The Uncharted series of games have always been about scale – the scope of the stories is epic, the visuals are beautiful and the landscapes you journey through are vast and diverse.
When you consider the sheer amount of crazy, over-the-top, spectacular set pieces that the game has delivered over its three previous iterations, it is hard to imagine how things could get better. And yet, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End manages to do just that. It ups the ante for everything you’ve come to expect from an Uncharted game and grounds it with a moving, impactful story about grief, betrayal and redemption. In many ways, A Thief’s End is the most personal journey Nathan Drake and his companions have been through.
In previous games, Naughty Dog had us explore several different parts of the globe such The Amazon rainforest (El Dorado) and the Himalayas (Cintamani Stone). In this game, we the story picks up with Nathan Drake enjoying a few quiet moments of marital bliss with Elena Fisher, a journalist. He’s chilling out in New Orleans, playing video games with his wife. But since this is just the beginning, we know things are going to go south quickly.
And go south they do – the arrival of Sam, Nathan’s older brother who was presumed dead, sends them both on a quest to find the lost treasure of the pirate Henry Avery. As it turns out, the Drake brothers have been looking for this particular piece of loot since they started doing what they do best. Sam’s arrival gives the game a chance to delve into Nathan’s past and explore the emotional turmoil that informed so much of what he has become in life. Uncharted 4 handles Nathan’s emotional upheaval gracefully, leading to great moments like Nathan stealing a glance at Elena or stuttering when he’s talking about his past.
This attention to detail finds its way into the gameplay too. If you’ve played the previous Uncharted games, you already expect a combination of fighting, platforming and solving puzzles. However, unlike its predecessors, Uncharted 4 allows you to use stealth as you navigate through a level. If you play your cards right, you can usually get to the end of the level without having to fight too many enemies. This new-found stealth ability reflects Nathan’s emotional state. He isn’t the come-what-may, all-in, gung-ho adventurer that we first saw. The gameplay and the story come together to create an organic, smooth and impactful experience.
The lessons that Naughty Dog learnt during the making of The Last of Us are apparent in Uncharted 4. Here too, levels are more open ended and reward thoughtful execution. However, while The Last of Us relied on a slow, methodical approach to immerse you in the world, Uncharted 4 hooks you with its spectacle. Every time you have a sneaking section during the game, you can expect to be catapulted into something incredibly wild soon after. The set-pieces in this game are truly mind-blowing. When you’re riding your vehicle through the cliffs of Scotland, holding onto a truck that is sliding through the mud while you’re shooting at people or demolishing your way through a shanty town in Madagascar, Uncharted 4 is a pure joy.
When the action in the game is so frenetic, you need to be able to see anything clearly. In one of the most marked improvements over previous games in the series, the camera system in Uncharted 4 is smooth and ensures that you’re never cornered due to awkward camera placement. The camera zooms in to direct your attention towards crucial elements in the environment, whether it’s an exploding bridge or a ledge that you can cling to. The incredible cinematography and gorgeous locations further compound the visceral beauty of the set pieces. Nathan Drake is a surrogate for the adventurer that lives within all of us, and when he looks into the distance at a tall mountain or dreamy valley, you want to go along for the ride.
Uncharted 4’s multiplayer campaign also offers up some excitement once you’re done playing the campaign. You can battle with other players in familiar modes like zone control and deathmatch. But there’s a twist – you can earn gold during matches and spend it to summon AI medics and snipers. In addition, several stages have Mysticals, which are special attacks that use the power of the various artifacts we’ve hunted down in previous games. The Cintamani Stone can resurrect teammates and the Djinn allows you to teleport in and out of combat, making it great for those hit-and-run scenarios.
Uncharted 4 is has spectacular graphics, truly memorable set pieces and fantastic gameplay. The campaign balances all-out action with several quieter moments that are used to for character development and dialogue. We get to see what makes Nathan Drake tick. It’s a story about believing in yourself, dealing with loss and making peace with the past. A technical marvel, Uncharted 4 has definitely raised the bar for action-adventure games. But more importantly – it is a hell of a lot of fun.