Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review – One Last Adventure

As I set the controller down and wiped my tears away, I watched the credits roll on Nathan Drake’s “final adventure.” All I could do was think about the story that Naughty Dog just told, and how I can’t wait for the next installment from this incredible developer. Uncharted 4 takes our favorite thief out of the shadows of a normal life back into the fray of treasure hunting and gun fights. This time, it’s not just a story of adventure and dastardly villains, but it’s a story that has more heart than any other Uncharted before it. It also contains some of the best gameplay in the series.

*I will only speak of story beats that were already in trailers and preview material.

When we meet Nate this time around, he has thrown away the life of a treasure hunter and works a normal job, living at home with Elena in their normal house. Normal is the key that they wanted to get across. It’s not unhappiness; its contempt. Well, let’s throw a wrench into that lifestyle via a brother that was believed to be dead. From that point, Uncharted 4 delivers the best story of the series, and it’s not just because of the main story of Drake and company. It’s because every plot that is shown to us is interesting. The pirate story that is the rails of your adventure is by far the most intriguing one that I’ve encountered from Naughty Dog. You’ll hear me say this a lot on the podcast, but Last of Us has its hands all over this game.

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Love the game or not, Last of Us did something incredible with its little side stories via letters or writings on the wall throughout that game, and Uncharted 4 does that just the same. I won’t spoil anything, but there are a few moments where you can find correspondence between pirates that help create an intense story that I was also following throughout. The main narrative’s emotional pull was heavy on my heart for the entire game, and it’s because each character’s motive is made clear. Uncharted 4 doesn’t try and tell a dark, gritty story, like Last of Us did, but it does tell us a story that actually means something. Nathan’s story feels like it has actual weight to it, and I honestly can’t praise the studio enough for that. It took a Michael Bay-esque series and added a sprinkle of JJ Abrams to give us a great story.

It also helps that the voice work from this game is nothing short of superb. The acting in the game is stellar, and that is guided by the fact that the motion capture in this game, at times, is on par with Pixar or Dreamworks level animation. I mean seriously. My wife, twice, thought I was watching The Adventures of Tin Tin (Yes, I love that movie), and she was greatly surprised when she found out that I was playing a game. This game is the most photo-realistic that I’ve ever played. Period. I’m sure that there are games on PC that can be set to a setting to make it look as good, but I have never actually played a game that has ever looked this good. I joked about it on the podcast, but they made the little items and knick-knacks around you look so great. That really was the best looking barrel I’ve ever seen. The landscapes of the cities are breathtaking, and it will make you want to break down and use the photo mode, which I did several times. But, the moment that really made me say, “Holy crap, Naughty Dog” is in the opening scene that involves water. (That’s all I’m going to say there.)

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Now for the gameplay, which I think, for the series, is at its best. I will agree with my fellow podcaster, Josh, when he said that the hand to hand combat is a bit lack luster, but I still think it’s fun to run up to a guy and just punch him the jaw, throw his face into a pillar, and grab his gun out of mid-air. Also, they added an animation that allows you to do tag team moves with your AI companion. So basically, you can Dudley 3-D someone with Sam, and it’s incredibly satisfying to do. With that said, I would like to have seen a block button or at least a more consistent combat system and not just press square to punch and circle to break out of a grapple. The good news is that game doesn’t require you to do that too often, so it won’t feel like that big of a deal. Outside of that, I found the gameplay to be incredibly fun and easy. This installment actually added two mechanics that you will use quite often: the rope hook and the slope slide. Now, let me hit that second part first. I really don’t know what else to call it besides “slope slide” because it literally is just the mechanic of sliding down slopes, that is controlled, in order to get to the next area. It was actually fun at times to maneuver Nathan down a muddy hill just to launch myself forward, just short of the cliff, to then reach out and grab the nearest ledge in order to not fall to my doom. It was fun, but I will say that it was used quite a bit.

The rope hook addition is probably my favorite element of gameplay, just for the sheer fact that I felt like Spider-Man. It was so much fun, once you get the hang of it, to swing around a building, shoot a dude in the head, release, and then grapple the next spot all in a full motion. I must emphasize that it does take some getting used to as far as moving in other directions besides forwards or backwards. I found it enjoyable though, to say the least. Naughty Dog wanted to add something to the game that make it, its own, and I feel it did that. Not to bash a game from last year, this doesn’t feel like the Bat-tank of last year that many found annoying by the end of the game. I rather enjoyed it myself, but I understand people’s issues. Neither mechanic overstays its welcome to the point of annoyance especially the rope swing because you truly feel like an action hero when you can combo your movements together.

To conclude my review, I want to add two segments here. One will be my favorite part of the game, and the other will be my least favorite.

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Favorite: This was, without a doubt, the easiest decision for me because Madagascar, from beginning to end, was my favorite level of the entire series. From the driving portion that you begin with, to the puzzles, the epic action sequence, and the cut scenes that were so important to the story. I know that many saw this portion at press events or online, but I steered away from most gameplay videos before the game came out. All I’m going to say is, that clock tower sequence was heck of a lot of fun.
Least Favorite: I think this game doesn’t give us enough time with two essential characters that I’ve come to love within the series: Elena and Sully. Now, they are in the game, and they play important roles. However, I would’ve enjoyed a longer game, just to experience more one on one banter with both of them because while Sam was a great new character that takes time to love, I missed those conversations and wanted more.

Guys, this game is special, and as you can tell, I love it. It’s my front runner for Game of the Year, and I really did have tears of joy by the end of the journey. This series is important to the Sony brand, and I feel that Naughty Dog gives us an incredibly fitting end to everyone’s favorite Drake. I hope you will play this game and enjoy it because it is Naughty Dog’s best game, in the sense, of total package. The gameplay, the visuals, the acting, and the story all are top notch, and it will probably be a game that were talking about at the end of the PS4’s life cycle saying, “Wow. What an experience.”

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Robby Steltenpohl

Robby is a co-host of The Gaming Outsider and a contributing writer. He’s a published author, sports nut, and huge Star Wars fan. Also, Robby believes that the Bioshock series is the greatest written video game series of all time.