Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review – A poetic end to a stunning franchise
We have been active and devoted fans of the Uncharted franchise right from the release of the first Uncharted. We went on to spend countless hours playing the perfect instalment that was Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and we were wowed by the huge action set pieces in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. So it is with both excitement and also a sadness that we came to play the franchise’s closing swan song – Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
Early on Naughty Dog stated that this was to be the final instalment for Nathan Drake. Their reasoning for this decision was that Uncharted is so steeped in realism that it is difficult to keep finding new stories to continue the narrative with. Naughty Dog also stated that they want time to move onto creating other challenging games (like the often rumoured The Last of Us 2).
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End opens with a motif for this game that is new to the franchise: water. Where the last three games shied away from underwater action, with only a short swim above the surface scattered here and there, Uncharted 4 opens in Scottish waters, mid-storm, as you vie for an island on a boat while enemies pursue in force. All before being plunged into the dark, brooding ocean.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves famously opened with Nate having to climb a train while it dangled over the side of a cliff. This proved to be a flash forward to a later part of the game and eventually the narrative circled back around to this moment.
Naughty Dog have opted for the same tactic here: the island that you strive to reach so vehemently is a location pivotal to endgame narrative. We don’t mind the repetition of this bookend approach, because opening with a bang is never a bad thing. It gives you a taste of what you’re fighting towards and in our minds it pays a nice homage to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (as is having this narrative focus on finding another lost city).
The new underwater content is used as a benefit for certain battles – there is one stunning battle in the final quarter of the game where you can often leap into the water when you’re taking too much damage, swim under the structure and then rise behind your enemies to continue the fighting. This adds striking dimensions to the gameplay.
The game even provides a chapter where you are in full scuba gear, retrieving boxes from the bed of the ocean floor. The entire time that you are submerged you cannot help but assume that a shark might be lurking not too far away, only to attack when seek to escape with your loot. Nate even hears a bang outside of the container at one point, which had us sure that we were shark bait – but the sea creatures never show.
In truth all 4 Uncharted games have always shied away from featuring creatures. You could call this a missed opportunity. In the Tomb Raider games we love fighting a tiger or an ape. Perhaps this was always a move to set the Uncharted series apart from the Tomb Raider series, or a move to keep their realism theme, but it’s possibly a move to the franchise’s own detriment, as Nate would undoubtedly have come across an exotic predator or two in the kinds of locations that he scours, particularly in this game.
Nate’s charm is as present and chuckle-inducing as ever, but this time around the developers charm in other ways too by providing in-game meta fun. Not only do you get to play pretend shooting with a toy ball gun in Nate’s loft, amidst all of the relics of his previous adventures, but you also get to play Crash Bandicoot on the Playstation 1, while attempting to beat Elena’s high score. We found this to be a wonderful homage to one of Naughty Dog’s first mainstream games and one we definitely enjoyed growing up.
Beauty is this game’s greatest strength. Naughty Dog have thoroughly excelled themselves on the graphics, mainly for the locations that Drake visits. From a cluster of clear-water islands, to a glossed ship in the interior of a creepy mountain, to the simple elegance of a busy ballroom party, you will find yourself often in awe of sumptuous scenery.
One potential downfall is that the game feels heavy on cut scenes and slightly lacking on shooting frequency. One of the virtues of the first three games is how often you find yourself in a gun battle, but Uncharted 4 left us feeling slightly bereft of action at points. The dialogue and gorgeous scenery are given more screen time here, and while you will definitely find excellent gun battles and heart-stopping chases within, we just found that they were a little too few and far between in some instances.
To address Nate’s arsenal of tools, the grappling hook is a superb new touch and you can sling this about whenever you like (albeit only onto designated hooking points), which can afford you such impressive feats and swinging like Tarzan right into the middle of a huge gun battle. Add to this Drake’s piton, which you can stab into the mountainside (again, into designated points), as well as the winch that you can attach to the jeep, and the freedom is extensive.
The intelligence of the enemies has increased too and here they feature South African accents – with them all being part of a South African security company Shoreline (the water theme showing here again in the name choice). Now, when you try to pull a man down from a ledge while you hang below him he will often tug back to stop your attempt to murder him, which can then be reversed by Nate, or he will fall but then cling to your leg desperately. During fights, if you find that both you and another of your companions are engaging physically with the same enemy, often you will tag team drop him to the ground, or Nate will hold Elena up so that she can double boot the enemy to the face. This all serves to provide a rawer, more realistic feel to the battles and only elevates the quality of gameplay.
This instalment also introduces Sam Drake – Nathan’s older brother – who, while providing a strong brotherly backbone for the story, seems a little shoe-horned into this franchise, given that we never heard about the character in previous games. Nate does state that he thought his brother died in a Panamanian prison, but you would think there would have been a mention prior to this, especially since their relationship is was strong one. Despite this lack of foresight, we love the sibling focus to this narrative. Add to this Nate’s marital life drama with his wife Elena and it makes this whole game have a strong underlying theme of family, which feels suitable for a final instalment.
The developers recognise this importance of family by having one of the final scenes of the game be played from the perspective of Nate and Elena’s teenage daughter, as she sneaks into her Father’s cupboard and finds his trophies. You then get to witness an older, parental Nate and Elena.
At one point Sam asks Nate: “So, how does this stack up among your other adventures?” Nate chuckles and just says: “Ask me again when we finish.” And that’s exactly how we felt while playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. The game felt beautiful and full of excellent new additions, yet somehow just short of the thrill we felt when playing Uncharted 2 over and over upon its release. However, that all crucial final leg of the game changed our overall impression and once you find yourself treading those final few endgame chapters you will realise just how stunning and impressive a game this is.
Clocking in at 22 Chapters, this is a long game. We played it for almost a day straight and we still didn’t complete it in one sitting. Length is a credit to any great game, as it provides us with more content to sift through and this will no doubt give the whole game a stronger longevity.
Online mode is something that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves had down to perfection. While Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception did make strides in online complexity, we never found it to be as addictive as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves‘ online mode. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End easily leaps that and provides online gaming that feels as addictive as the second instalment’s and also as modernised and complex as modern online shooters. Customisation is rife and even the familiar games like plunder feel as fun as ever.
For cheat fans, there is a myriad of in-built un-lockable cheats. These range from spawning weapons, to character skins (for all of the main characters), to unique visual tones, to game modifiers like no gravity and mirror world. All of these are very cheap to purchase (with in game credits, not real money) and are easily accessible in any chapter of the story.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a poetic, beautiful and dazzling swan song for a what has always been a stunning franchise. It acknowledges its forebears and its preceding instalments, and takes hindsight of what we most loved about those, in order to provide a glorious and touching finale. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End delivers a wonderfully satisfying ending for fans and should show those who haven’t dabbled into the world of Nathan Drake that they really should go back and play through all of the games. We’re very sad to bid Nate farewell, but it’s a sadness that is softened with a smile, when something goes out as poetically as this.
Image credits: Naughty Dog, Playstation