SBox Recommends: Uncharted 4 – A Thief’s End (Game Review)

Note: SBR never spoils. You are safe. Enjoy!

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At long last, I get to do my first WordPress video game review. I couldn’t have thought of a more fitting first candidate than my most anticipated game of the year, part of one of my favorite video game series of all-time: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

I’ve been a fan of Naughty Dog games since I was a toddler playing Crash Bandicoot 2. That game created my love of platformers and is one of my favorite games to this day. So when I finally got a PS3 in 2012, I knew my first stop had to be Naughty Dog’s latest venture with the Uncharted games. I started with Uncharted 2, then 3 and eventually went back to 1. These games are everything I want in a video game: great story, larger than life action, platforming, third-person combat, optional yet fun collectathons and intriguing puzzles. If there was ever a game made just for me, this would probably be it.

When Uncharted 4 was announced back in November 2013 (yes it’s been that long), I couldn’t have been more excited to continue the story of Nathan Drake wherever he may be. In fact, I bought the PS4 the following year just to play this game. Little did I know it would be a pretty long wait until then, topped off by at least three delays, but it was worth the investment. I now get to stand before you guys today, having finally played Uncharted 4 and loving every second of it.

Story

Several years after the events of Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake has retired from the treasure hunting game, settled down and married his sweetheart, Elena. Everything is normal until he receives a visit from his older brother, Sam, who Nathan thought to be dead. Sam calls on Nathan to help him find Henry Avery’s lost city of Libertalia, a supposed 17th century nation of pirates with gold worth a fortune; something they’ve been searching for since they were kids. With his desire for the glory days getting the best of him, Nathan agrees to aid Sam in finishing what they started years ago.

Writing

Everyone knows that the key to a great game is fun gameplay. It’s the most important aspect of any game from Pong to Call of Duty. But a superb (modern) one will have a great story to drive that gameplay forward. Luckily, the Uncharted games are known for its rich and fun narrative, and that trend continues with Uncharted 4.

Uncharted’s story has always been compared to a mixture of two popular movies: Indiana Jones and National Treasure. It has Indiana Jones‘ up-beat charm, charismatic characters and grandiose situations along with National Treasure’s grounded storytelling style. However, Uncharted did find a way to adopt it’s own identity along the way, mainly with its themes and emphasis on the characters. The adventure doesn’t drive the story nearly as much as the characters do. Without the protagonist’s willingness to continue and the struggles he faces in getting that treasure, it simply wouldn’t be Uncharted.

The same principle applies here as Nathan’s inner conflicts, regret, loyalty, doubt and perseverance serve to drive the story forward. Without it, it would just be a generic adventure story you’ve probably seen before. With it, it’s a compelling narrative filled with discovery and awe. And never has that worked better than in this game.

Uncharted 4 is a return to form for any Uncharted fan, both as familiar as it fittingly and (slightly) altered. You still get the bells and whistles expected of the series with the game hitting the exact same beats as its predecessors. It begins in media res, new characters are introduced, our antagonists are pricks and there’s a highly ridiculous action sequence toward the middle which is the height of the game. These among other things remain the same, but Uncharted 4 manages to still remain distinguishable.

This game is noticeably darker and drabber in tone than the previous games, both in terms of visuals and story. Don’t get me wrong. There’s plenty of that famous Uncharted humor and charm throughout the game to lighten the mood, but that light-heartedness dances with that grounded nature I mentioned earlier. It compliments the position Nathan is in at this time: older, conflicted, doubtful and a bit more pessimistic. Because of that, I feel that the darker tone is a welcomed change of pace perfect for a potential final entry.

Oh, I should mention one of the biggest questions associated with this game: Does the game feel like the end? Yes and no. Without spoiling it in any way, the game has a perfectly finite ending that satisfies any further need for an Uncharted 5. The story could definitely end there. The ending was perfect enough for me to think it should end there. However, there’s just enough leg room for a sequel. For a video game, I feel that’s a perfect way to end your story. Leaving the door open just enough as to not sequelbate.

If there was any downside I could give for the game’s story, I’d say that it’s a bit slow in the beginning. The meat of the game only starts around Chapter 6 with Chapters 1-5 and the Prologue being build-up and background story. Hell, of those six levels four of them were flashbacks sequences all from scattered times in the game. Though, I can’t say the introduction wasn’t necessary or fun. Had this been a movie, this would be a problem, but any excuse for an interesting level is welcomed.

