Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review (Spoiler Free)
My full, spoiler free review of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End. Does it stand up with the greatness of two and three?Why I Chose To Republish...
Being able to actually be a part of a huge game like Uncharted 4 launching, and then publishing my review and it being well received gave me a huge buzz. It's the first big first party Sony game I've been able to do that sort of thing with, and it was really amazing.
In 2007 Naughty Dog, following on from Jak & Daxter on PS2, Crash Bandicoot on PS1 and various other non-PlayStation titles, released something called “Uncharted”. Featuring an Indiana Jones-esque hero, Tomb Raider-like puzzles and a sense of fun unlike many other games, the original was – looking back – a mere taster of what the series would, one day, offer. Yes, it was repetitive, yes there were un-welcome mythical elements and yes I do (still) want to shoot that jet-ski with one of the RPGs available later in the game; but it was charming, the characters and world were incredibly well realised and the story was a lot of fun to watch unfold: because of that, you can almost look past the flaws, and just see it as a great game that began a lineage of even better ones. While Uncharted 4 has solved many of the series’ long-term short-comings, it has – in the process – created some new problems that demand a Drake’s Fortune-like look past for it to be held up there with numbers two and three.
Something I’ve always complained about with the Uncharted series is the camera never feeling as though it’s quite in the right place. While it was largely fixed in Drake’s Deception, thankfully, Naughty Dog has finally made it feel right; and those refinements don’t end there. The somewhat forced in, but never very good, stealth combat has been completely changed and is now a pleasure to use – meaning I found myself going out of my way to use stealth in certain areas (this is unproven, but I think using it sometimes also rewards you by spawning fewer enemies during some larger combat-areas). The ability to hide in long grass – much like in an Assassin’s Creed title – has also been added, which gives another dimension to approaching areas using stealth, and makes it feel much more rewarding.
The game also showcases the best Uncharted story, although I was mystified by some character motivations and decisions. We meet with a visibly older Nathan Drake who has retired from fortune hunting, before he’s catapulted back into that world. It’s a story that is indicative of the post-Last Of Us Naughty Dog, with visibly darker tones running through it, yet the inter-character banter and overall sense of fun is still present: luckily not ratifying one of my biggest fears going in that it wouldn’t be there.
Finally, I think treasures are done almost perfectly, and certainly much better than in the other three games. There are – total – 109 in the game. This time, rather than hide them in seemingly stupid places, they are placed much more obviously, or at least in places where they’re fun to find. Rather than just another collectable, they reward exploration of the newly-added open world.
And that is where my irritations with the game begin. Even as somebody who loves open-worlds, I don’t think Uncharted needs one. Quite frankly, I don’t think it works that well either – although they funnel you to the right place, it makes the open areas feel as though they don’t have a proper route through them. Of course, they don’t: that is the point of the open world in a game, but it’s something Uncharted has never needed to use before and doesn’t use throughout the whole of this game – only is certain sections, that – quite frankly – don’t need it. I don’t see what benefit, apart from making the world feel bigger without it actually being so, taking away the more linear aspect of the game yields.
Again, that’s something very much coming from The Last Of Us and – although I think the mild open world elements there do work. In turn, this brings with it other Last Of Us influences that I don’t think have worked in either game. For example, the using a wheeled object to climb up onto something: my main complaint being that moving said object just doesn’t work very well and feels clunky and thus irritating.
What I do wish came from The Last Of Us was the combat, which I think was vastly underrated in that game. We see the same old gunplay that, quite frankly, has never been amazing. Here it feels slightly better in the first half, simply because it isn’t used that often. However, during the second part – and really last few hours – things become fairly reliant on gunplay, and its weakness is really exposed. Not because it’s bad, but – juxtaposed against the newly made awesome climbing and stealth – it just isn’t that fun to do.
In fact, in some ways, I think it really feels worse. The removal of the God-send from Uncharted 3 of being able to throw back grenades seems bizarre, and, in the converse of the open world, I don’t understand why it was removed.
One of two new mechanics added in Uncharted 4 is sliding (the other being the grappling hook), which I’m not a huge fan of, not because it’s bad, but because – again - it’s overused. When it’s first introduced near the beginning of the game, it feels like a fun new addition, but, after sliding down some scree for the thousandth time, it just feels unnecessary.
On the other hand, the grappling hook feels incredible. Using it feels awesome and really as if you are flying as Nathan Drake across a huge drop – it feels truly exhilarating and really gives an opportunity to gape at just how gorgeous this game really is. And I think that’s something that really can’t be understated: Uncharted 4 is, without a shadow of a doubt, the best looking console game ever made, and the fact Naughty Dog have been able to push the PS4 that far adds to the argument against the PS4 Neo: there’s still more to come from the original console.
That really adds to the feeling of this as a last hurrah for the Uncharted franchise. We’re seeing Nate, Elena, and Sully for the final time (probably) together – having one final adventure, in a stunning world and with the series, in some aspects, at its peak. The game also has awesome nods to titles from Naughty Dog past and potentially future and some of the best additional characters – Sam for example, who I ended up caring about a whole lot more than I thought I would - and antagonists – cue Nadine, who I wish had been the main adversary in the game - in the whole series.
While some of the game – including the atrocious final boss battle, which introduces some hard-to-execute new mechanics – leaves a little to be desired, Uncharted 4 is a victory lap for the series. It features refinements of the old mechanics and new ones that still require some of said polish, but returning to the story, characters and world of Nathan Drake’s universe for one last adventure is something I’ve been longing to do since finishing the collection last year. As Uncharted 4 cements itself as PlayStation 4’s best exclusive, it was definitely worth the wait.