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Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review


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On 05/17/2016 at 10:00 AM by Casey Curran

Indiana Jones made by Steve the Pirate
RECOMMENDATION:

This is a satisfying finale made entirely for fans who want more Uncharted. Newcomers are better off starting with The Nathan Drake Collection while it will not changed the minds of those who have grown tired of the series or were never a fan to begin with.

Uncharted has always been all over the place in terms of quality. The first title is pretty mediocre despite fantastic production values. Meanwhile I consider Uncharted 2 to be one of the greatest video games ever made, a game which I replayed many times and love every second of. Then the PS3 trilogy ended with Drake’s Deception, which offered a fantastic first half and a very inconsistent second half. So it feels fitting that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End overall ends up as a perfectly satisfactory game. A game with its moments of brilliance, yet never quite manages to bring the product as a whole up in the end.

The game starts off feeling a tad schizophrenic as it jumps from main character Nathan Drake in a high speed boat chase mid storm with zero context to a flashback to his childhood with his brother Sam to another flashback to the twosome planning a heist as young adults then to the Nate’s life retired from his plundering days in the present. This makes the opening a bit of a drag, especially the chapter as kids which feels like it could have been cut without the game missing a beat, both in terms of story and gameplay.

Thankfully once the plot gets the ball rolling, it charges full speed. Sam returns into Nate’s life with a lead on a lost pirate treasure they searched for in the second flashback, prompting him to get back into the treasure hunt against their old associate Rafe Adler and his new partner Nadine Ross. The pair forms another of Uncharted’s villainous duo with Nadine’s private army offering plenty of soldiers to fight along the way. Nadine overall is a good villain: She immediately demonstrates a threat both physically and mentally while receiving a decent amount of character development. She is not the best villain of the series, but perfectly serviceable. Adler, on the other hand, feels underdeveloped. His whole character is based around his jealousy of Nathan Drake’s exploits, but the game never takes advantage of opportunities to flesh this out. This feels like a missed opportunity with how many flashback chapters the game contains.

The main characters mostly fair better. Nathan Drake returns with enough charm and wit to overlook the fact he killed hundreds of mercenaries throughout the adventure with no real remorse. Nate probably has the strongest writing of any Uncharted yet, as it expanded on a few other elements such as his passion for history which just make him feel more real. Even more important his conflict as he vowed to his wife (recurring character) Elena to stop seeking treasure, yet cannot deny his love for adventuring. This ties in well to twist on the nature of the treasure, taking a different turn than the supernatural elements that Uncharted 2 and 3 rehashed from the first game for a more refreshing experience.

Elena is the strongest she’s been in the series due in large part to feeling integral to the plot for the first time since the original Uncharted. 2 and 3 felt like they included her for fans of the character, but this time much of the story’s heart is based on her and Nate’s relationship. Victor Sullivan returns as well, who is by far my favorite of the cast. He feels like your dad’s old friend who you look up to despite being a terrible role model as he tells outlandish tales and cracks a bunch of smart ass quips while smoking his cigars. Every second with him is just pure joy.

The same cannot be said for newcomer Sam Drake, however. While his bond with Drake is initially strong, as the game moves forwards it is impossible not to realize how terrible of a person this guy is. This could have worked if the story was written differently, but the others are way quick to forgive him for regularly putting their lives in danger on behalf of his own selfish desires. Nate has his moments of selfishness, but these feel like him getting carried away and losing perspective. Sam weighs his options and endangers other lives for no one but himself.

The changes to the gameplay are similar to the ones from the story: The same structure with some neat additions to keep things interesting. For starters there is much less combat present than past Uncharted titles. The firefights present are better than ever, offering some strong improvements to stealth especially. Enemies can now be marked to keep tabs on them when out of vision, tall grass offers places to hide, and arenas accommodate for a stealthy approach better than past Uncharted titles. While not as strong as the stealth in Naughty Dog’s other title The Last of Us it is a strong enough improvement where several encounters allowed me to pass through without firing a single bullet.

Arenas are not entirely stealth focused, however, as once the combat starts, they offer cover and enemies in the right spots to accommodate for a firefight. These arenas are far more open than  past Uncharted titles, as each one feels like a tiny sandbox that offers multiple paths letting you figure out how a plan of attack on your own. Firefights also offer fewer waves than the original trilogy on average as well, making for fewer moments where combat can drag on.

There are a few technical issues which damper the combat. There were times where I would be holding R2 and Nate would start an animation to fire his weapon, yet only look around aiming until I released it and held the trigger again. Friendly AI has zero awareness of the player as well, whether it be trying to take cover where in a spot I am crouching under and standing right in my line of fire. Finally, traversal could get very finicky as Nate would jump over the wrong ledge or not exit cover when I pressed the O button. These led to more than a few cheap deaths which all felt annoying.

Puzzles are more prominent than ever and offer a perfect challenge. They offer challenge without being obscure and provide clues that do not give away the answer. These often go hand in hand with the platforming, as figuring how Nathan Drake can get somewhere can be a puzzle in itself. There are times where climbing is so simple it feels like a time waster, but as a whole it is improved far from before, offering more explorative elements and greater challenge than past titles.