One small note before moving on. For the few who don’t know about what is now becoming a very famous Easter egg in the game, all I will say is this. Chapter 4 is the best thing I have ever seen in my entire life. Yes, the Uncharted throwbacks are great in that level as well, but that Easter egg hit me in the right spot. I wish I could say more…

Gameplay

Uncharted 4 provides a fun, exciting and captivating experience for fans of action-adventure games, third-person shooters and platformers. Basically, it’s everything I personally love and everything fans of Uncharted come to expect.

Uncharted’s gameplay has always been directly compared to another popular 3D action adventure game: Tomb Raider. From the moment Drake’s Deception was first unveiled at E3, that parallel has always remained. However, much like the story the gameplay would come into its own over time; that difference being its genre emphasis. Uncharted has an emphasis on action while Tomb Raider has/had an emphasis on adventure. That difference has come full circle in 2016 with Uncharted 4 striking the perfect balance between action and adventure.

Some very welcomed changes include the game’s sheer openness. The first time you get to play as Drake on foot, you come across at least two ways to reach your destination. For an Uncharted fan used to a strictly linear gameplay style, the sheer size of that level is almost overwhelming. The world simply begs for exploration. It’s not as open as a sandbox game like GTA, since all roads eventually lead to your destination. It’s open in the sense that you’ll want to look around and take everything in. You’re oftentimes rewarded in a variety of ways for straying off the main path every once in a while, either with additional lines of dialogue or with hidden collectibles (which there’s a plethora of).

The game even gives you alternate methods of reaching said goal with a variety of vehicles. While Uncharted 1 had jet skis and Uncharted 3 had horses, Uncharted 4 takes it a step further with boats, jeeps and even scuba diving. Vehicles are used in perhaps 30% of the game to spice things up, each controlling passably well and never feel tacked on. The boat is probably my favorite of the two, mainly because it’s usually used for exploration purposes and isn’t as limited as the jeep. However, I will say the jeep is probably the better implemented of the two. When you first get to use the jeep in that very open canyon, it’s perhaps one of the most powerful experiences of the game. How can you not be tempted to just test the limits of this thing?

There’s also an emphasis on stealth this time around. Stealth has technically always been a part of the series. The problem with past titles was that it never worked and you never wanted to do it. In A Thief’s End, Naughty Dog has not only fixed the problem, but they also prioritize it in many cases. While stealth remains an optional part of the game, success is highly contingent on your ability to not be seen as you eliminate your enemies quietly. Unless you’re damn accurate with a gun and move like a ninja, prepare to spend most of your time waiting for the coast to be clear so you can strangle this guy already. And be prepared to die a bunch of times if you suck at stealth like me.

As for what has stayed the same, on-foot traversal as Nathan Drake is as fluid and easy as you’d expect from a modern day action-adventure game. Climbing also remains seamless and fun, though perhaps a tad difficult in a few cases where you can’t find that one edge. That rarely happens, though. In fact, climbing is made a ton easier with two new ways to parkour your way to victory. One is the use of picks used to make a new edge out of a rocky surface. The other is the rope used to swing your way to the other platform. Both are great additions that control pretty well.

And cover based shooting is still a huge part of the game. There’s not too much to say from this guy, because I happen to have the worst aim in the world. (I finished the game with a 34% accuracy rate). Though I can still say it’s also still fun and easy to do.

As for the final boss fight, It’s probably the best one since Uncharted 2. Very fitting for the story and theme in general, and the outcome is based on skill as well as good timing. It can be painfully difficult if you can’t read the enemy correctly, but it’s certainly a lot of fun.

Graphics

This is a breathtakingly beautiful game, one of the best looking I’ve seen in years. Everything from the locations to character animations are undeniably pleasing to the eye.

Characters differ slightly from the lower-res realism found in the PS3 trilogy. The PS4 allows for a more refined look, brighter colors and improved facial animations. All character animations are achieved through motion capture technology, allowing for more natural movements and realistic facial expressions. For both familiar and new characters, this translate very well and make for the most realistic Uncharted has ever looked.

It’s the locations, though, that really make this game’s graphical style. You cross the globe in Uncharted 4, heading to Scottland, Panama and Madagascar among other such places, each looking better than the last. Not only is the attention to detail for each location stunning, but much like the actual places themselves, each offers a visual variety separate from the others. The snowy and cold terrains of Scottland are distinct next to the tropical nature of Madagascar. Even the game’s original settings are beautiful in their own right.

I guess this is as good a time as any to point out that this game draws some inspiration from another game, visually speaking: The Last of Us. You can tell that there’s at least a little bit of Last of Us in this game’s artstyle and select animations. Even the cursor that appears over an interactive object in the game is carried over. Granted, the similarities aren’t too great. Uncharted 4 still maintains its own artstyle by means of its lighting effects and array of colors; not to mention this game has a clear pirate theme unique to this installment of the series.

