Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review

Last Updated on by Daniel Lawrence

While it has frantic combat, slick parkour, and outrageous action choreography, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End accomplishes something remarkable: maturity. With a similarly developed graphics engine and career-high performances from the cast, this is less of a breezy lad’s tale and more of a story about the lads as adults. An impressive set of multiplayer modes ices the cake.

Unfortunately, the game’s third act is uninspired and overly long, slowing down the pace of the game with oddly repetitive gameplay. Therefore, Uncharted 4 falls short of the greatness achieved by some of Naughty Dog’s leaner, more innovative predecessors.

It begins with a focus-filled 15-hour experience. A compelling handful of chapters weave their way through different time periods with cinematic flair in Uncharted 4. In spite of its somewhat familiar setting—Nate Drake and Elena Fisher are trying to retire from action-heroism and live a normal life until Nate’s presumed-dead brother comes back with an offer they can’t refuse—a strong emotional throughline is born from the characters’ struggle to reconcile their adult responsibilities with the promise of excitement they secretly crave. Through its quieter moments, Uncharted 4 explores a more world-weary group of adventurers with their concerns and musings.

It is fascinating to hear these incidental conversations. Characters brittle and soften throughout this episode, brought to life gradually by excellent writing and a stellar voice cast. Nolan North (Nathan Drake), Emily Rose (Elena Fisher), and Richard McGonagle (Victor Sullivan) give their best performances yet, while Troy Baker (Samuel Drake), Laura Bailey (Nadine Ross), and Warren Kole (Rafe Adler) play more enigmatic roles with understated performances.

Even in more frantic and tense sections, Uncharted 4’s companion characters never fail to capture the mood. They will crouch down in the long grass beside you if you choose to play stealthily (and unlike Ellie in The Last of Us, they are extremely adept at staying out of enemies’ sightlines). Climbers will let you clamber over them if they are in the way. Gunfights are no problem for them; they can traverse nicely, and they are usually witty. They feel alive.

Smooth Criminal

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

With Uncharted 4, Uncharted 4 exudes polish and slickness. In traverse, you can now control Nate like a puppet with the DualShock thumbstick, resulting in fluid, uninterrupted climbing. The new 4×4 handles well over tough terrain, and the camera worships Nate’s grappling hook, lovingly zooming out as he swings off cliff faces to reveal stunning scenery. Gravel paths (Nate’s favorite) send him sliding down cliff faces like a waterslide.

Naughty Dog has expanded its terrain to take advantage of these new tools. Though I would have preferred more to do on this vast landmass-there’s not much to reward exploration beyond the occasional sparkling treasure and a great view-I appreciated that sometimes there was more than one way to accomplish my goal. Even the suggestion of choice is refreshing for a series defined by linearity.

Several of the action sequences are beautifully choreographed.

For more violent actions, the same is true. Some encounters place you in the middle of mercenaries with little to do but shoot your way out, while other encounters take place on elaborate adventure playgrounds that allow for more stealthy play. Even if the gameplay is pedestrian and routine in 2016, characters can be tagged for tracking, long grass provides cover for silent takedowns, and enemies linger on ledges begging to be grabbed by the ankle from below or kicked off from behind. This isn’t to say the game isn’t polished; it is; it simply doesn’t do anything of note. I was also disappointed that I was unable to move bodies since the AI switches to caution at any sign of trouble.

The bad guys in Uncharted 4 will spring into action if they notice you. Due to the open level design, they can perform relatively intelligent moves like flanking, and if you try to hide (while hanging off a ledge, for example, they will stamp on your hands), they won’t forget you’re there. It is no longer possible to crouch behind an indestructible pillar in order to regain your health with such credible behavior. It’s still satisfying to shoot in Uncharted 4, but enemies are now savvier and less spongy-so each kill has a genuine reward to it now. The action is fast-paced.

Visually, it keeps up with it all. Uncharted 4 manages to be all gorgeous, all the time, unlike previous Uncharted games that were characterized by rigid linearity, which allowed for very carefully orchestrated beauty between more utilitarian sections designed for action. I was blown away by the grand views, but it was the little things that truly surprised me: the way snow settled on Nate’s hair, the shocking green of an underwater plant, and the reflection cast off of an oil painting. Despite its 30 frames per second limit, this is the prettiest game I’ve ever played.