Exploration is now a key part of Uncharted 4 as well. Past titles were based around linear areas, but now Nate and company are put into enormous open environments. Vehicle traversal becomes an integral part thanks to this, offering ways to show off the gorgeous scenery as well as offering vehicle centric puzzles to hide both optional treasures and throw obstacles in the way of a car or boat, such as tying a winch to break down a bridge (with some amazing jokes about said winch). Exploring giant exotic locations is a great addition overall, both because of how gorgeous the title is and how it makes the areas feel more believable, as you feel you really discovered a clue to the treasure when you find it.

And while I am on the subject of the graphics, this game is unbelievably gorgeous. Naughty Dog has done unbelievable work with Sony consoles ever since the first Uncharted and step their game up once again. While I have grown used to how these characters move like real people rather than video game characters, the attention to detail now is astounding. Characters have skin spots, sunlight will shine through ears to account for cartilage, and the facial detail is incredible. There is exactly one character who looked too much like a video game character and she did not appear until briefly until the very end. Combine that with the gorgeous scenery and Uncharted 4 looks astounding.

Yet both visually and in terms of gameplay, smaller areas does not bode as well. For starters, they offer far fewer instances to show off the eye candy, which makes the areas grow boring much quicker. The real problem, however, is that these instances feel like almost a carbon copy of exploring from The Last of Us. This does not fit Uncharted as well as The Last of Us, as in that game these areas offered opportunities to gather supplies and discover notes left behind, fleshing out a world destroyed by zombies. Here, however, there are no supplies to gather and the story focuses far more on the plot, so world building is not as interesting. This causes these instances to really drag on, especially since later chapters pile them on to make the plot move far too slowly.

The later chapters as a whole do not feel as strong as the middle ones in the game. There is a large amount of padding, as the game has a major twist with an encounter against the villains, then practically halts the plot for two to three hours for a segment which would have worked far better in one hour. Worse yet, the final boss introduces completely new, unintuitive mechanics which creates for a stressful final chapter thankfully salvaged by a wholly satisfying conclusion. What is squeezed between the later chapters, and the opening, however, feels just about perfect. Everything escalates at an amazing pace and it offers a car chase which is without a doubt the best moment in the series. I refuse to say another word because it is just that good and worth playing the game for.

Uncharted 4 will not convert those who are lukewarm on the series nor anyone who had their fill of plundering with Nathan Drake. Yet, if you enjoy the series and want to see more, then Uncharted 4 will deliver. The game wraps the series up very well and as someone who was ready for the series to end, I actually am open to more Uncharted with the direction they went. Not with more Nathan Drake, but the conclusion works well whether or not the series will continue.

Now if you excuse me, I’m off to get a winch for my car.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

F1r3inth3H0L3

05/18/2016 at 11:06 PM

I definitely think game was better than a 3.5. Not that scores should matter too much because it is your opinion, but this game is a blockbuster in every since and so far is the best Playstation 4 game released in my opinion...it just seems from your review that you are a lukewarm Uncharted series fan and it def shows. The game has so much fan service it is crazy. Most fun I have personally had in 2016.

Casey Curran Staff Writer

05/19/2016 at 01:21 AM

The production values are top notch, probably the best in the industry. But I did run into quite a few technical issues and the pacing was far from perfect in a series where pacing is everything. Mechanically Uncharted has always been the jack of all trades so it needs good pacing to work which it didn't always have here. At its best, I agree, it was some of the most fun of the year. At its worst, it dragged on for too long for me to give it a pass. After all, I have to review the whole product, especially one relying so much on its story.

I wouldn't say I'm lukewarm on a series where I consider one entry to be one of the greatest games ever made and half of another to be near perfect. And if you pay attention to my wording, I said that I feel only fans of the series would enjoy it which I did. I came out satisfied and nothing more which is what a 3.5/5 perfectly describes in my mind.

Machocruz

05/19/2016 at 07:59 AM

Triggered when I read that you can mark enemies during stealth. How about using sound cues, like Thief did back in 1998. Or having decent, organic tools for viewing enemies from safety.  Must everythign become increasingly banal, safe, and heavy handed in the AAA market?

Anyway, game looks good otherwise. I thought 1-3 had a lot of room for improvement

Casey Curran Staff Writer

05/19/2016 at 09:10 AM

Well marking is optional. If you don't like it then you can try to keep tabs where enemies move to without it while being more cautious.

Also in the chance you do play it, see if you can get a save file for beating the game on there. Doing that gives you a wealth of options like cel shading and an HUD-less mode.

Jamie Alston Staff Writer

05/22/2016 at 12:55 PM

Sound like a game that'd be right up amy alley if I had a PS4. So far, I've finished Uncharted 1 & 2. Loved them both. I just need to fire up and playthrough Uncharted 3, and I'll be nmostly caught up. Still not sure ifwhen I'll purchase a PS4 yet though. I need more motivation to take the leap since I likely won't have spot for my PS3.

If the system were backwards compatible with PS3, it would have been a no-brainer.

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