Nathan Drake is back for his final adventure but is it a worthy one?
It has been a long road to Uncharted 4: A Theif's End due to a number of delays and people leaving the studio, it was almost a question of whether the game would live up to the Uncharted name and Naughty Dog's pedigree, especially coming off of the dark and mature survival action game, The Last of Us. Thankfully, Uncharted 4 not only lives up to the cinematic blockbuster experience and story driven narrative as its predecessors but it is also a fitting sendoff for our beloved hero. Uncharted 4 is a marriage of what works in both the Uncharted series and The Last of Us.
Uncharted 4 is set three years after Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception with Nate seemingly retired from his treasure hunting life. Here we see him as a husband, a working man, but most importantly we see him as a normal person. All of this changes when Nathan's thought to be dead brother, Samuel, shows up at his job one morning asking for his help in finding Henry Avery's pirate treasure. There's a moment of doubt within Nate on wanting to come back into the life of thievery but with the stakes at an all time high he packs his bags and sets off on one more thrill ride.
Coming off of the Last of Us it was a question of whether Uncharted 4 would be as dark and moody like it or more lighthearted as the previous Uncharted games. The game definitely has moody moments but the overall tone is still as lighthearted as an Uncharted game can get. But what we have are characters that have matured and are the most human than they have ever been. Nate and Elena have settled down with their life and marriage, when they speak they have their little inside jokes, nicknames, and jabs at each other.
The opening hours of the game aren't as explosive and adrenaline fueling as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves but it does a fantastic job of introducing Samuel Drake to the players as well as settling us into Nate's new status quo. I applaud Naughty Dog for introducing a new and pivotal character as well as developing him at the start so we really know how much he means to Nate and what is truly on the line here.
At its core, Uncharted 4 plays the same as its predecessors but takes inspiration from mechanics in The Last of Us. There is a bigger emphasis on exploration, platforming, and puzzle solving over the gunfights this go around.
The combat and stealth has been improved to the point where you can sneak your way past enemy encounters if you choose to by using the tall grass. Aside from armored enemies, the hundreds of enemies you fight off are no longer bullet sponges which is just, the best thing to hear.
Over the course of the game Nate will be paired up with Sam much like Joel and Ellie. The companion and enemy AI is competent and will adapt to what you're doing as well. During the stealth sections your companion will help you out and silently take out enemies in proximity. If you change your mind and go guns blazing, your companion will follow suit and help you take them out. The enemy AI, upon seeing a dead body, will look in the general direction and react naturally to the situation. If you break out of the enemy's line of sight they'll search your last known position before going back on their patrols.
The puzzles the game provides are among the best in the series ranging from a memorization puzzle to an impressive puzzle in a clock tower. That being said, there are a number of puzzles that require Nate and company to move around a bunch of boxes to get to a higher ledge that sadly reminded me of the puzzles in The Last of Us that halted progress because Ellie couldn't swim.
The best moments in the game come from the more quieter segments in the game. Moments where you just walk through an area, take in everything available, and chat with Sam or Sully. These moments are far and few between but they encourage a greater sense of exploring your surroundings to find collectibles and initiate optional conversations.
Not only is this the best looking game Naughty Dog has released, it's one of the best looking games period. The amount of detail put into the game's locales are ridiculous. From the lush environments of Madagascar, to a dreary cathedral in Scotland, the game not once looks anything less than amazing. But what makes the game much more pleasing to look at, is the small attention to detail littered throughout. The facial expressions from character models, sweat rolling down someone's face, clothes and hair moving in the wind and there is so much more I could say on the detail but just know that it's the little things that make me appreciate the grander things.
The voice acting is as good as ever especially with Nolan North and Troy Baker playing off of each other to make the relationship between Nate and Sam seem real.
In the previous games a black screen would appear right before a cutscene began, often taking me out of the immersion thus far. This time, everything transitions into the next which means that if I decided to go rolling in a pile of mud, any residual mud that remains on Nate along with whatever guns Nate is holstering, will appear in the cutscene that follows.
Uncharted 4 has possibly the least amount of set piece moments in the series and while maybe one of them will reach the highs of the infamous train sequence or cruise ship, there are a ton of moments in the game where I went, "holy crap, did I really just do that?"
The grappling hook is the biggest addition to the game which allows Nate to reach certain areas a normal jump wouldn't permit him too. When used in combat, Nate can swing from the grappling hook and take out an enemy below him.
Climbing is more dynamic this time around, previously reaching for the next ledge would cause Nate to stick his arm out only for you to hit X to jump to it. Now if the ledge is within arms length he will still reach out to it, but will also immediately grab onto it resulting in more fluid climbing animations rather than him constantly hopping around like a frog.
In combat encounters you can mark enemies so you will be able to see their position wherever you are in the area, if you're lucky, a companion can mark enemies for you as well. Trying to play through encounters stealthily, I abused the marking system but I also took notice of the alert system implemented too. If an enemy spots you a diamond above their head will fill up and change colors from white to yellow to orange and finally red. Each color represents a level of awareness. However, playing on Crushing difficulty gets rid of the marking and alert system.
Still linear in nature, Naughty Dog has opened up some of the areas of the game for exploration purposes but there are only a handful of them. The same could be said for the vehicle sections in the game, at certain points in the game you can drive a 4x4 and a boat and either go towards your destination or roam around and see the sites, find collectibles, etc. That being said, don't expect an open world of any kind.
Another new and somewhat disappointing feature comes from the dialogue choices. The choices don't alter the story or character motives, and they appear maybe four times the entire game. I did however, get an Indiana Jones reference in one instance.
The story mode will take about 10-15 hours to complete, more if you decide to search every nook and cranny. Upon completing the game there are a number of unlockable skins, game filters, and modifiers to justify multiple playthroughs.
If multiple playthroughs aren't up your alley there is a competitive multiplayer mode available. Offering modes such as Team Deathmach, Capture the Flag (idol in this case), and Domination as well as over a hundred customization options for both characters and weapons. Naughty Dog has also detailed their plan for the multiplayer with content rolling out steadily and all of it will be free.
Even my smallest problems with the game couldn't detract from what I'd consider the best Uncharted game. It doesn't need to reach the explosive highs of Uncharted 2 to deliver a cinematic blockbuster finale to our favorite half tucked hero.