With Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End (PlayStation 4), Naughty Dog are saying good bye to the third-person action-packed adventure series they first launched in 2007 with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. But while it’s not the best game in this series (it’s no Uncharted 2) nor the best game of its kind in recent years (it’s no Rise Of The Tomb Raider), it’s still an epic adventure and an equally compelling workout for your reflexes. Well, once it gets going, anyway.
When the single-player campaign in Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End begins, Nathan Drake is happily retired from adventuring, working a day job, and living with his wife, Elena. Well, actually, when the game begins, we’re driving a boat during a storm while guys in other boats are chasing us and some dude named Sam tries to take them out with a pistol. Sam, we later learn, is Nathan’s brother, who didn’t die fifteen years ago, as Nathan thought, but was instead in prison, and after getting out, he tracked his little brother down and has since dragged him along on another globe-trotting adventure.
Like the other games in this series, Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End mixes cover-based shooting, climbing and other platforming, puzzle solving, some vehicular mayhem, and even a bit of sneaking around. And like its predecessors, it doesn’t do any of these individual things as well as games more dedicated to these disciplines. Though noticeably improved this time around, the cover-based shooting isn’t as smooth or frantic as it is in The Division, neither the platforming nor the puzzle solving is as creative as it is in a Tomb Raider game, while the stealth parts aren’t as deep as the Splinter Cell series.
But what makes Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End work — again, like its forerunners — is that it seamlessly mixes these elements together with a compelling, cinematically-told story that’s full of smart dialog, invigorating action, and genuine twists. It’s kind of like how the Star Wars movies don’t have the best acting, direction, or writing, but are still fantastic adventures. Which isn’t to say that this installment doesn’t sometimes nail those individual parts — the cover-based shooting, for instance, is the best it’s ever been for this series, while the platforming is also challenging, with one instance where it approaches the inventiveness of a classic Tomb Raider game — just that this game is at its best when all of these elements work well together bot in service of, and in the context of, its story.
While Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End largely sticks to the same formula as its ancestors, it does expand its pallet ever so slightly. For starters, Nathan now has a rope he can use to swing around, rappel down cliffs, or to pull objects. But while he’s obviously limited in where he can attach it — it’s decidedly more Tarzan-y than Spider-Man-esque — it still gives the exploring parts a different feel while adding some challenges as well. He even, at one point, finds a spike that helps him climb rock faces like a certain lady adventurer we all know and love, though unlike Lara Croft’s icepicks, Nathan’s rock spike doesn’t really add much to the proceedings.
Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End also improves upon some of the series’ existing systems in interesting ways. In regards to the driving parts, not only is the requisite chase scene not as linear as ones in previous games, but there’s also times where Nathan takes a Jeep off-road, including one bit where he’s hitting a much more open road.
Nathan also has some helpful new ways to punch people in Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End. If you jump down on someone, be it from a ledge or even a swinging rope, you can land on an enemy fist-first. Similarly, this adds an awareness meter to your enemies, which fills up and then changes from yellow to orange depending on how aware of you they’ve happen to be at the moment. Though while this does come in handy, the color changing is a bit too cartoonish-looking for this game’s otherwise realistic visuals.
This is not the only new trick in Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End that has a downside. While Nathan does a lot of sliding this time around, and it’s sometimes used to good effect, there are times early when these bits come in rapid succession, and thus get a little tiresome.
It’s also odd that Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End is the first time in six outings — let’s not pretend the Vita games Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Uncharted: Fight For Fortune didn’t happen — that we’ve never heard of Nathan’s brother Sam before this. Especially given how Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception made it seem like Nathan was all alone when he first met Sully. Or how this game’s main motivation would’ve worked just as well with Sully as the catalyst.
Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End also doesn’t have dialog that’s as smart or as snappy as it was in Uncharted 2 or Uncharted 3. Sure, the adventure they go on is just as grand and sprawling, and there are some funny bon mots sprinkled throughout but, for the most part, this game’s script isn’t as quick witted as its predecessors.
But the biggest issue with Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End is its pacing. Aside from the brief bit in the boat, much of the first quarter is rather slow and uninteresting. Though necessary to progress the plot, the part where you’re young Nathan falls flat, while a lengthy bit at a party isn’t terribly exciting or challenging, either. And while the game get decidedly better after that, it once again slows to a crawl when you get to yet another bit of The Adventures Of Young Drake Wandering Around, Looking At Stuff towards the end. Which is really irritating because when Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End is good, it actually rivals Uncharted 2.
While the story-driven campaign is the centerpiece of Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End, the game also has a trio of interesting multiplayer modes. Well, the modes themselves aren’t interesting; they’re your basic takes on “Team Deathmatch,” capturing points (“Command”), and “Capture The Flag” (“Plunder”). But what makes them worth trying is how Uncharted 4-ish they get. Not only is there all of the climbing and rope swinging of the campaign, but you can also find hidden treasure if you can stay alive long enough to find it. All of which makes these modes a bit more unique, and fun, than their generic rules might suggest.
Though, as I said, it’s the single-player campaign that really matters in Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End, and in this regard, the game is a keeper. Sure, it’s uneven, especially at the beginning, and it’s not be the best shooter, the most inventive platformer, the sneakiest, the most brain taxing, or the snappiest talker. But, like its predecessors, it does pull all of these elements together in a way that makes it one of the best adventures you’re likely to go on this year, and a fine end to Naughty Dog’s nine year voyage with Nathan Drake.