Nathan Drake’s final adventure is a love letter from Naughty Dog to gamers, a celebration of video games as an art form, and an homage to one of gaming’s most legendary series.
SIC PARVIS MAGNA
“Greatness from small beginnings” has become a trademark expression of the Uncharted franchise, one uttered by Drake throughout the saga. It especially feels like this has come to fruition in Uncharted 4, because the game’s depth and weight is unmatched by any other in the series. When we first met Nathan Drake in Drake’s Fortune, he had already been treasure hunting and thrill seeking for years. He was already part legend. We never got to witness his backstory or know what his “small beginning” was.
A Thief’s End not only shows us Nathan and his older brother Sam (Troy Baker) at an early age, but lets us share in their youthful experiences on multiple occasions. You may recall that Uncharted 3 featured a level where a young Drake meets Sully (one of my favorites in the game), but this is different. We now know how Drake met Sully, Elena, and what his childhood was like with Sam.
In short, if you didn’t already love Nathan Drake (Nolan North) as a character, this gives you a full understanding of his persona. I feel like I know Drake very closely and on many levels – something 99% of games can’t or won’t scratch the surface on.
Thanks to the graphical prowess of the Playstation 4, characters you already know and love not only look more detailed than ever, but convey emotions that only deepen their sense of realism and feel. The lovable Victor Sullivan (Richard McGonagle) feels more like your awesome uncle than ever, and could be the coolest character in the game. Sam & Nathan are clearly brothers in both appearance and sound, though this might not have been possible on last gen systems thanks to the system’s ability to provide so much depth. I had always had a soft spot for Elena Fisher (Drake), but her emotion comes out most evidently in A Thief’s End, solidifying her spot as one of my favorite female characters in any game ever created. This story is very much about maturity and Elena is the anchor that keeps it grounded. Her love for Nate is something special and their relationship is one of the best parts (among many) in the franchise. Emily Rose delivers yet another outstanding performance as Elena, particularly in a game that is absolutely stacked in terms of elite voice talent.
STOP & SMELL THE ROSES
Uncharted has always been a game that celebrates history and achievement. In A Thief’s End, Nathan is searching for the lost treasure of pirate Henry Avery, who conducted the biggest heist in history. Uncharted games tend to create the next pinnacle in the industry from a visual standpoint, and A Thief’s End is no exception. In traveling across locations from the Scottish Highlands to Libertalia to the stunningly colorful and varied Madagascar, I can’t recall a game ever having so much detail and depth in its graphics.
Not only is the color spectrum fully realized, you’ll be surprised how much detail was executed. Perhaps most impressive is the distance that you can see without texture popping. There is a Trophy you can earn in the game by climbing to the highest point on a steeple, high in the sky. You can view as far as the eye can see, in a 360 degree manner, without an ounce of delay or texturing issues. The story mode is locked at 30 frames per second, while the multiplayer is at 60.
There are no load times between cut scenes and gameplay. I can’t tell you how many times I would just be standing there, waiting for something to happen, because I assumed I was not in control of my character yet. Sometimes, I would just stand stationary and use the right thumbstick to view my surroundings and appreciate the environment (something we should all probably do more in real life). To put it into context, the game keeps track of a lot of individual statistics. You’ll see a lot of the usuals – total time played, headshots, deaths, etc. – but there are some unique ones that Naughty Dog placed in there because they knew it would be of value. I spent 1 hour and 31 minutes of my near-exact 15 hour playthrough standing still. Isn’t that mind boggling? I rarely realized I was doing it. A lot of the environment seems influenced from the sights and detail seen in another ND classic, The Last of Us, while still retaining the Uncharted flavor.
As Kinda Funny Games’ Colin Moriarty mentioned on social media, Uncharted 4 is more like a steak than a hamburger – you must savor it. Past Uncharted games wrapped up the story in closer to 8-10 hours on average, while Uncharted 4 takes 15 hours on average to complete. The latter third of the game is where things slow down quite a bit, drawing the pacing down to a repetitive and sometimes unnecessary feel. I’ve wrestled internally back and forth with this topic since the onset of the third act.
