As past Game of the Year lists would indicate, the Uncharted series is one of my all-time favorites. Naughty Dog successfully took the Indiana Jones formula and transitioned it to video games. With Uncharted 4, we have definitely reached the conclusion of Nathan Drake’s journey; that’s made very clear by the end of the game. Where the franchise goes from here is anyone’s guess, but A Thief’s End offers a fitting resolution for these beloved characters and also adds some interesting gameplay changes to the mix.
The largest change is also at times the least welcome, in my opinion, and that’s the more open feel of the game compared to previous entries. While not noticeable at the beginning of the game, once combat scenarios become more prevalent, the open nature of the map design really becomes apparent. Most levels have multiple ways of reaching your goal, whether that goal is climbing to the top of a mountain or taking out a few dozen baddies. In combat, I loved the ability to rely more on stealth and retreat, versus things quickly devolving into a standard third-person shooter like in previous games. But when it comes to exploration, the open feel becomes a bit overwhelming at times. Maybe it’s just how I’ve grown accustomed to the series, but I liked that previous games held your hand a bit out in the open. It was rarely a straight corridor, but you were definitely given direction for where to go. In Uncharted 4, there are several sequences where you’re dumped into this giant space and given a destination that’s extremely far away. You can head straight there, or take the winding path.
It’s a small complaint, but I just preferred the old way. Maybe if there was more to do in the open spaces, I’d be happier. But really, all there is to find are collectibles, leaving very little reason to drive around unless you’re a completionist. That brings me to the driving mechanics, which are serviceable, if not amazing. The jeep doesn’t play a significant part of the game, but there are a few protracted sequences of getting in and out to accomplish different objectives. Honestly, the platforming-esque sequences while driving were actually quite fun, and offer up a variation on the traditional puzzle solving found in the series. But there were a few small instances where the platforming required you to climb onto the car to reach a ledge, and those mechanics were less than precise.
When it comes to the moment to moment gameplay, if you’ve played Uncharted before, you know what to expect. That isn’t meant derisively, as I’ve always found controlling Nathan Drake to be a fun experience. The platforming still isn’t as exact as you’d like, and Nate still tends to slip and slide around, even after you’ve stopped moving the controller. But it’s nothing major. There are new weapons to use, and they handle like you’d expect. The grappling hook is the new hotness, and it’s really cool. It makes the combat feel much more dynamic, both when trying to escape danger or when trying to pull off some rad melee moves.
As far as the enemies go, I was a little surprised that there weren’t any huge changes in the third act. Hopefully it isn’t a spoiler to say, but in all previous Uncharted games, the final location has introduced a new enemy type that required different tactics from just pointing and shooting. Some of those were more annoying than others (looking at you, smoke dudes from Uncharted 3), but at least they did offer up some gameplay variety. There’s nothing like that in A Thief’s End, and that’s a shame. The game already feels longer than the previous games, and this is only highlighted by the sameness of the combat encounters. The open level design does help with this, especially when having to retry encounters after death, but things definitely began to run together by the end.
Uncharted 4’s story, on the other hand, is as good as it’s ever been. Having a good inkling that this would be Drake’s final adventure, I was extremely excited to see how things wrapped up. But, knowing that the creatives behind The Last of Us were taking over from Amy Hennig also made me nervous that things would be a little heavy-handed. Going back to the Indiana Jones comparison, it’s not that I haven’t been invested in the journey of these characters — it’s just that I didn’t want things to take some dark turn towards the ending. Indiana Jones and Uncharted have always been escapist entertainment, they’re fast and fun and you don’t have to think too hard while enjoying the set-piece moments. Things don’t need to get too “real” in the story.
The much-discussed dialogue options ended up being a very small piece of the game, so much so that I’m not sure why they were included at all. There were only two instances of them that I remember, and neither had any impact on the story whatsoever.
But as I said, in general, the story here is fantastic. I was invested in the relationship between Nate and Elena, the villain was actually somewhat interesting, the addition of Nate’s brother Sam gave a fresh new perspective, and there were plenty of sequences taking place when Nate and Sam were kids, giving us more insight on their relationship and history. The beginning takes a bit to get to the action, but overall everything is just very well paced, and the conflicts feel natural. However, there was a twist late in the story dealing with why everyone is doing what they’re doing that I thought kind of undermined the stakes for our main characters, but it doesn’t detract from the overall experience.
Since this is a review, I should probably also touch on the graphics and art design. They’re awesome, and that’s about all that needs to be said. But in all seriousness, I’d say the environments don’t quite feel as diverse as in previous games, with significant portions of the story taking place on the same island, but the design of that island is very reminiscent of The Last of Us in a good way. That’s all I’ll say about that for sake of spoiling the story. Seriously though, Naughty Dog constantly raises the bar on what can graphically be done on Sony consoles.
Just to briefly touch on the multiplayer, I’ve never gotten super into it in previous Uncharted games, but I’m sure fans of it will be happy with the new version. The tutorials are actually a great way to introduce new players and casual players like myself to more of the intricate strategies and items you can use. It might just be a case of me coming to the game months after release, but in actual competitive matches, my team almost always got completely destroyed. And before you reply “get good,” it wasn’t my fault, as I was often at the top of the leaderboard. Not sure if that’s a matchmaking problem or just bad luck, but it did hamper my experience somewhat. I enjoyed the 4-5 hours I spent with the multiplayer and different modes, but I just have very little interest in competitive multiplayer games nowadays.
I know some of this stuff might come across as a bit nit-picky, and it is. But that’s only because I love the Uncharted series so damn much, and I have such high expectations for it. I also need to stay on brand with the whole “hating everything” aesthetic. If you’ve been a fan of the previous Uncharted games, there is absolutely no reason to not play A Thief’s End. And if you haven’t played them, get on that right now. Just make sure you start at the beginning. You can even pick up all 3 games in one package on PS4, and here’s my review of that collection. I’m certainly going to miss Nate and Elena, but maybe the series will continue on after The Lost Legacy with new or supporting characters like Chloe and Sam.