Naughty Dog has always lead the charge for Sony exclusives ever since the original PlayStation. Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, The Last of Us and of course Uncharted have all defined their respective platforms. This is a developer of the highest esteem, creating experiences that go unrivaled and hold the test of time, at least to a certain degree. The Santa Monica-based studio has broken their mold a bit, developing a fourth iteration of a franchise after already starting anew just a few years back, but considering how highly regarded Uncharted is, no one is going to hold it against them. They continually push graphical fidelity for what this enclosed platform is able to accomplish and are able to establish some of the most cinematic set pieces in video games. Naughty Dog continues this trend with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, crafting the absolute perfect send off for Nathan Drake.
If you’re unfamiliar with the “Uncharted” series, you play as a charismatic fortune hunter named Nathan Drake — he’s kind of like “Tomb Raider’s” Lara Croft mixed with Indiana Jones. He hunts ancient treasures because he’s deeply passionate about history and respects the ancient artifacts he seeks. Ultimately, Drake wishes to preserve these treasures instead of use them for his own personal gain.
Naughty Dog have brought the curtain down on the stellar Uncharted franchise in stunning style with the fourth iteration ‘A Thief’s End’.Thief’s End puts you three years after the events of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, and Nathan “Nate” Drake, now retired as a fortune hunter, has settled into a normal life with his wife Elena Fisher.But his, and indeed your, world is turned upside down when his older brother Sam, long believed to be dead, suddenly reappears after 15 years in captivity seeking Drake’s help.That is just a small taste of what is a truly exceptional piece of storytelling in a video game.
There’s a brief moment in the first hour of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End where Nathan Drake, a retired treasure hunter, combs through the artifacts from his adventures that he keeps in his attic. The space is ruined with meticulous clutter—each individual relic a callback to some grand excursion—and as I explored this makeshift museum, I found myself falling prey to the same fond memories that overtake the game’s protagonist.
The game offers a variety of locales and environments to take in, and it approaches each with that same reverence for detail. The graphics dictate the mechanics, too, as the jeep you drive slips and slides in the obviously sloppy mud. The visual textures serve as physical traction, and the driving segments are beautifully informed by the environmental details.
The plant life blows in the wind, buildings crumble beautifully and Nate’s clothes react dynamically, and it all works together in conjunction to make Uncharted 4 feel more tangible. Naughty Dog plays with this as they jump around in time at fairly regular intervals, introducing players to new areas and physical rules constantly.These locales all feature climbing, of course. The rule that demands Nate almost falls to his death as handholds crumble dramatically is still in place, but the climbing feels a little less narrow than usual. The paths are wider, more open for multiple approaches, and that also works towards making the game feel more real.
Uncharted has introduced a grappling hook mechanic to this game, too. In the pure climbing sections, the grappling hook works to make areas more accessible and interesting to climb and swing to. The mechanic is used a touch too much to get Nate out a jam, though; I can’t even tell you how many times you’ll slide down a hill only to grapple away at the last second and live. The over-presence of the mechanic, perhaps, is it’s biggest downfall, but it’s a welcome addition to the already fantastic feel of movement this franchise delivers.
The relationship between Nathan and his brother, Sam, and wife, Elena, is more or less the highlight of the adventure. Sam Drake has far less experience than Nathan, but their constant chatter to one another and frequent missteps really reflect that they truly share the same blood. They may act like bumbling idiots constantly finding themselves in near-death states from the smallest actions, but it lends to how their relationship is told. Elena’s role in Uncharted 4 is more of an emotional one, as similar to the last game where she has few scenes in the first half of the story, the second half shows how obsession can damage the lives of everyone around you. The tension and passion the two have for one another is deeply ingrained in the plot, making their interactions in the latter half of the campaign all the more nail biting, not knowing how their relationship will end up.
Unfortunately, while the protagonist and his supporting cast are vastly expanded upon, it’s the antagonists that take the back seat. Rafe Adler is a spoiled individual who was raised in wealth, whereas Nadine Ross runs the mercenary crew, Shoreline, in which Rafe employs to find Avery’s treasure. The two play the role of rivals to the Drake brothers, and as villains to the story, won’t hesitate to kill or disturb the peace to get what they want. The problem here is that their prescience is more alluded to over anything else, and their existence feels is used only as a driving point to speed up Nate and Sam’s quest. We barely get to know the two, outside of Rafe is simply the one with the money and Nadine is the muscle who knows how to fight, as they rarely rear their heads throughout the campaign.
The relationship between the 2 brothers isn’t anything new, but the voice actors’ performances, led by the industry everywhere-men Nolan North as Drake and Troy Baker as Sam keep it afloat. They have a playful banter, but run into typical sibling dust-ups, thanks to Sam’s harder edge and looser moral compass.
Drake’s wife, Elena, played by Emily Rose in both voice and motion-captured visage, is the more compelling partner in the relationship, examining the marriage of two people who lived far more exciting lives than they are at the story’s outset, not sure whether they’re ready to “retire.” Their rapport over the series has evolved into something believable, and refreshingly grown up, in A Thief’s End.
The puzzles are mostly of the put-the-sigil-in-this-order variety. Each puzzle room is incredible to look at, though, and also adds to the mystique of the legendary pirates.
The first thing I noticed with my short time in multiplayer was how important teamwork can be. The maps are essentially just big areas to take another team out, but anytime you or another teammate is downed you have a limited window to revive them. The obvious reason is to have a full team of five Nathans, Sullys, Sams, and Elenas to fight, but in that short window the opposing team might not get points for killing you IF someone gets you back on your feet. So there’s a score incentive to save as many members as possible.
You get to pick a weapon load-outs at the start of a round from a choice of four, with close-range, mid-range and long-range guns including a bolt-action sniper rifle, AK47 and submachine gun available from the outset, along with side-arms, grenades and trip-mines. You can also change weapons mid-game, but you’ll have to wait until your next respawn to get a new gun.
Each class also includes a Mystical power-up, which can be purchased from the in-game market using the touchpad. Money is earned from kills and collecting treasures strewn throughout each map, and while lead multiplayer designer Robert Cogburn told us microtransactions were planned.
The Mystical powers take inspiration from the various relics and myths encountered in each of the Uncharted games, including the Wrath of El Dorado, a thrown object that bursts into a fire-spewing Totem that can deny enemies access to an area. There will be five different powers at launch, but only three have been revealed so far. Spirit of the Djinn speeds up your character and engulfs them in flames, letting them quickly dash around the map. Among Thieves’ Cintimani Stone is an area-of-effect fireball that can pick up downed teammates and automatically bring you back to life after a KO. All of the solid gunplay and platforming controls are intact, but they lose a ton of their impact when removed from the cinematic presentation of the campaign. There’s fun to be had at times, like scoring a headshot on an enemy as he swings from platform to platform or charging your own grappling hook for a one-hit melee kill.
When it comes to graphics, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s end is a visual masterpiece. There where times where I would find myself just looking out at the scenery and set-pieces in awe. Apart from the scenery and beautifully crafted set-pieces, the character models were also exceptionally well-designed, and truly showcased that Naughty Dog had placed a fair amount of work into crafting and creating them. This can be seen in the attention to detail given to each character especially when it came to the character’s age, fingernails, wrinkles, and hair. This amount of detail combined with the exceptionally well-written storyline places Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End right on a pedestal next to The Last of Us. The gameplay itself while it can be repetitive climbing buildings is quite thrilling. One moment you’ll be sneaking around enemies, the next you’ll be opening fire. Suddenly, you’ll be scuba diving,