On one hand, it feels out of place that the game took this long to complete. Especially after having just played through Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection released in the fall, the extra 5-7 hours makes it feel like a few Uncharted games packed into one (4 is the approximate length of 2 & 3 combined). This isn’t always bad when it comes to value for your purchase, but it feels out of place after not only being a veteran of the series, but also having played the previous 3 console games so recently. It somewhat zaps the momentum of the story and drags things to a crawl around chapters 13-18, give or take a few either way.
On the other hand, I totally appreciate this. Uncharted 4 is supposed to be Naughty Dog’s farewell to Nathan Drake (at least for now). If you take the Moriarty approach and just enjoy the ride, it makes sense. In a lot of movies these days, particularly superhero films, too many characters are crammed into one film, leaving a sense of longing and being short changed. I felt I spent an appropriate amount of time with Elena, Sully, Sam, and of Nate (or course) whereas I wasn’t sick of them, but felt like I got my money’s worth. It reminded me of certain aspects of Mass Effect 3’s DLC, where Bioware knew it was saying goodbye to its current cast of characters.
The beauty of A Thief’s End is that Nathan’s story is wrapped up in a beautiful and fulfilling way. Not just that, but the franchise is left at a point that multiple characters could take on the role of main protagonist in future iterations of the series. I felt emotion run through me when witnessing the end of the story. I won’t spoil anything, but Naughty Dog seems to have set us up with 2 characters that they could set as the centerpiece of a new era. I am overflowing with optimism.
On a quick aside, the ability to play a brief snippet of the original Crash Bandicoot (with full commentary from Nathan and Elena) is absolutely amazing, from the original Playstation console in the living room to the Sony logo popping up on screen. The interaction from Nathan and Elena as they call back to this moment is precious. Way to take things to a new level yet again, ND.
Nathan has his usual bag of tricks, from his athletic ability, to the game’s signature epic set-piece moments, to the game’s shooting mechanics that are better than ever.
In A Thief’s End, you receive a few new dynamics to play with, and they make controlling the legendary Drake familiar, yet fresh. The most notable new feature is the rope. You can use this to climb to new heights, save yourself mid-fall, or swing around a battlefield like Indiana Jones with an FAL. I really enjoyed utilizing the rope and felt it was a necessary addition.
Speaking of falling, there are multiple terrains that you must navigate more precisely than ever. If you miss a jump, you could fall down a slippery river and have to start your sequence all over. Other times, you are forced to jump into these areas, only to have to time another jump or rope swing to get where you have to go (or avoid death). This felt influenced by Crystal Dynamics’ modern Tomb Raider games. To me, that is an extraordinary honor. Tomb Raider influenced the Uncharted franchise, and in turn, the two have seemed to build off of each other’s strengths in the current console generation. Another aspect that is pulled right from those TR games is the pick, which lets Nathan stab the side of a mountain when climbing either horizontally or vertically. Again, this was a nice addition that truly helped to make gameplay feel fresh.
Uncharted 4’s multiplayer isn’t a tacked-on addition that you see in a lot of today’s big name games, but rather a fun, meaningful portion of the game. While I spent the vast majority of my time in the story (as well I should), there are a few exciting modes to touch on in MP. There is also a fair level of customization, in addition to being able to control characters from this game (such as Laura Bailey’s Nadine Ross) and past games. The 60 FPS really kicks into gear here.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a masterpiece in every aspect, setting a mature tone in the characters, the story, and the overall gameplay. From the ultra detailed visuals, to the catchy, epic theme song, to the legendary voice cast, Uncharted 4 is the game you bought your Playstation 4 for. It will go down as one of gaming’s greatest. From the early days of the PS3 to the middle of the lifespan of the PS4, Sic Parvis Magna.
+ Voice cast & acting is unmatched. You will never hear a more authentic, genuine performance.
+ Naughty Dog never ceases to find a way to reach new heights in story telling, adventure, and graphical fidelity. This is the prettiest, most detailed game of all time, with vast depth and scope.
+ Improved gameplay that includes new dynamics.
+ Wraps up Nathan Drake’s story in the best of ways, while leaving hope for future Uncharted games with a new direction. This could very well be the game we look back on in a decade and remember as a “passing of the torch” of sorts.
– Pacing struggles at times, for better or worse.
Uncharted 4: Among Thieves is exclusively available on Playstation 4. All pictures used were taken via the SHARE option on the PS4.