Uncharted 4 has a weak point, it is combat, which is strictly average. You have guns and you shoot enemies, and that basically sums up the entire experience. The title follows the same basic style as the previous Uncharted games, but if you compare it to other games in the same genre, it feels thin and underdeveloped. The enemy AI is the strongest point, with enemies frequently flanking you and coming from all sides to encourage you to keep moving. However, those same enemies don't have much sense of progression, and early-game and late-game combat don't feel very different. In many ways, combat feels more like a punishment than an engaging element of the game. Many fights in the game give you the opportunity to finish them with stealth, which is a lot more interesting and dynamic than the regular gunplay.

The main plot will probably take you around 12-15 hours to finish, but once you're done, there's little reason to go back. The core story is pretty much "one and done," and other than fleshing out your collection of treasures or playing around with the filter options, there isn't much reason to go through again. The returning multiplayer adds some extra value to the game. The multiplayer is largely competitive and broken down into Command, Plunder and Team Deathmatch. Deathmatch, which comes in both ranked and unranked variants, is about getting the most kills. Plunder is about recovering valuable items before the other team can. Command, which is the most exciting of the bunch, is about trying to hold down points while capturing enemy points. The gameplay is very similar to the main game, but there's an emphasis on mobility and flanking instead of precision headshots.

What makes multiplayer a lot more fun are the bonus special abilities, which are noticeably missing from the main campaign. To help overtake enemies, you can pay money to summon AI sidekicks, like a minigun-wielding brute or an enemy-seeking hunter. Far more fun are mystical artifacts that let you do everything from reviving downed allies to teleporting across the map. They add some much-needed pizzazz to the combat, and combined with the intensity of multiplayer, they do a lot to highlight the strong points of the game. It feels like The Last of Us' multiplayer but is much faster and more focused on mobility. The bonus abilities also make it more viable to go alone than it was in Last of Us. All in all, the multiplayer is a fine addition to the game, and while it isn't worth it on its own, it adds a lot of value to the package.

Uncharted 4 continues the franchise's amazing visual prowess. The gameplay is smooth, the models are absurdly well animated, and the environments are beautiful. It's filled with lots of tiny touches that make the characters and world feel more real. Nate cleans out his ear after climbing out of a pool and flinches from bullets — actions that make him feel more like a person and less like a video game character. The environments are breathtaking, and there are several places where exploring merely leads you to a fantastic sightseeing opportunity.

The voice acting does some heavy lifting. The Drake brothers, voiced by omnipresent actors Nolan North and Baker, have fantastic banter together, and while Sam comes across weaker than the better-developed Nate, they're a delight to hear. For the most part, Uncharted 4 keeps to its half-game, half-movie roots, and North provides some unsurprisingly excellent work to prove that Nate is his and his alone.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is a strong ending to the series. It deviates slightly from the franchise's established themes and ideas in favor of something more down to Earth, but it works. Players will experience the same action, the same characters, and the same amazing set pieces. The gameplay is getting a little long in the tooth but manages to hold on for this final outing for Nathan Drake and his friends. It's not the strongest in the series — a title that still belongs to the excellent Uncharted 2 — but it's a strong runner-up. Fans of the franchise should enjoy this seemingly last romp, but newcomers may first want to play The Uncharted Collection for the full story.

Score: 9.0/10

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