The Thief’s End

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

The fact that Naughty Dog does not create a more theatrical context around its powerful systems is disappointing. Uncharted 4 suffers from a curious lack of imagination when it comes to the series’ trademark outrageously choreographed action sequences. Highlights include a thrilling car chase in Madagascar and a vertigo-inducing clamber up a clock tower that really stands out. Other than that, the thrills tend to be of a more predictable nature: lots of handholds falling out at the last moment, buildings collapsing, an occasional easy puzzle within an opulent interior. In 2016, we’ve already seen three Uncharted games (and two contemporary Tomb Raiders).

During Uncharted 4’s third act, the pacing slows down to a crawl. Nate and his friends do nothing but climb and shoot in this jungle section. The encounters blurred into amorphous amalgams of shootouts, cliff faces, and pushing crates off of ledges for your companion to climb up. Uncharted 4’s longest section eventually became a drag.

By the end, things had picked up significantly. Naughty Dog’s careful exploration of these characters and their relationships with one another has a subtle payoff in contrast to the typical action movie coda, and it’s admirable that it doesn’t fear staying true to its characters and their motivations, even if they aren’t as explosive as one might expect.

After the End

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

Once you’ve finished the main campaign, you can only complete your treasure collection, but there’s more action in Uncharted 4’s confident 5v5 and 4v4 multiplayer. Despite being only a sideshow to the main campaign, its four modes-Team Deathmatch, Plunder, Command, and Ranked Team Deathmatch-all encompass the most enjoyable aspects of the series: camaraderie (your teammates can be revived when downed), sheets of bullets, and a constant sense of momentum. With regards to the latter point, the grappling hook offers a dizzying sense of verticality because you can zip around to high vantage points and watch for enemies.

In Uncharted 4, Deathmatch is ranked, providing competitive longevity and skill matchmaking, but Plunder and Command are more fun. As you try and capture territories and hunt the enemy’s captain, you also need to protect yourself from the opposing team trying to kill yours. The command is a map-domination variant that places an emphasis on teamwork by putting a target on the strongest players. When pursuing an objective, you have to be even more alert than usual.

Like in previous Uncharted games, the goal of Plunder is to get an idol to a central point on the map before the other team does. Heaving a teammate’s idol across a giant ravine while being shot at on all sides makes for a hilarious contrast in pace.

You can harness outrageous abilities in all of Uncharted 4’s multiplayer modes to further evoke a sense of chaos. It is possible to completely disrupt a normal firefight by temporarily using supernatural powers like teleportation, which hurtles you across the map, and summoning a sarcophagus that shoots flying evil spirits at the enemy.

A new feature that is available for every player is the AI sidekicks. To defeat an opponent, you can summon useful AI-controlled allies instead of buying flashy powers. They can perform basic tasks such as sniping, brute-force shooting, and healing, as well as provide something for your opponents to shoot at that isn’t your head. It’s frantic trying to take them down while being attacked from all sides when you’re facing them.

The music is beautiful. Because it runs at 60 frames per second, the shooting feels better than in the main campaign, and it’s just as fluid when scaling walls and swinging as before, but now with a palpable feel of smoothness. This game does a great job of bending familiar environments from the main campaign into interesting shapes across eight maps: flying over the boundless Mediterranean sea before diving into the opulence of an Italian auction house-all while shooting at other players-is a thrilling ride.

The maps are ideal for shootouts, leaps, and magic. In the game, you’ll find wide-open spaces with lookout points for dramatic shootouts, winding corridors beneath heaving pirate ships for intimate encounters, and grappling hooks located everywhere, so every game feels alive.

Even though it’s difficult to predict what Uncharted 4’s multiplayer will look like in the future, there are enough unlockables and perks to entice completionists, and Naughty Dog promises more maps, mystical, and co-op in the future.

Verdict

In terms of blockbuster storytelling and graphical sophistication, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End excels. However, despite a lack of imagination and some self-indulgence, especially in the third act, Uncharted 4 keeps up the series’ proud tradition of peerless polish and style, with a great multiplayer component to boot. It is also a gentle send-off to the ragtag group of characters we have known for nine years. The perfect thief’s end.