It’s finally here. After years of waiting and a delay or two, Naughty Dog has given us the final chapter in the epic Uncharted series. With Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Naughty Dog has clearly taken what they learned from The Last of Us and doubled down on storytelling. In the process, they have delivered what is easily the most mature entry in the series. With the game having only been out a week, I’ll keep this review as vague and spoiler free as possible.
Naughty Dog deserves all the praise for their work on Uncharted 4’s story. I can honestly say that this is the first time I’ve played the final game in a series and felt that the story of the last chapter improved the stories of the previous games. Aided by top notch writing and voice acting of the highest caliber, the story gives us a more world-weary and mature Nathan Drake as he makes an earnest attempt to leave behind treasure hunting in favor of domestic life. There’s an excellent sequence in Nathan’s attic involving a toy gun and some hanging targets. It was in this moment I truly felt like Nathan missed his old life. I was legitimately sad for a second before I got caught up firing at targets with enthusiasm. It is a tribute to the story crafted over the years, a moment earned and not cheesy or forced in the least. (Moments later a classic game rears its head in a surprise that I will not spoil here). Elena makes her return as Nathan’s wife, and the chemistry between voice actors Nolan North and Emily Rose is at its highest point.
Nathan’s brother Sam (voiced by Troy Baker) makes an appearance as the force that eventually pulls him back into his old life, and again the writing shines as the relationship between Nathan and Sam is brilliantly explored. They are indeed brothers that would die for each other. I caught myself feeling a slight twinge of emotion whenever Sam referred to Nathan as ”Little Brother”. Big Brother manages to drag Nate out of retirement for what is the treasure hunt to end all treasure hunts. The most interesting thing about this particular quest is the way it ties into Nathan and Sam’s past. This is without a doubt the most personal treasure hunt possible for Nathan, and the story that unfolds around it is amazing. Sully (voiced by Richard McGonagle) returns as father figure to Nate, and the role he plays in Nathan’s life is even more vital this time around. It may be strange to think that the oldest character in the series could be more mature, but it shows the progression of the series and its characters. The story is still Nathan’s, but the attention paid to each character’s respective growth is incredible. Much credit should be given to the voice actors as they have all settled into their roles perfectly over the years. Newcomers Laura Bailey (Nadine Ross), Troy Baker, and Warren Kole (Rafe Adler) made great additions and provided excellent vocals to the game. Naughty Dog cast the perfect villains in Uncharted 4, and gave the adventure a true sense of weight. Every antagonist provided great foils for Nathan and his team and were appropriately evil, crafted with just the right amount of humanity to make you want to see their story through.
“Sometimes you gotta choose what you’re gonna keep, and what you’re gonna let go.”
There is no question that by the time I got to the end of the game, I was totally satisfied with what I experienced. I was left at the end feeling like I didn’t need another Uncharted game at all. I pay a high compliment and tribute to the writing staff when I say this: When the smoke cleared, the story was fulfilled. I was willing to keep 1-4, and ready to let the Uncharted series go.
Uncharted 4 is the absolute pinnacle of control in this series. Naughty Dog has perfected their gun-play and traversal systems, and took the time to fine tune every aspect of combat. The enemies are the smartest they’ve ever been: I found myself taking quite a few deaths due to the fact that I was allowing myself to get out-flanked, drawn out, and subsequently riddled with bullets. However, this didn’t make game-play cheap. It truly felt like a function of my lack of awareness in each situation. Thankfully, this time around, enemies aren’t the bullet sponges they were in previous games (A problem since rectified in the in the remastered “Nathan Drake Collection”). The weapons feel incredible, especially some of the special weapons found on the soldiers in the game. There is weight and power to pulling the trigger on these guns and each kill feels earned.
This improvement in gun-play would mean nothing if the movement had not improved with it. Movement in combat is awesome, and taking cover feels natural. I didn’t feel like I was stuck to walls and stone formations in firefights as in the previous entries. Cover is a necessary part of some of the stealth related segments, and the ability to slide around a corner is huge for these moments. The lone complaint I have about the stealth in the game? Waiting. Nathan is unable to drag an unconscious body to hide it, so you’re forced to wait for your target to walk to you. He can’t make a noise to lure them to you either, so stealth play becomes an exercise in patience as opposed to the cat and mouse game it should be. Still, it’s a minor complaint with an otherwise fluid game-play system.
Now for the obvious, this game is beautiful. There’s no way around it. I almost feel as though I’m disrespecting the game by stating it in such simple terms, but the level of detail Naughty Dog put into the world is truly amazing. From the way mud stuck to an off-road vehicle, to the mountains in the distance seen from dizzying heights, there was work put into this game on the graphical level. When you enter a dilapidated city and see buildings that have fallen victim to flooding and erosion, it’s intoxicating. Every building feels like someone different lived inside. As I walked around the town and saw remnants of a war long gone, it felt like Nathan was truly walking in the past. Skeletons strewn across the landscape helped to give clues as to the nature of the conflict, and somehow those bones felt alive. Naughty Dog outdid themselves with the amount of polish they put into this game, and set the bar high for other developers in this genre or any other.
This beauty extends to the explosive set pieces the Uncharted series has been known for. Nothing quite matches the train sequence from Uncharted 2, but as the characters have matured so has the developers’ flair and nuance when it comes to showcasing these epic moments. Naughty Dog comfortably scaled some of the action back and allowed emotions to carry the player through the scripted sequences. Not to say they aren’t epic, just less flashy and more poignant. One particular part has Nathan and Sully running through a building as it is exploding and falling apart right under them. It’s panicked and rushed, but it felt as though these segments were more contained, and somehow more important to the characters. There were times after grabbing onto a ledge at the last possible moment I said out loud, “How much longer could he do this?”
When it comes right down to it, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the high point of the series. It’s a truly cinematic experience that tugs at every possible emotion right up until the end (The Epilogue? ALL THE FEELS). Whatever Naughty Dog does next will benefit from the experience gained making this game. Without a doubt, this is THE game of the generation at the moment. What has been accomplished with this entire series is to be commended. It is incredibly difficult to create a world with characters that stick with people over almost a decade, then give them a fitting ending. Naughty Dog does not disappoint the fan-base it has rightfully garnered. Uncharted 4 has become the measuring stick for storytelling, and it’s up to everyone else to step their game up.
Buy this game, it’s as simple as that.