‘One Last Time’
“I need you on this one,” that’s what Sam says to Nathan. Two brothers out on a grand adventure, and it sure is grand. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a more personal and emotionally driven chapter in the series, not just for the characters, but for the player as well. If you are like me, and have been on Nathan Drake’s many crazy adventures, then you can understand why. At the core of the game is the story, and while the story is compelling it does get bogged down by repetitive gameplay elements, and pacing issues.
Uncharted 4 has had a shaky development cycle, with numerous key-player’s moving out of developer Naughty Dog. Despite having The Last of Us directors Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley stepping in for series creator Amy Hennig; I still felt a sense of trepidation. Rest assured, I was wrong, Uncharted 4 delivers on everything fans of the series have come to expect. In fact, it’s more mature than previous entries, as well as a bit darker-not Last of Us dark-but dark nonetheless. Nathan Drake gets sucked back into the life of a fortune hunter mostly due to his brother Sam. They set out on a quest to find Libertalia, a long-lost pirate colony. In joining Sam on this one last mission, he must choose if his actions are worth it to save the ones he loves.
Nate’s latest adventure is a non-stop race against the clock. Playing from one chapter to the next, I was hooked by the many features presented to me. From the gorgeous vistas, to the refined combat and climbing, there is a sense of awe and wonder to be had. On to the story, The Last of Us’ mature, slower story-telling is felt immediately at the beginning of the game. That’s one thing that took me aback; the pacing felt inconsistent every-so-often. Compared to previous Uncharted games such as Among Thieves’ opening train sequence; it begins slow, focusing more on Sam and Nate’s relationship. In retrospect, I appreciate what is trying to be achieved with the slower pacing, as the player you are longing to head out and witness the action that these games are known for. That’s exactly what Nate misses most in his life, despite settling down with Elena, there is a spark of adventure in his eyes that long’s for the good old day’s.
None of these subtle nuances conveyed by any of these characters would stand out unless the graphics were top-notch. Naughty Dog outdid themselves in the graphical department, everything looks like what we have been wanting next-gen to look like. It may possibly be the best-looking game I have ever played to date. There were moments during cutscenes where I had to ask myself “is this a game?” With all the improvements of graphical fidelity, its no surprise that the gameplay has been improved as well.
One of my main criticism’s from the previous games was the shooting (even though the Nathan Drake Collection improved it slightly). A Thief’s End may be the first Naughty Dog game where I actually enjoyed the shooting, which comes as a surprise because there is a limited amount of combat sections. Even in these combat encounters shoot-outs don’t have to be the go-to method of enemy elimination. Stealth is also a viable option, with the open level design, it allows for the player to tackle enemies how they choose. Maybe you want to mark your enemies, watch the route they walk, and use stealth to quietly take them out in tall leaves. Or if things get a little hairy, shooting is always the way to go as well.
Because the level design is bigger, the climbing has also been tweaked. A Thief’s End introduces the climbing pick and the grappling hook, both integral to the faster climbing mechanics introduced. The level design is made so that there are many options to use these traversal methods. Numerous times while playing, a grappling hook icon will be show in which Nate can swing to the next platform; also it can be used while in combat. Once an enemy is underneath you, all it takes is a push of the button to have Nate knock-out the enemy.
The same can be said for the climbing pick; certain rock platforms have surfaces that make climbing faster. Sliding is also a fun feature add for combat and traversal. Like the grappling hook, the option to slide down a hill or cliff comes at the games discretion. While these new additions are neat, the downside comes when you have to use the gear over-and-over again. Making the game feel more ‘gamey,’ instead of necessary. Dialogue options are a new addition to the Uncharted series, and while it seems interesting at first, the choices you make have no effect on the outcome of the story, especially since there are only a handful of them. It feels as if Naughty Dog is using Uncharted 4 as a testing ground for this mechanic, which might be used in future games (I’m looking at you Last of Us 2).
With the success of The Last of Us, it’s no surprise that Naughty Dog decided to use some design choices in Uncharted 4. One design choice used is optional conversation’s. Throughout the game a button prompt will be shown above Sam or Sully’s head indicating a conversation that deals with the story at hand, or even previous events. This design choice adds an extra layer to the story, but the same can’t be said for the next design choice. In order to progress further in the level, certain sections will require Nate to move a crate, or cart, into place to climb higher. This design choice happens way too often, in fact, Nate even acknowledges the continued appearance of a crate by making a smart quip. While this isn’t necessarily bad, its just a convenient gimmick that happens to be there in almost every level.
The Uncharted package wouldn’t be complete without multiplayer. I’ll be forthcoming and say I haven’t been the biggest fan of Uncharted’s multiplayer, but there is something about A Thief’s End’s wacky modes that keeps bringing me back. The multiplayer consists of standard modes, Team Deathmatch-self explanatory, Control-two teams fight for control of three zones, Plunder-two teams fight to bring 3 idols back to their side, and Ranked Team Deathmatch. What makes things interesting is the single-player’s mechanics are integrated into online. The multiplayer is relatively the same, with the exception of a few special abilities earned through the match. There is a new mode called Trials, that act more as a tutorial to help the player with the new game mechanics.
The unlocks are back, this time it gets a little crazy. Taunt’s, dance moves, and all sorts of different options are available the further you progress. Some unlocks are so ridiculous, I couldn’t help but laugh out-loud. These incentives kept me coming back to play more then I thought I would. And with the future layout of multiplayer add-ons, I have a feeling it will only get better.
If this is indeed the end of Uncharted, then Naughty Dog sent it out with a bang. A Thief’s End is an enjoyable-yet slightly flawed experience that fans of the series will never forget, with breathtaking visuals, improved gameplay, and an engaging story; it is one of the best games this year.
*originally written on May 30, 2016