Perhaps the greatest visual cue of the game stems from the fact that the game is much bigger. Every time you reach a new location and the camera pans out to show you the best view you’ll ever see, it creates the same reaction of wonder and awe. Especially for longtime fans who are used to the PS3 games, you can’t help but stop and think to yourself, “Holy shit! I get to explore that?”

Acting

You basically know what to expect from Nolan North, Richard McGonagle and Emily Rose. Their portrayal of these characters have become iconic at this point and bring out the best in these beloved characters. Rose in particular is allowed this time to bring Elena to new emotional heights we haven’t seen in previous titles. North as Nathan Drake also gains a new dimension in his performance, delivering a sense of regret as well as pessimism in his performance. And McGonagle…is Victor Goddamn Sullivan. He provides the same charm and humor you’d expect from him, and it’s glorious as always.

Joining the cast this time includes Troy Baker as Sam Drake. The Sam character is a good and likable one. Like Nate, he’s very insightful, passionate, observant and often way over his head. In fact, Sam is the one who taught Nathan all of his moves and created his desire for adventure. The difference is that Nathan is only reckless to a point. Throughout the series, Nathan usually reaches a point where he questions what he’s doing.”Damnit, this is not worth dying over” (~Uncharted 1). Unlike Nathan, Sam takes a bit longer to reach that point. It doesn’t matter what happens, how deadly things get or how many dead ends he reaches. His passion easily overshadows his doubt, making him an optimistic counterpoint to Nathan’s occasional doubtfulness. Baker portrays that very well and creates a very relatable character.

Our two villains of the game are Rafe (Warren Kole) and Nadine (Laura Bailey). As villains, these two aren’t exactly as memorable or threatening as Zoran Lazarević from Uncharted 2, who remains the best Uncharted villain to date. Though, they do make for interesting characters in their own right. It takes a while for Nadine particularly to eclipse as a character, and I won’t go to into it for risk of spoilers, but she does end up being a very instinctual, no nonsense threat whose abilities speak for themselves. Rafe on the other hand maintains a constant prick status, never really straying far from character. He’s pretty much on par with Katherine from Uncharted 3 in terms of likability. Though, he trumps Katherine in terms of his motivation and egomania. While Nadine is motivated by money, Rafe is motivated by glory.

Music

Taking Greg Edmonson’s place as mainstay composer is Henry Jackman, who takes to the Uncharted series fantastically. The now classic Uncharted theme is still as triumphant and adventurous as ever, as is the other original compositions this game has to offer.

Uncharted has always been audibly synonymous with fast drum beats with the harmonious exchange of violins, cellos and french horns. That’s the framework set by Edmonson, and the torch is successfully passed on to Jackman. He adds his own take on the Uncharted sound, which remains fast-paced and fun; though he matches the story’s newfound tone in some places with some somber, downbeat pieces. Some new intrsuments added to the series’ sound are pianos, flutes and trumpets.

Overall

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a remarkable game and a phenomenal entry into this beloved series. Everything you love about Uncharted is here and accounted for: touching story, fun gameplay, intoxicating visuals and charming performances among many other positives this game has. Everything you love is either untouched or improved, with the addition of the rope, boat and jeep. Perhaps the only negatives lay in the stealth segments, which are pretty much mandatory and a bit overused. That and the story takes a while to actually start up. However, these minor issues don’t take away the fact that this is a great experience for fans of action-adventure and Uncharted.

Also, in case you’re wondering, I’d rank this game just a bit under Uncharted 2, making my personal order Thieves Among Us, A Thief’s End, Drake’s Deception and Drake’s Fortune (2, 4, 3, & 1).

Verdict: 9.6/10

Recommendations

Fans of Uncharted need to play this game. To be clear, this is not an option. It’s a command…please. In fact Naught Dog fans owe it to themselves to try this game out. Fans of The Last of Us and even the Jak & Daxter and Crash Brandicoot series will find a lot to love in this game. If you haven’t played an Uncharted game before, I surprisingly would still recommend it. While there is a canon to these games, each game feels like its own individual story that is easy to get into. Take it from a guy who started with 2. Though if your intention is to get into the series, I’d at least attempt to play the PS3 trilogy first. It”l make this game that much better for you.


This review was a long time coming, so thank you all for being patient with me. I’ll be looking to do more video game reviews in the future, so please let me know what you think of this one in the comments.

I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!

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